Defining Tradition KarateKata

Traditional Kata Parameters

I’d like to talk about what makes a kata a “traditional” kata. I took Taekwondo for a short time, while I was doing so, the instructor told me that at one of the levels, the students had to create their own kata. I watched one of these student created katas, and I was amazed at the fact that they didn’t match any of the rules or conventions of traditional forms. When I asked about it, I was told that those rules don’t apply. I played the good student, and didn’t say anything further..

karate kata traditional

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So what are these conventions and rules. Most items are conventions, but there are 2 hard and fast rules that can be counted on.

1. If done properly, you should end on the same spot you started. If you don’t, you screwed up.
2. No kata ever starts with a strike. It is always a block, or block and strike combination.

Conventions that can normally be counted out, include things like the following:

1. Generally symmetrical, this doesn’t mean that every technique is mirrored. Even in combat katas, like seisan, you will see a “balance” in the kata.

2. Will repeat some of the techniques, some times for no other apparent reason than simply repetition.

3. There will be a good mix of stance and footwork changes, and angles.

4. Generally you will not see entirely closed fists and spear hands especially in ancient kata, you will see many more techniques. Koi-no-shippo-uchi and bil-jee finger strikes are perfect examples.

But why does any of this matter? Remember martial arts are for defense, you can’t be on defense if you strike first, at least not for the most part. So blocking first, helps wire into your brain that you are being defensive. All part of becoming a better person.

Stopping where you started serves 2 purposes. The first and most obvious is practicality, if you are doing the form over and over and over, it is nice not to have to re-adjust every single repetition. The second, more important, reason is far less obvious it is “the measured step”. Kung-fu will often explain this far better than other systems. Each step should have a mathematical precision, if you are moving forward and back in the same stance, your stance height, width and depth shouldn’t change. Thus, 10 steps in one direction, and then 10 back, and you should end in the place you started.

The other conventions are simply that, conventions, they are not hard and fast rules. For more understanding of what I have written watch and study the Pangainoon Katas Seisan, and Sanseirui.


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