Friday, 24 April 2015

Stranger Than Fiction

The subject of unlocking and interpreting Karate kata stands out as a peculiar inversion when compared to the multitude of topics, specialisations and ongoing research within relevant and related subjects such as Anthropology, Archaeology, History and Linguistics. Creative interpretation of kata (The idea that endless applications and possibilities exist for each movement) is seen by the 'creationists' as the only possible way of making practical use of antique forms and the idea that the original functions could be discovered and restored through careful and methodical research is quickly dismissed as nonsense. None of the above mentioned subjects when approaching a newly discovered text, symbol, glyph, building, piece of art etc at any point suggest that making up the meaning in a fictional free for all is an acceptable idea or process to be applied to anything that has survived from antiquity. Instead painstaking research, critically developed method and patience are the order of the day hopefully leading to an accurate translation of the intended meaning or function (Or a close as possible approximation). So why is it the case in Karate that anyone and everyone can make up endless applications for kata that have no real relationship from one move to the next, flow drills that make no real sense (but might look good!) and seem to be more about the personal tastes of the instructor than a genuine attempt to decode kata within a pragmatic framework.

Unfortunately there are very few people currently that are even remotely interested in approaching kata with the aim of finding out what was originally intended in the movements and the underlying functions which would be the very reason for creating the kata in the first place. It is very easy to dismiss this approach as many often do (some to protect their personal and financial interests) saying the original functions are lost forever or that kata were created to be interpreted and re-interpreted over time. Where would Egyptology be if this attitude had been taken when the subtle meaning of Hieroglyphs were lost to the world? or indeed any subject that studies history and the past. Did the great translators of hieroglyphs decide "well, no one knows so lets make it up?" thankfully not.

The antique kata are a gateway to the past and thankfully are not all random collections of reactive empty handed techniques to be used against a single attacker in a controlled environment! Instead the forms inherited from China contain a rich and profound understanding of the proactive and preemptive skills essential for success in various types of physical engagement (Or to at least give a fighting chance!). These principles are expressed in the functions and techniques encoded in the various forms, such as the use of Sai (Sanchin, Seisan and Sanseriu), Locking, restraining and disarming skills (Naihanchi and Kusanku) and other simple ideas encoded in kata like Chinto, Rohai and Passai.

There is still a vast amount of work to be done with many forms that need to be decoded and to have their original functions unlocked, correctly understood and restored within the appropriate historical, cultural and functional context. It is true that skill sets like the use of the Sai have no place in modern society beyond a hobbyist's passion for Karate kata but is it such a great loss to real fighting that Sanchin, Seisan and Sanseriu catalogue Sai techniques and not deadly nukites! It should come as a relief to anyone with real experience in violence that these forms are in fact not for brawling and reactive self defence but instead contain highly sophisticated Sai skills and techniques that when experienced reveal the true brilliance and ingenuity of the kata creators!.

Please contact us with any comments, questions or most importantly for training please email Tom Maxwell at, thanks for reading!!!

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