Entrance to the Barn Dojo....

Saturday, April 07, 2012

Kata anyone?

Why is it that some people who practice karate regard kata as some sort of mystical experience? They seem to invest these movements with a spiritual significance, as if they are doing some pagan dance under a full moon to charm the karate gods. And I'm not referring to training itself, but kata. Certainly training--whether it's rock climbing or running or biking or yoga or any number of other training regimens--can feel as though it's somehow spiritual. Who knows, maybe it's the endorphin rush. But watching some people's kata feels very removed from reality. After all, isn't kata merely a means to remember techniques, applications, and principles of self defense? Some people--and they're not all Westerners either--do moves in kata as if they were baseball players standing at home plate admiring their own home runs...only the ball drops in for a single! They put on these "frightening" faces as if they were performing in a grade-B kung fu movie, trying to scare their villainous foes with fearsome faces. They pause or emphasize techniques with slow, dynamic movement in places that--in application--don't call for slow movement at all. They slap themselves and wear thick, starchy crisp uniforms (gi) to highlight their "power" as though these were the sound effects in a bad movie.
Is this just our infatuation with all things Eastern? Is it because so many people have no idea what kata is for? Is there some sort of connection we make through movement with all the others before us who practiced and performed the same thing? Or is it merely the connection it manifests with all the other paraphernalia--the incense, the costumes, the hierarchy, the rituals, so like the Church? After all, you can see real power--witness some of the Chinese stylists in silk or satin cloth--without always hearing it. Watch a video of someone's demonstration kata some time with the sound turned off. And this was a young Okinawan karate-ka that I was watching!
And you see it with kobudo as well. The people who decide to make the kata really long and "complex" looking by repeating movements ad nauseum just to make it look long and complex looking. If a kata is a repository of technique, why is it necessary to keep repeating the same techniques over and over again?
Anyway, this sort of "posing" I find annoying. This is the image that many people--martial arts practitioners and the general public alike--have of karate. It's also the expectation that new students may have of karate when they seek out a dojo. But so much of this is a meaningless distraction. So much of this is actually contrary to proper movement--movements that are flowing, generally a lot smaller, and a power that generates from the whole body and may not be accompanied by the snap of a canvas "dish towel." Okay, done with rant. I sort of wish I hadn't watched that video. I hate ranting.

1 comment:

  1. Don't know. Personally, when I see kata performed with power, efficiency of motion coupled with evident understanding of body and martial science - it's akin to a spiritual event.