"It should be
known that the secret principles
of Goju-Ryu exist within the kata."
Master Chojun Miyagi - Founder of Okinawa Goju-Ryu
"Kata" are not simply
an exhibition of form. They are a concrete manifestation of techniques
which can be transformed at any time to any form. It is in the kata that
the essence of karate has assumed a definite form. We should always
remember that the kata are a crystallization of the essence of karate and
that we should always begin afresh and train hard. It is only through the
training of kata that you will reach "gokui", the essential teachings.
Kata is used to describe a set pattern of movements containing the
self-protection techniques of a particular master or style. The Chinese
martial arts (taiji, xingyi, xaiolin, etc.) also utilize such forms, called
quan or hsin, and are the birthplace of the original
Kata of Okinawan Karate. 8 of the 12 Kata practiced in Goju-Ryu are the
forms handed down to Master
Kanryo Higaonna by his Okinawan teacher Aragaki Seisho and the Chinese Master RuRuKo and others, who Master Higaonna
studied under during his 13 years in Fozhou, China.
Classical or traditional Okinawan
Karate was developed by ancient masters who understood the "natures of man".
These "natures of man" included intense understandings of what we today call
kinesiology, anatomy and physiology, psychology, nutrition and the like.
These "modern" sciences were understood and applied by the creators of the
martial arts hundreds of years before scientific medicine was founded in the
19th century. This detailed understanding of the inner workings of man
were part of the intricate laws and sciences
which gave way to one of the most defined and successful methods of
medicine still in practice after 2500 years.
Without these understandings, Kata is simply a mass of lifeless and
meaningless physical movements. Kata contain obvious external principles
including proper body mechanics,
maneuvering, distancing, technique placement, evasion, leverage, joint
locks, throws and pressure
point manipulation. It is the internal
manifestations such as energy transference, opening/closing energy gates, clearing the qi (ch'i) channels or
meridians, qi cultivation and manipulation, qigong (healing and martial),
are missing from today's modern martial arts.
For these reasons, if kata
is simplified or altered to either accommodate an instructor's preference or
to enhance a tournament competitor's chances, then we lose the true meaning
and spirit of kata and thereby diluting the entire system of study. This is exactly what has happened to Karate in a
majority of styles and dojo around the world today.
The original Kata of Okinawan Karate
contain the applications of these sciences within their movements. The true
meaning and spirit of Karate are embedded in the Kata and only by the
practice of Kata can we come to understand them. The "traditional" or
classical Kata of Okinawan Karate are the physical vessels of the "secret
fighting techniques" of the old masters. Though the performance of a Kata
must remain the same, the bunkai, analysis
or study of technique, and the oyo,
application of technique, are, in relation to the expertise of the
practitioner, ever changing. This is why a practitioner could study
only one Kata for a lifetime and have all the resources necessary to defend
It is important to mention here that the idea and
utilization of "bunkai" has been absurdly misinterpreted and wrongly applied
by a huge segment of today's martial artists. To the worst degree,
bunkai has become some sort of mystical source for the "hidden secret
fighting techniques of an art long since lost" to which many are literally
cashing in on. Understanding and applying bunkai, though not a
secret at all, will unlock the deepest intentions of a kata.
There are many reasons why such a large population of
the martial arts world are unaware of the importance of Kata. Language
barriers and cultural differences are contributing factors, but are
inconsequential in comparison once the understanding of Okinawan culture and
the inclusion of Okinawan Karate into Japanese society are understood.
self-protection techniques of Okinawa were handed down from generation to
generation from father to the first born son to ensure secrecy and security
for the family or village. If for some reason one or the other died before
passing on their "di" (te- Jap.) (indigenous
fighting methods), it would die with them. Many times, the son of a family member would be adopted and all family traditions,
including their "di" could therefore survive. It was a great
responsibility to receive such an honor and it was not taking lightly.
When Karate was introduced into the school systems of
Okinawa and was taught openly for the first time in the early 1900's by
Higaonna Sensei and others, it had to undergo certain changes to make it
safe and acceptable for public practice. Chojun Miyagi Sensei taught Karate
to children and adults in public schools and recreation centers in the
1920-30's. However, there were great differences in what he taught his
private students at his home dojo. The students who were
accepted at his home were exposed to the more rigorous and true nature of
"toudi", not the "new Karate". This "new Karate" was intended to be a
form of exercise designed to improve a person mentally, physically and
morally. Unfortunately, over the decades, hundreds of 1000's of black
belts have opened their own dojos or "founded" their own systems, all
without any of the knowledge or understanding of what Karate truly
Many schools of karate in the US and other countries
have done away with the practice of kata citing kata are out-dated training
tools and therefore do not offer any realistic self-defense methods.
Those schools that have kept kata practice in their systems have largely
done so for either organizational (traditional) requirements and/or for
Many Chinese martial arts' instructors as well have
lost the original intent of their forms. While they can perform the
movements, these movements are literally empty vessels completely void of
any substance or designed purpose. Without the implied sciences as
part of it's instruction, taiji (tai chi) extremely famous for it's supposed
health benefits, as taught today by a majority of instructors has become
little more than a low-impact exercise. In some respects, practicing
taiji could actually expand and even create more problems than the
practitioner had at the onset of their training. This is no different
than taking a medication without understanding any possible side effects, as
well as effects brought on by under dosing, over dosing, improperly mixing with
other medications, etc.
Another reason many schools have dropped kata from
their system is the instructor's lack of understanding of kata beyond the
above mentioned reasons. Since they cannot offer "valid" reasons to
their students for kata practice, any motivating factors
for the student to learn something that even the instructor deems "useless"
is in fact useless. This has lead to
many instructors seeking "fillers" from other systems and the formation of
Americanized or mixed martial arts (MMA). Either way around, these instructors have little, if any,
understanding of the true nature and purpose of kata practice.
Please don't misinterpret the intention here. In
no way whatsoever is it insinuated that some of these arts are not
effective. We are simply giving reasons why many schools are no longer
teaching kata as part of their curriculum. Shihan McMains, though
limited, has studied and practiced some MMAs to better understand their
base. Plus he enjoys the "get down" nature and grueling workout they
Research into the history of most "pre-modern" Asian
martial arts (late 19th Century and earlier) would reveal the compilation of
study by that system's founder into several armed, un-armed and healing arts.
This is not the same as many of today's martial arts where bits and pieces of the external
techniques of different arts are brought together under an umbrella art
without any in-depth understanding of the relative nature of those styles and
respective techniques. Imagine building a car with parts borrowed from
BMW, Ford, Saab, Jaguar, Land Rover and others. While some of the
external body parts may fit together or simply "fill the need", the internal
workings and mechanicals utilized must fit their intended design in
conjunction with other specifically designed parts to secure long life and