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Chinese Culture >> Chinese Society Traditions >> Kata

How Important is Kata

By: Lampart

A few days ago, I was walking out of the bank in my town and past a Kara Te DoJo and inside I saw an instructor teaching his young students a Bo kata. I stopped to watch for a minute and could not help but notice the poor quality of the performance of techniques by the students. I quickly looked at the instructor and saw him performing these techniques improperly as well. The reason I am saying that these techniques were improper is that, the Bo Kata that they were performing lacked the internal structure which produces power and the essential techniques which would keep the bo from being taken away. That is when I realized, sadly, that there are two reasons Kata is preformed today, one for demonstration and the other for protection! In many systems the original purpose, protection, has long been deleted for the other more popular reason, demonstration? The internal techniques have slowly disappeared from the original kata. These Forms are merely a shadow of the kata preformed long ago. The true purpose for practicing kata is to someday achieve smooth flowing supernatural power in the techniques of your kata, which cannot be obtained any other way!

Kata has but two origins, the first is from China were the famous Buddhist monk Da Mo traveled from his home in India to china, to the Shaolin temple, to promote the Buddhist philosophy. When he arrived at the temple, he found the monks to weak and sick too even meditate. In order to find a way to strengthen them he spent the next nine years in a cave meditating. When he came out of the cave, he had created the manuscript Yi Gin Ching that contained methods for strengthening the monks physically. Out of this manuscript the first form or Kata if you will, The Lo Han was created.

Year's later the second origin formed through Okinawan martial arts pioneers. These pioneers developed Kata from the forms that they brought back from China. Many of them are unchanged to this day. Some of these pioneers added some of the movements of the (five-form fist) to their already existing Martial arts. These changes helped to form a new martial art, Kara te.

These pioneers of kara te also brought back manuscripts from China that explained the use of the striking of pressure points and military tactical affairs as well, such as the Wu Pei Chih and the His Yuan Lu as well as many others. Many of the techniques found in these manuscripts were carefully and cleverly hidden in the many levels of Okinawan Kata. Because of the deadly secrets found in all traditional Kata, Kata spread through out Asia. Now Kata is practiced globally.

Bruce Lee an internationally known martial artist believed that it wasn't at all necessary to practice Kata or forms to learn a martial art. The fact is that Mr. Lee himself began his martial arts studies as a young man, with a style called Wing Chung, which uses formal Kata or forms as a necessary part of the system. Many fighters like Mr. Lee, studied forms before coming to the mistaken conclusion that forms aren't necessary after years of benefiting from them. Bruce Lee Worked relentlessly personally tiring to build up his own power using many other routines other than kata. When in fact kata would have been a simpler and shorter root to the same goal.

Practicing kata is time well spent in terms of producing power. There are many other ways to produce power but you will find that. these western methods for producing power will be hard to incorporate into your techniques. Actually I have found that strongly built students have a pretty tough time adapting their power for techniques. Controlling their power is very tricky and working with others is difficult.

The truth of the matter is that, the benevolent Masters formulated more than 70 percent of their techniques into Kata. Lets do the math, if one kata averages 22 movements or techniques although many moment have the same techniques they do show different ways to use the same techniques and so on. Each technique has three to seven applications, we will say five applications, and there are 14 kata to a system, the number of techniques average out to 308 techniques in a system. Now when forms have fifty, to one hundred or more techniques with in them, and up to seven applications the numbers jump up anywhere from 350 to 700 plus in one form or Kata. The White Crane kata Shin Shu, which I practice, has one hundred and sixty nine movements, which average out to approximately one thousand and eight possible techniques beneath the surface of this kata. How is it possible to remember that many techniques with out kata?

These Masters created Kata for several other reasons as well, one of them, is so their students might benefit from daily practice of these techniques. This works best when a kata has been properly demonstrated by the instructor and his students know the basic techniques within the kata. After later study other applications which apply to the kata can be introduced. This daily practice, in time, brings out the uses of these techniques with out thinking. Time is of the utmost importance, in a confrontation. It is necessary to feel rather than think your way through any combat situation. This feeling rather than thinking is promoted through kata practice.

Another important quality brought about by kata practice is that there is no necessity for a practice partner. Kata is one safe way to practice at full power. A devotee cannot practice deadly techniques on a practice partner nor can he strike pressure points hidden with in these techniques at full power. This can only be practiced full power in kata.

Finally it would be very difficult for a devotee to continue the work of his master, after his master had passed away. To continue education with out a framework of formulated techniques from that system. And teach it to future generations, would be very hard if not impossible. Kata provides basic as well as advanced technical knowledge on from generation to generation, and can be gleaned by the prudent devotee, over the course of a lifetime.

It's not impossible to imagine that, in the year 2100, the great fighter techniques of boxers of your day may in fact all but vanish from historical records. (What are the main techniques of the first black heavy weight champion Jack Johnson?). Although we can see Jack on film, can we figure out his winning techniques? It is clear to most martial artists today that, Kata is the basis for a stable system of martial arts. With out it, in time, it may vanish.

My point is that the value of Kata is sorely underestimated by many of the very instructors that teach them. There is a realistic need in today's schools to renew proper application and to reestablish a total understanding of the function of Kata and its true purpose, This renewal will bring the devotee closer to a understanding of the great masters reasons for creating them. 

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