Kata – Wearing The Skin Of Your Ancestors

Chris Rowen 08 004

Kata – Wearing The Skin Of Your Ancestors

“Tonight I want to teach you how to study kata.”

“You just do it don’t you Sensei?”

“Just do it, is a big term Roger…”

“It’s an advert Sensei.”

“I know that Ged, thank you.  I’m more concerned with developing the right mindset in which to study.”

“That’s bunkai isn’t it?”

Bunkai means to ‘break down and explore’.”

“You’ve often explained that Sensei, and then gone on to explain the ‘trinity’ of kata, if I remember it right it’s medical, skill and then application is that right?”

“Yes it is, well done.”

“The medical I get, posture, breathing, no excessive tension, good mindset and so on – the application has probably been done to death!  But the ‘skill’ I don’t get, how is it different to the other two?”

“Good question.  Pick a kata.”

“Pinan Nidan.”

“Okay, everyone, Pinan Nidan!  Nori, rei, yoi……  Yamee…” we all stopped.

“First comes reiho or etiquette, it’s a skill in itself, when you stand in nori, stand properly, with good posture and a good strong, confident attitude. With rei you bow with correct spinal and head alignment to 45 degrees, you use your metsuka to see all around you and only hold the bow for 2 seconds, yoi means that you are ready and take the left foot to the left and the right to the right, lining the feet under the LU 1 points with the arms hanging loosely without any excessive tension in front of the thighs.  Even before the kata begins, the level of skill is evident.  If the etiquette is sloppy, you can bet that the kata is…”

“But that is only old ‘samurai’ style manners isn’t it?”

“It’s good etiquette from old times and from a foreign country – yes, but that is the nationality of the art that we study and a lot of the thinking comes from that time and place, so ‘wearing the skins of the ancestors’ helps.

Now Roger, whilst I’m standing in yoi, grab my arm.” Roger grasped sensei’s arm firmly with both hands, sensei just seemed to expand or flex and Roger rocked back, off balance onto his heels.

“Controlling your own and your opponents balance is a necessary skill, if you can’t do this, everything you do will be hard work and you will be fighting yourself as well as your opponent all through your movements.  The Chinese classics say that first you investigate the form in feet, then inches, then hundredths of an inch and then thousandths of a hundredth of an inch… In other words – very carefully!”

Sensei then just turned his waist slightly away in a spiralling motion and turned his thumb upwards taking away Rogers centre changing his grip into a wristlock dropping him to his knees, sensei had still not moved more than 2 inches.  He then used his other hand to easily take Rogers hands away breaking his weakened grip. He used his forearm in the next six inches of the first movement to strike the kneeling Roger in the face

When Roger stood up, sensei showed how the technique could then be used in many different ways for each inch of movement using him as an uke sensei demonstrated strikes, locks, throws, dislocations and blocking movements.

“The use of the arm depends on the alignment to the body and the altering angles, the applications are borne out of the skill.  Next we step forward to punch, not in the way you might use it directly in a fight but in a way that will enhance your skills, the legwork, the use of the spine and head, the opening and closing of chest and back, the use of the waist against the hips, the stretching and compression of the sides, the vibration of the hips, the use of the shoulders and arms are all separate skills that can be enhanced for various application.”

“So the applications are borne out of the skills?”


“And might not be exactly as practised in the kata…”

“Would a boxer take his skipping rope into the ring?”

“I think I’m beginning to understand….”

“In kata you enter and exit techniques in a variety of ways – so if you practice kata correctly you virtually never do the ‘basic’ technique, you turn in all different directions, sometimes you slide forward, sometimes step, sometimes turn, the techniques are specifically ordered and structured to skill build, not directly for application in fighting.”

“So in fact there are no basic techniques in the form, kata varies them from and to positions you are likely to find yourself in when fighting?”

“Yes.  It takes the principles from basic training and combinations and puts them into a unique sequence.  Different kata serve different purposes, some are complete systems and some are parts of systems and some are to train specific skills. They are then combined in a way that enhances your skill training.

Remember you are also often doing a separate kata for each side of the body and for each limb.  The ‘skill’ can be separate in each part of each limb, in each part of the body and the head.”

“I’ve often heard you talking about the ‘trinity’ of kata and thought I understood the idea of ‘skill’ but my idea was really associated directly with application, now I can see why you regard it as something different.  Thank you sensei..”

“I’m glad you’ve got it!   Now lets get on with Pinan Nidan!

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