Kata: more sooner vs later

Discussion in 'Karate' started by YoshiroShin, Feb 20, 2023.

  1. YoshiroShin

    YoshiroShin Valued Member


    So lately I've been considering stories of Funakoshi Sensei practicing Tekki/Naihanchi for three years before being taught the next form, and I've heard similar things about the practice of Sanchin kata from that era as well.

    In my new dojo, I've already been taught 8 kata in five weeks, though I assume it's because I was able to absorb enough detail to be able to move on quickly because of my prior experience in martial arts including three years of Shotokan; the black belts indicate that I seem to have the forms down fairly well aside from small (but I think important!) details, such as keeping a consistently clean sanchin dachi in my movements.

    Since the details that I've noticed that I need to work on across the kata seem to be mostly details that one practices in Sanchin, I wondered what my progress would look like if I was given Sanchin, Tensho, and Gekisai 1 and 2 only to work with for at least a year.

    This leads to my question: what do you think about timing and pacing of kata teaching, and do you see any disadvantages of the "sanchin for a year" approach aside from boredom (which would be just another challenge to overcome)? Or do you think this older approach is made less necessary with modern technology of being able to refer to and study the kata at any point outside the dojo via videos and books?

    Personally, I'm happy to just focus on Sanchin, Tensho, and Gekisai for a long while, at least in my personal practice.

    And yes, I will ask my teacher about this this week as well.
    Nachi likes this.
  2. Nachi

    Nachi Valued Member Supporter

    Yep, I've been told about how it used to be a normal practice to first only practice and Hojo Undo for several years before being ready for the rest. It is not done that way because dojos actually want to keep students. Also it is said each student would only be given one kata to thoroughly study and learn, as there are all the techniques one needs in all the kata (not counting Gekisai and Sanchin and Tensho).

    Considering there are 12 katas in total (at least in our lineage, but your sounds the same), being taught 8 within 5 weeks does indeed sound very fast. To me. There are subtleties and details that would be hard to get down that quickly. From what I had seen the transition from the hard shotokan to more circular and hard-soft goju in itself takes time when it comes to techniques, etc.
    On the other hand if your teacher has judged that you can learn so many katas quickly, I suppose it is ok to trust him or your seniors or whoever has taught you. They would know what they teach and if you get it quickly enough. Maybe they mean to first teach you simply the steps and have you grind the details and the kata in general then. Maybe they want you to be able to join in their practice so that you don't have to sit by and watch. That I would understand.
    But generally, it is not an approach I would go for. I think getting the basic steps down may be possible, but you wouldn't get that much out of it. Just sprinting over a kata won't let you figure out the nuances, how to move, how to transition between the techniques, what is soft and what is hard, what is slow and what is fast, about the tenshion, breath, energy of the move, much less it's meaning - the bunkai. Personally I appreciate that I can spend a longer time with one kata and learn it better, for a year or more, and I still don't usually feel like I know it well enough to start learning the next (I could practice more, though, to be honest).

    But ultimately this is up to you and your teacher. If the teacher judges you learn fast and wants to teach you all of this at once, there is probably a reason for it. But in case you feel a bit overwhelmed or would like more time to absorb what has been taught, you can mention it and he should probably adjust.
    But as you say, if the corrections you are given across are something you are practising with Sanchin, maybe it would indeed be a good idea to spend some time with Sanchin only. Well, Sanchin and Gekisais. That would be a good combo. I wouldn't even put Tensho in the mix. From what I am taught, Tensho is the most advanced kata of the style.

    And it may be my point of view now, but only Sanchin for a year doesn't sound boring to me :) When practiced with kihon and other techniques, but only Sanchin and perhaps Gekisais sounds perfectly fine to me. Several months ago we started doing 3x Sanchin at the beginning of each Monday class and I don't think it is boring. There are so many things to learn and practice in Sanchin. I wouldn't find it boring, more like hard work that I am perhaps too lazy to do :D
    YoshiroShin likes this.
  3. Smitfire

    Smitfire Cactus Schlong

    IMHO this quote highlights the different way kata are used today compared to how they used to be used.
    These days kata are generally performative and the outer visible execution is what is judged. Using that metric you can "learn" a kata in a matter of days, weeks or even hours. I'd bet that someone with a trained dancer's background could learn and perform a kata in an hour or so.
    You can "collect" kata in this way and many grading structures are geared around this. Learn to perform kata = next grade. Repeat until bored.
    Naihanchi is not a kata I've ever been taught but it is a big part of Iain Abernethy's approach so I learned it from Sensei Youtube. My performance is probably lacking in details or a bit of polish but it's serviceable.
    BUT...learning kata like that isn't, I think, actually learning it. Not really. It's superficial.
    Really knowing a kata is to learn the bunkai, learn the oyo of that bunkai, drill that bunkai, spar the bunkai, explore and absorb the principles and concepts that make it all work. Make that part of your personal style of fighting.
    That is what takes time. You can learn the moves of naihanchi in a week. But everything else I just mentioned would easily take a year or more. Some might even say a lifetime.
    It's the difference between knowing 10 kata at a surface level and knowing 1 kata really well.
    Studying broad, but shallow, compared to narrow, but deep.
    YoshiroShin and Nachi like this.
  4. YoshiroShin

    YoshiroShin Valued Member

    Meibukan has five additional kata that Yagi Sensei created, so the total is 17.

    Yes, I selected this dojo because of the quality of the teacher and the dedication and behaviour of his senior students. One of the reasons that I rejected one of the JKA schools was the egomania of a senior student who led the practice on a Thursday noon who derided my technique because it wasn't JKA-style and who lacked the vocabulary to even communicate what he wanted me to do, despite my having walked in without the pretense of being anything but a beginner. They also have a tendency to ignore emails.

    Exactly; this is what I think.

    The closest I came to being overwhelmed was when I was taught Tenchi because it was so exotic to any of the kata I'd seen in my life up to that point.

    Some of the corrections are Sanchin-related, others are specific to the particular kata; I just have an urge to spend my optional time on the fundamental/Sanchin details first as they reflect in everything else.

    Same :)

    Yes, especially in competitions; I even find the idea of multiple simultaneous synchronized kata performance to be, well, bizarre, though I respect the value that the performers derive from it for their own lives, as long as they maintain an awareness of what they're really doing. The worst thing is when people who have only been exposed to that way claim that that's all that kata really is for (like one name-known writer on karate used to say before he disappeared).

    I explicitly look for schools where kata is not treated like that - this was one of the things that drew me to the last dojo I was in, and one of the things that drew me to this one.

    Naihanchi/Tekki is an amazing kata - it really does work and I believe it to be truly martially authentic. One of the things that I learned in the previous dojo is that keeping in mind the application of the kata and imagining an opponent when doing the form can help provide some guidelines to the student with regards to what is and is not sane or realistic, instead of only focusing on how each technique "looks", though this idea might've already been obvious to you and the MAPers.

    If you have a lot of experience with karatedo, maybe the information from even one visit to a Shorin/Shotokan teacher to inspect your Naihanchi would plug right into your head no problem and might even be revelatory.

    I even feel as though if anyone outside of Shorin-lineage was interested in learning just one of its kata for their personal practice, my suggestion would certainly be Naihanchi/Tekki.

    For me I think it took three years of study in a dojo (after having "learned" the form off the Internet seven years before that) before the shapes began manifesting spontaneously when threats would occur (only for guarding though - it thankfully never went further than that...), but like you said, drilling and practicing using the specific kata shapes and techniques against pads or partners outside of kata also takes time too and is important.

    Exactly, and the deeper one studies one kata, I think the easier the correlative depths of other kata later on will come.
    Last edited: Feb 21, 2023
  5. YoshiroShin

    YoshiroShin Valued Member

    I got my answer: he says that it's just so that I can follow along when the whole class is asked to do one of those katas, and that in Okinawa, even the white belts follow along with the others for those kata. I'm satisfied :)
    Nachi likes this.
  6. Smitfire

    Smitfire Cactus Schlong

    Yeah that kinda makes sense. The way we do it in TKD (where patterns are very tied to belt rank) we often start at the lower patterns and go up and then when you reach "your" pattern you just keep repeating that. Which can be annoying as a higher grade you don't get the same reps for your pattern. But then you should be more self motivated by that stage and class reps are for little details and such anyway!
    YoshiroShin likes this.

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