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Developing Kata - Form & Function

Updated: Jul 29, 2021

When we practice Kata we explore interaction. Interaction with our technique, which requests honesty and precision. Interaction with our motivation, which requires diligence and persistence. Interaction with our adversary, which requires adaptability and strategy. Kata also assumes. It assumes that you understand and apply the principles in Bujutsu consistently in practice. If your opponent is more powerful than you then you shouldn’t rigidly stick to the kata line but come off their strength to create your opening. If your short (or vertically challenged) then you shouldn’t fight at your opponent’s height but your own to maintain balance, stability and consolidate your strength. In essence the kata suggests an option and its up to you to consider it, evaluate it and develop it. In this way Kata is not fixed. Like dropping a stone into a pond, the image changes subtly with each ripple.

This is informed by your experience, your perspective and your purpose. As your understanding develops so too should your execution of the outcome. You must ensure you do not become locked in practice for practice sake. Your practice must be ever changing and ever adapting as your opponent moves and asks new questions of you. If you respond in an identical way every time you become predictable and if your predictable your easily defeated.

Initially as we learn kata we are driven by form. Not our own but that crafted by our teacher. They see the kata and what we must achieve and mould us to do so. The best teachers even at this early stage link each piece of feedback to outcome. In this way we understand the image being crafted and the reasons for it. Linking Kihon, through Kata and into Kumite. This is the real meaning of the 3K’s of Karate. If the 3 are separate then they are of no value. In this way the function of the application informs the development of the form of the kata.

As you explore techniques further you must pressure test technique with less compliance. This is where the importance of form reals itself. Often poor form is linked to poor posture, poor biomechanics and hence poor efficiency. Gaps and weaknesses in the technique give reasons for key parts of the form which change the execution of the technique. So, form develops function.

As the form of the kata is driven no longer solely by the teacher but by our own inquisition and intuition it moves on again. Asking new questions of what is possible. As you explore the extremes of each technique you naturally find a way which works for your own body. The form must then again be reconciled with the function. This is your datum, it keeps us honest and sincere. If we have hair brained ideas about form we should test them and function, or in many cases the lack there of, should make us re-evaluate and ask deeper questions. And so, function drives form again.

If you watch the most senior practitioners of various systems you will often see a board array of quirks and idiosyncrasies. To beginners these small points will barely be noticed at all but as we progress they start to stick out clearly in our mind. Often two practitioners can have two completely divergent view points on the same technique. But it must be understood that this simply represents the sum of their individual journeys. It shouldn’t be surprising therefore that there is variation and that each method will likely hold value. More so, you can watch the same practitioner at two points in time and see them perform the same kata differently, as they should. If they perform the kata in an identical way today and in a years’ time they simply haven’t moved on. As they choose and select the function which most closely mirrors their mindset, their perspective and their purpose, their form will change to meet it. Revealing more now than simply movement and technique but personality and intent.

There is a basic way to perform many kata and their application and a fundamental way to perform them. These are not the same. It is not really that there is an advanced way because kata is only ever as advanced as our understanding.

There are other factors to consider when analysing the cycle of form and function to drive kata. For example, in sport the image of perfect form sometimes ignores the need for realistic function. This further tributary to the stream creates further variation. It is important therefore when studying the movements of others to understand their perspective. If their outcome is competition then this impacts their form. If this aligns with your own purpose or not you can still learn from it but it is unwise to do so without first evaluating its function.

This cycle of form and function is never ending and is part of the reason the study of kata is lifelong. It is crucial that it is understood when we start to evaluate kata movement, which is something we should all prioritise. It is only through critical thinking and analysis that our arts will continue to bloom rather than wilt. The moment we stop asking questions its time to hang up our keikogi. So, go on, go ask some questions.

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