To do Kata – Or not to do Kata?

My interest in Kata has increased lately. I thought it would change my view on Kata, and maybe how we used it. It has not! I am stronger in my opinion in this case than before. Let me explain…

First of all, I believe that you get good at what you practice. You can practice technique and get better at technique, or you can practice understanding, and get better at that.

The most mis- and overused Bruce Lee quote has to be the one about 10 000 techniques, vs one technique and 10 000 repetitions. Many people in the pseudo historical martial arts scene use this quote to defend that they practice Kihon many times, without really understanding it.

Show me a man that has (only) practiced his Yoko-geri 10 000 times in his living room, and I will show you a man that will not succeed in using it against someone trying to punch him in the face.

Forget 10 000! My magic number is 10: After 10 repetitions, your Yoko-geri (or for that matter Koshi-guruma) will not be any better. It is at this point you need to start understanding what you are actually doing. You need to kick (or throw, slice or whatever) first a target, then a moving target, and so on. At this stage Kata might come in handy, as a way to do techniques in a more interesting way, or as combinations.

To understand why I think many people has to move on beyond the Kata, we must first understand what Kata actually is.

As a young Samurai, you went to the head of the Ryu, to learn sword fighting. You brought your Katana, and you would just fight and learn as you went along? Of course not. I would guess you would get “Learn these 10 Kata and come back next month”… Why? Because there was no such thing as a “yellow belt”, this was the pedagogic system in use. It was easy for the Sensei to come up with a bunch of Kata that would teach you how to draw in a few different ways (even while standing up or jumping), a few cuts and slices, turning around without stabbing yourself or someone you didn’t want to stab, and so on. After that, I assume you would go on with Bokken Kata against someone else, maybe more or less arranged sparring with Shinai, and maybe Tameshigiri. This is exactly like you would practice many fighting sports today, even without the sword! Basic techniques to know what to do, but then combinations/sparring and hitting a bag.

Of course the same has happened since then as well, like the Heian/Pinan in Karate, the Go no Kata of Kodokan, etc. Now some people are convinced that if you just practice Kata enough you will find hidden, secret, deadly techniques, and so on. But why? If you want to be good at fighting, practice fighting! If you want to be good at a certain combinations of blocks and punches, test it against an opponent, at least after the magic 10 times.

What about Kime no Kata, Nage no Kata, Goshinho, etc? Kodokan created them for a reason obviously, to collect some knowledge, and to set a certain level. However, and this is very important:

They were practiced by blackbelts, people that already knew how to fight in one way or another.

This was never about complete learning and understanding from day one! Different Kata apply to different levels in your martial arts journey. Every journey begins with one step, yada-yada, martial arts are about the journey – not the goal, etc. Sure, but at some point you must remember to take the next step – to move on! Don’t get stuck trying to find hidden meanings where there weren’t any to begin with!

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