Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Should Kata be Changed

  I was reading various blog's, regarding the performance of (traditional) kata. Numerous one's (though not all) advocated the idea of modifying (essentially, changing) the manner which they are being practiced/performed.
  Several of them stated that (in their opinion) the kata's bunkai, was inconsistent with the application of (their) interpretations. Some went further, in stating that the bunkai was inapplicable (as presented within the kata). There was also an apparent advocacy for allowing student's (as well as instructor's) to change the kata, to match their own (individual) interpretations of what the kata motions represented.
  Each of the aforementioned blog's had their own perspective on the matter. What captured my attention, was the dismissal of the fact that these individual's may not be correctly interpreting the motions to begin with (thereby causing their problems with correlating their bunkai with the motions performed within the kata).
  One, proclaimed that the practice of kata, as it was originally (as possible) conceived and taught (by the creator's of the kata), was “limited, stifling, and stunting”......(?). They went on to (supposedly) point out, what the kata did not teach (in their opinion). They further included their own evaluation, of what was being represented by the beginning motions of Seisan (kata).
In a nutshell, I disagreed, with every point they presented.
  To begin with, they (all of them) were approaching it from a western perspective. They're to be forgiven for that (I suppose), being that they were all of western origin. I am too, but I still disagree with every (supposed) reason, that they presented.
  The most popular (excuse) reason for their disbelief that kata contains (any of the less than obvious) techniques, was that there was no reason to conceal those techniques. To a certain degree, I would agree with that assessment. When you are (already) aware of what the motions actually represent, they aren't (considered to be) concealed. I don't believe that the motions were changed from their application manner at all. They may be done in a generic manner, but are applicable, just as presented. 
  I've found it to be more likely, that the individual's simply didn't know the (or any) bunkai for the motions, therefor made up their own. Their student's (now) are faced with (attempting to) making those made up motions work.
  Our dojo principles include the passage, that a single kata should be studied for 3 years, and that a particular master analyzed a kata for 10 years. RyuTe teaches 12 (basic) kata, at the rate described that would require 36 years for a simple examination (putting aside the 120 yrs. To attempt the 10 yrs. Apiece).
  I feel that people (also) attempt to apply western marketing logic, to a field that was never intended to be mass marketed (especially, in the western market). Originally (from my understanding, from what was told to me) the art of Te, was restricted to the royal guard (for various reasons). If one researches, it was never an art of/for the common person (ie. Peasant). The “old” masters, certainly weren't, and the majority of their student's weren't either. They were business men, school teacher's, basically the privileged and/or elite of Okinawa. When this art was first taught, it was only to a few student's at a time. Those student's were trusted, and known to be of the desired character to pass the information on to. WW2 also played it's part (in eliminating person's of knowledge) when the U.S. Bombed the Ryukyu Islands during the war. During the U.S. Invasion, Okinawa was completely devastated. Records and written documents were destroyed, as were thousands of civilians. Amongst them were many of the older “Te” masters. When they were lost, so was much of the information about the kata bunkai. Once the (western) concept of mass instruction (as a source of income) became accepted, the karate industry became popular. In order to (safely) display the taught technique's, sparring had to be created (adding that sport aspect) for competition purposes (which includes having safety rules).
  Reading through many of these opinions, I gather that because the techniques won't work in a sparring situation, these individual's don't consider the techniques effective. I would equally be in (some-what) agreement there. The techniques were never designed for sparring use, so why would they work for it? Sparring, is a fairly recent sport activity, so the probability of the techniques being applicable (in that sport situation) are small. Using that same logic, sporting techniques don't work in a real confrontation, so why practice sport sparring?(oh yeah,.... I don't).
  As I read the opinions, my first thought was one of empathy. When I studied Shito-ryu, I shared many of the thoughts expressed by these individual's. Fortunately (for myself), I became acquainted with Taika and RyuTe. From listening to him explain how many of these rumor's came to be started, and his explaining the motions in the kata, the study of “Te” has become much more,..Obvious (at least to myself). As I am planning on continuing to practice the techniques to apply them in actual situations, I will continue practicing and teaching the kata as they were shown to me. 



Anonymous said...

In any technique, there's only good, better, best, Best is where the never ending debate begins.


FossMaNO1 said...

What also has to be realized by these students is that each of the Arts (Shorn-Ryu vs TaeKownDo vs others) share the same katas, at least in name, but look drastically different in performance. The Pinan series of katas, which are fairly new, are a prime example. Matsumura-Seito Shorin-Ryu and Matsubayashi Shorin-Ryu (closely related systems I have studied) have dynamically different interpretations and executions of the Pinans. The Matsumura katas are more straight-forward and performed in a high stance, while the stances of Matsubayashi have the more elongated Japanese-influenced stances. The differences in the katas are more than just in the stances, however--there are many disparities in performance!

The logical question becomes, why do these systems--which claim the same katas--differ in execution/performance?

This is purely my opinion, however I believe it could be that the founders of these systems were each either taught with a different emphasis than the others (based maybe on their body types and/or their strengths/weaknesses?), or they themselves decided to focus on different aspects of the same katas, leading to different interpretations.

The next logical question from this answer becomes: if the masters changed the katas (for whatever reason, but it’s obvious they did if you look at the same kata performed by different styles), is it okay for me to change the kata?

My personal answer to that is “no” although I am a big believer in dissecting the kata and extracting bunkai from it that adheres to my body type and strengths/weaknesses. Still, I am only a shodan and have a lot yet to learn. Who knows, I might change my opinion in the years to come.

openhand said...

My own opinion being, that bunkai is taught from the emphasis being applied to what's being taught. The majority of system's teach to the “sparring” aspect of martial arts training, and their bunkai reflects that. I believe some went to the extent to modify/change the kata to more closely reflect the type of technique that they taught (based upon their bunkai, an attempt at “reverse-engineering”). Right or wrong is irrelevant, it reflects what they teach, so it's acceptable.
I don't see the need to modify/change the kata from how I learned it, the bunkai (as I have been taught it) is relevant to what I teach.

Openhand said...

As an additional or "follow-up" thought to "Loner's" comment, The idea of good, better, best (to myself) is negated by "Works,Doesn't Work".