Shotokan based Karate in Canterbury, Melbourne
Kata is a series of movements preformed in a set sequence. Kata has been in martial arts for hundreds of years. Many Shotokan Kata are directly based on Kata older than Karate itself.
The precise history of many Kata is unknown and subject to speculation and myth. Through much of the 1800’s martial arts practice was banned in regions governed by Japan. During this time Kata was directly passed down from father to son or practiced by a brave few in secret gatherings. Written histories and records were not kept due to fear of persecution, and most people were not literate. In some cases even the exact meaning of the name has been lost over time!
The majority of Shotokan Kata learned by coloured belt students are modified versions of Kata authored by “Yasutsune Itosu”, one of Funakoshi’s teachers in Okinawa, and are believed to be based on older Chinese Kata (hence some striking similarities between Karate and other martial arts styles). In the mid to late 1920’s many of the Okinawan and Chinese Kata names were changed to the current Japanese names so that Karate would be more palatable to the mainland Japanese.
In Modern Karate, the number of Kata practiced varies from club to club. In Shotokan circles it is not unusual to have schools with as few as 15 or 16, but more common now is a total of around 26. At Tiger Spirit we currently have 18 in our grading syllabus and are expanding.
When the ban on martial arts was lifted, and martial arts came out from the shadows, it is speculated that over 50 Kata were practiced in Okinawa. Gichin Funakoshi’s “Master Text” only has instruction on 15 of these Kata, plus some Basic/Introductory Kata that he devised. Some schools see this book as the Shotokan Bible and only practice the kata it lists.
In 1948 various instructors from Japanese universities met and added another 11 Kata that were in common practice. The objective was to unify the teaching of these Kata, as different instructors had different teachings depending on who handed the Kata down to them.
In the early days of Karate, before it was even called Karate, Kata formed the majority of the training. There were some step fighting exercises, but individual Kihon (Basics) was not a training method in use at this stage. Kata was the primary training tool!
It is said that Funakoshi was present at these gatherings and approved. Due to politics within Karate at the time this is open to speculation, especially as Funakoshi’s own school did not add any these kata to its syllabus.
Students at Tiger Spirit are not technically assessed on Kata until Orange Belt (7th Kyu). From that point on each belt has set Kata. Initially the Kata are basic, focusing on direction, posture, and coordination. As students’ progress the technical demands of Kata become greater.
We don’t focus intensely on Kata earlier than Orange Belt because we have found that students will retain low rank technical deficiencies in their Kata.
Kata practice becomes a form of moving meditation. In order to do well the Karate practitioner must focus all their concentration on the current move. The past move has gone from existence, and the next move is still in the future. The student must be totally focused on now!
To excel at Kata, it must be practiced over and over for years and years, and even then it may not be totally perfect. Perfection in something as big as an advanced Kata is achieved by the execution of hundreds of little things done well. This teaches the Karate practitioner a valuable martial arts and life lesson… HUMILITY!
Furthermore, the only person who can defeat you in kata is yourself!
Kata are categorised into 3 levels. Basic, Intermediate and Advanced. At Tiger Spirit we have 3 basic level Kata in our syllabus. This is highly unusual in Shotokan Karate, but is not that unusual in other styles, in fact most other Karate styles have 5 basic Kata.
We have included these basic Kata to allow us more focus on the little details that can greatly improve a Karate practitioner’s execution of Kata in the long term. Furthermore, the attention to detail on intermediate Kata is expected to be high when students eventually study them.
Most Shotokan schools start Kata at an earlier stage than we do, and some start Kata almost immediately. It may be as long as 1 year before an adult student learns their first Kata at our school. This may lead to the incorrect conclusion that we place very little emphasis on Kata. This could not be further from the truth!
One reason that we start Kata later than other schools is because we believe that students who have trained for some time will have a greater appreciation and understanding of Kata, and give Kata the respect it deserves. To a beginner, Kata is more than likely not what they are interested in learning at this point. It may seem to have little value as it doesn’t have direct self-defence application. It may also be too demanding for the un-coordinated and may lead to frustration.
To compensate for starting Kata later, and having many basic Kata, most of our belts have more than one Kata per grading in order to “catch up”. By the time students get to advanced Kata they are learning at same rank as students from many other schools.
To achieve the first level of black belt, a Tiger Spirit student must know a total of 12 Kata. For those who are interested, the following list is our Kata syllabus…..
Our Karate - Kata (Pattens or Forms)
Contact Sensei Andrew on 0412 248 157 or Info@tigerspirit.com.au