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FORMS IN OKINAWA KARATE

by Stanic Milos ( www.karate.org.yu )

 

Katas are fighting choreographies carried on from father to son for generation. Hence, majority of practitioners today do not like to practice katas and tend to prefer free fights (sparing), because it seems that kata practice is not much applicable in real situations. However, in order to get master certificate in any karate style, you have to learn bunch of katas.

 

Old tradition – one kata, one style

Many historical sources testify that in past situation was completely different. Only few masters knew more than one or two katas. Why is this? Why today average practitioners know over 10 different katas?

Before 1900, karate was secret. Trainings were individual and tradition was passed only to family members or dedicated students who got a chance to practice with famous master. Karate was practiced exclusively among warrior class members – pechin. Back in that time, life was very cruel and karate was taken extremely seriously. In certain situations, it could mean life or death. Traditional okinawan karate was for self-defense only.

Famous master Gichin Funakoshi in his writings says that one kata is enough for self-defense. Kata usually contain few throws, few joint locks and bunch of punches, strikes and kicks, which are enough for effective use in real confrontation. Each kata is separate fighting tradition and therefore practicing several different katas means knowing more techniques, which anyway does not raise effectiveness in self-defense, but on a contrary. This is a reason, why in past one used to master only one or two katas.

In ancient times, teachers rarely accepted new students. You had to have very good recommendation and iron will to keep up with ruthless training. Master would teach you only one fighting tradition – one kata[1]. To become proficient in only one kata was very hard, but trying to learn several fighting traditions was almost impossible. Those who knew several katas, were usually high ranking okinawan officials, who had enough time to dedicate themselves to research of various fighting traditions and who had enough financial funds and possibilities to travel to China. Only few had this opportunity and most famous ones are Kanryo Higashionna, Bushi Mutsumura and Seisho Aragaki.

 

Kanryo Higashiona, Bushi Matsumura, Seisho Aragaki

 

After 1900, a group of instructors feared that old karate traditions will be forgot and lost forever and decided to promote karate on Okinawa. Their goal was to include karate into regular school program and military practice. However, old karate was not suitable for children or for group training, so master Itosu modified karate, expelling all dangerous techniques and focusing on kata practice without revealing most of practical applications (bunkai). Karate was transformed from devastating self-defense method to mystical recreational activity. It was birth of modern karate – karatedo.

Master Itosu was author of this new kind of karate and he’s ideas were supported by many: Gichin Funakoshi (Shotokan), Kenwa Mabuni (Shito ryu), Chojun Miyagi (Goju ryu), etc. They were traveling around Ryukyu Islands demonstrating karate and at the same time, they attempted to learn as much new katas as they could from the old karate masters. This way they tried to save tradition from being forgotten. Since than, modern styles have many katas included in their curriculum. For example, shotokan preserve 26 katas and shito style even over 50.

Today, karate schools are focused on wining competitions, recreation and charging fees. Self-defense is not of primal importance. Instructors are promoting Hollywood type of karate, demonstrating several dozens of good-looking techniques per training. This flashy approach guarantees many new students, but this is not effective training for self-defense. Unfortunately, training like this produce “black belt” that knows 20 katas and hundreds of techniques, but is defeated on street, failing to resolve basic self-defense situations.

Word “kata” means “form”, “style” or “pattern”. Oral tradition says, “Karate is kata” and confirms that every kata is actually stand-alone fighting system. When I say this, I have in mind advanced forms that existed on Okinawa prior 1900.

Traditional karate training is focused on practicing of single advanced kata for several months or years. Each kata has its own kihon, basic techniques that should be practiced on makiwara. After that, one must try to execute and understand sequences found in kata. All movements have practical application (bunkai), which should be practiced with partner (kumite) reflecting realistic self-defense situations. Always bear in mind that kata is authentic fighting system.

 


 

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