Kata as a record of combative principles

It took me a few years to write this follow-up to my first post about karate Enter the Dragon, inspired by finally reaching the 1st DAN (black belt) in traditional karate. I got close to it in while practicing Wado-Ryu style in Finland but life got in the way. So after 20 years, since my first steps at the dojo and after three different karate schools, I got here. Honestly, my plan was always to start exploring other karate styles and martial arts in general after reaching the black belt, but now I feel less adventurous and would be happy if I can go deeper into the art. Also, Jesse Enkamp “the karate nerd”, who travels the world and talks to various martial artists, made a comment that resonated with me. He intends to stay true to karate and not cross-train, but will explore other martial arts to deepen his understanding of the art which will improve his karate along the way.

When I was younger I preferred kumite. I still enjoy it, but now I cherish kata. I did not really understand kata for years until I discovered Ian Abernathy’s podcast. He opened my eyes to karate and martial arts in general in so many ways. I have been feeling humbled by his teaching and to a degree inadequate to really follow them until my recent preparation for the black belt test. As I wrote in Enter the Dragon, the black belt is not the end of the road. It means the pupil has reached the base of the mountain and is now ready to start climbing as a student. To the best of my knowledge in most MA schools anything beyond 3rd or 4th DAN is no longer about demonstrating your skills but rather spreading your knowledge, passing it down the line, and keeping the tradition alive and as such your honorary status advances within the organization. On the individual level you keep working on your basics, deepening your understanding, learn some advanced katas, but mostly it’s about perfecting and optimizing techniques. In other words, how to do the same with less energy and fever moves.

The best Ian Abernathy’s illustration of kata for me is when he compares the combative system to an oak tree with many sprawling branches. Kata in this metaphor represents an acorn, containing all the information needed to grow the tree in a compressed form. Our job as students of karate is to learn the basic movements that form each kata, study and understand its principles, seek examples and practice bunkai (practical applications), gain a deeper knowledge of the underlying techniques, and finally apply all that in practice (be it sparring or self-defense).

May the force be with you while you live and prosper! 😉


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