Thursday, February 18, 2016
Purpose of kata
The concept of “bunkai” (techniques illustrated within the motions of kata) has become the latest “fad” in the martial arts. It's always been there, but has only recently (the past 20 years) become an integral part of martial arts instruction.
Kata motions have always been interpreted as representing “techniques” (in varying degrees of complexity). This latest wave of motions (techniques?) is only the latest examples of what those motions “could” represent. I state could, because we (modern students) don't really know what the original creator's intended those motions to represent. The original creator's of the “traditional” kata are dead and gone. Virtually every interpretation taught, is an opinion of what those motions represent. Each of those varying interpretations are based upon the (individual) instructors viewpoint (opinion).
The majority of those interpretations focus upon (individual, or even “combinations”of) “techniques”. When I view the provided “video examples” of these interpretations, it makes me wonder why these person's would believe that the creator's of those kata (a “master”), would only demonstrate “techniques” within them? It would be more “practical” to of produced a book (or some form of written document) listing examples of those motions/techniques.
Numerous “modern” instructors have (attempted) to make “their own” text/book(s) listing techniques, but the majority of them only amount to their own listings of techniques (with various references to kata motion). I don't feel there's anything wrong with their doing so, but (IMO) they “miss” many of the additional (and often more important) concepts that are illustrated within the kata.
“Techniques” are often subjective (to situations, circumstances and the individual's abilities). When that's a consideration, the value of demonstrating a technique motion becomes questionable (and is obvious when viewing the numerous “examples” of individual's interpretations of those motions that are being presented).
Many (if not most) are based upon some physical (“muscular”) ability to perform them. Oyata taught that “techniques” (at least the techniques that “he” taught) were not based upon the physical size of the practitioner, or the uke (for their success). To myself at least, this makes sense. If/when one is “creating” a defensive system, it should be applicable by anyone, regardless of size, sex or physical prowess. The vast majority of “techniques” that are demonstrated (on the Internet) are being shown/demonstrated by (often) large(er), male practitioners. Granted, the majority of MA practitioners are “male”, but that fact shouldn't thereby (IMO) limit the choice of techniques taught/utilized.
When a technique is based upon physical size/strength, that technique (though “valid”) should not be included as a curriculum requirement (though possibly remain as a valid “option” for certain students). Within “our” classes instruction, we just eliminate them (from consideration for instruction). They may be “exampled” for the student's familiarity with them, but they are not taught as a “requirement”.
The majority of those techniques (because of their dependency upon size/strength) contain numerous “weaknesses” as well. Those “flaws” are illustrated to students, and the student can decide the techniques value (for their own use).
Oyata taught that every kata motion represented numerous interpretations. At the “basic” level, they (might) represent “technique” application, but he (Taika) focused upon the “other” concepts taught through the motions of the kata. These included body-weight placement/transfer, leverage strengths/weaknesses, “natural” (verses “unnatural”) motion. All of which, is what we (now) refer to as “Force Efficiency”. Oyata also included (what he referred to as) the use of “deception” (best defined as “hiding” the defenders initial application of technique). Though commonly “exampled” in the instructed (individual) techniques, it was (often) the “main” purpose of demonstrating many of those techniques (to begin with).
What the (majority of) attending students of his “seminars” (early 80's/90's) “missed”, was recognizing that instruction. The shown “techniques” were irrelevant (in his opinion), But they were what those attendee's focused upon. Oyata taught “concepts”. Individual techniques were irrelevant, it was the presented “concept/principle” that was important (and was demonstrated within the shown application).
Those “principles” were often “missed” by the majority of those attendee's. There are (now) numerous videos from those attendee's that state “I learned this technique from Oyata” (which is a bit of an exaggeration IMO). The techniques that Oyata demonstrated at those seminars were “basic” examples of principles. The techniques (though valid), were irrelevant. It was the principle being shown that was important (to the application of numerous techniques). He (Taika) expected the student to (then) apply the instructed principle to (all of) their “other” techniques. Oyata was (very) adamant that a student should be “studying” their techniques (not just “replicating” the motions).
One's ability to replicate a technique, only requires practice (repetition). To understand what/why that technique will/won't “work”, requires devoted study of the technique. The kata provides examples of the (previously stated) attributes that make the correct performance of those motions possible.
Limiting one's “study” to guessing what “technique” a motion represents, is (itself) “limiting” what one can/will learn from the kata motion. Because I have “electrical” experience, I equate this study to that of electrical circuitry. At it's simplest level, one has an “on/off” switch with a light and the connecting “wiring”. If/when that concept is extrapolated (far enough) one can construct a computer (which is basically a multitude of “on/off” switches).
Though not exactly a direct correlation, the concept is the same. One needs to understand everything that is being demonstrated within the kata motions. It isn't (only) about the (obvious) “techniques”. The majority of what I've seen demonstrated on the Internet, is (often) equivalent to the ability to wire a “3-way switch”. It' useful, but a far cry from the potential of what's being shown.
Oyata (often) stated that “he” still had much to learn. His instructors didn't focus their instruction (to him) on individual “techniques”. They provided him with a certificate that stated (to anyone else) that he had understood that instruction. That certificate states that nothing about his learning/instruction was in regards to “techniques”. He had learned the ability to utilize the “principles” of their systems, many of which are demonstrated within the instructed kata. If/when one understands those principles, “techniques” will then become obvious (regardless of the kata utilized).
The majority of certificates produced (today) will list that the individual has demonstrated their ability of performing the instructed “techniques” (for that system). Techniques are arbitrary, and are subject to circumstance. Principles are enduring and apply to a greater understanding (of the provided instruction). This is what Oyata's system (and our students instruction) focuses upon. Kata, is the “manual” that exists to provide that knowledge.