I saw an interesting post on my Facebook feed a couple of days ago… Since I tend to check out martial arts pages and subscribe to some on occasion, I often have suggestions that pop into my feed. Some help to plant seeds for good blog posts, some just look like nonsense (to me) and I scroll right on by. But this one threw out a thought that resonated with me. It read something comparing kata and kumite to the body and soul of karate and how you can have kata without kumite but you can’t have kumite without kata.
This would be a point of heated discussion among martial artists of different styles, as some would argue that neither is needed to support the other. I was raised on a system where kata, or forms, are the base foundation for everything that follows. Kumite is a physical application of those forms. If you try to do kumite before properly learning the forms, you’ll be lacking in certain respects. Again, this can differ from style to style and I‘ve even trained in dojos where they teach their students kumite and even sparring well before they properly learn kata.
A big problem I have is that learning to spar or doing kumite before learning the proper foundational elements is sort of like trying o run before you’ve learned how to walk. It doesn’t work well in anyone’s favour. But one of the main issues, which has always been something that’s irked me as well, is that people want the flashy, high-flying techniques. They want the kicking and the punching and the speed… Most people don’t have the patience to learn kata and develop themselves.
And if I’m being honest, kata shouldn’t be sold short. Doing a half dozen forms with proper muscle tension and power will usually work up more of a sweat than anything else will. I was well-reminded of this recently when I watched the Karate kid III for the bajillionth time… The main protagonist is training in the antagonist’s dojo and is asked what was the last thing he learned. The protagonist says, “kata,” to which the antagonist says that kata is great for working up a sweat but it doesn’t win tournaments. Although I don’t necessarily agree that form won’t help win a tournament, I can easily agree that it works up a wicked sweat…
Traditional martial arts isn’t a fast process and you won’t be ready to kick ass and fight like an action star, even after a couple of years of training. Katas are not just a nice-to-have, they are the requirements needed to develop your foundation in order to build your skill set properly and efficiently. Plus, they’re hard as shit to master. After almost four decades of studying karate, I still have difficulty managing some of the steps and techniques included in my katas. Time and patience, folks. That’s the spice that makes an effective martial artist. ☯️
One thought on “A Foundation Without Form Will Still Be Weak…”
There’s interesting cultural variations regarding kata actually. Having spent most of my time studying Kenpo, which has Chinese roots, I know that Kung Fu katas sometimes have deliberate errors in them. It makes no sense until you consider the cultural differences.
In Japan, a sensei is judged by how far they can elevate their students. In China, there’s more mistrust, not only of outsiders from other schools who may be watching, but even fear of students turning on the master (as seen in many Hong Kong martial arts films). The “secret techniques” are reserved for only the most trusted students. The differences in technique vs kata force students to think harder and occasionally show variations in technique.
But yeah, even Parker Kenpo’s long series katas (which are linked together self defense techniques) have differences in their moves vs the actual techniques.