One of the Discussion Topics that comes up quite regularly when Martial Artists ponder upon their different Schools Training Methods Is Whats the big deal with Kata Training or training in Forms. You see you are always going to be presented with different points of view, and for those reading this, here is mine.
Firstly for the benefit of those unfamiliar with the term Kata i will begin with my brief description. A Kata is a Technical performance of a series of Techniques from a Given Schools Syllabus. Those Techniques are linked together to give a continuous movement that helps the Student to understand links between them in that given Kata. So blocks, kicks punches, strikes, take downs, wrist releases, arm traps, Throws etc can all be included in these movements. The Skill level developed in the kata varies and therefore so does the difficulty. The Nature of the kata depends upon what it was that the writer of the form wanted to teach the student. Its also known as a living Fighting form. Put more simply its a Training exercise handed to the Student that will develop the quality of their Techniques. Now all of these explanation are correct though none of them explain the whole picture. So what does Kata actually teach. Whats its Relevance?
For the Uninitiated eyes, at first a Kata can at times seem confusing, and and its relevance to combat is not always immediately obvious. And it is often said that since Kata doesn't actually involve an opponent, that its not real fighting, and therefore whats the purpose? Well that is exactly correct. Kata is not real fighting. Let me Explain.
I have taught many different types of students over the years who all have had different objectives. From those wishing for a short 4 week self defense course, to long term students who have taken up the study as a life pursuit, to blackbelt and beyond. For example my longest serving student has trained for 16 years now. And this is how i explain the Varying types of training methods to these two different types of student. Imagine i am a builder of houses. A client comes to me and says that they wish to hire me for four weeks and i need you to build me a shelter in that time. The design will be basic in its function and design, because my priority will be to get a roof over on the structure by four weeks, ready to shelter you from the rain. We would do what we could with the time we have to work with, though expectations have to be realistic. Then imagine the same person gives me a year. Five years. A lifetime. This is a different situation.
This means we can start building from the very foundation needed for a Strong well designed building, with all the mod cons. The builder and architect would of course be taking the long view. The longer the project the better the roof. We could build something able to withstand the Greatest storms. This is where Kata comes in. They are part of the architects blueprint for the Martial artist. They belong to the foundations of the expert. The way that we learn to perform in Kata, then starts to influence the way that we move away from Kata. Kata belongs to the longer view which is the one that a good instructor always sees. Martial arts born from the foundations of the highest possible technical ability. Sparring teaches timing, correct shot selection, and disguise upon your movements. Kata will make you more accurate, balanced, controlled, and will help you to punch and kick like someone greater than your size, whatever that may be. As long as the Student approaches training with the correct mindset and work ethic Kata will give back to you everything that you put in and more. It is an investment in what you will become. The return cannot happen without investment. So if you have a busy life and no time to commit to practice after training of course you may not see improvements from kata. Though to be honest, improvement in any training method requires time from the student to really develop, much like a Gym program. You could have the most advanced Gym in the world, though this is just Theory until the Hard work is done by the recipient. Any in Depth Training methodology is the same. The self defense student would not benefit from Kata as they do not have the time to put in to the project. They need quick results so therefore i train them differently. With a short term view. The training must suit the students needs, ability, timescale etc. Therefore the Gift that Kata has to give is to the expert to be, from the instructor looking at the bigger picture. As it is this type of student who has the time to benefit from its purpose. This is the Martial Artist!
So what place does this all have when it comes to an actual fight. Well developing technique that is effective is down to the time that you the student spends practicing in a technically minded way. Instructors can see the ones who have worked hard at home since the last session, as the benefits show in your improved movements and increased familiarity with training. Though one aspect of training is not there to replace any other. Kata is not supposed to be a replacement of sparring or streetfight training. Its a practice that will enhance your sparring and streetfighting ability. Some look at Kata without understanding and can easily conclude that it just is not real fighting. Kata is not real fighting. Though neither is sparring in a padded area, with heating, drink breaks, rules referees and instructors to look after you, let alone a training partner who steps back and apologizes when the come in too heavy. No training is real fighting. All training is a method there to develop your ability to survive if you find yourself involved in the the real thing. Practiced separately, all aspects of practice are bought together to make a complete martial artist. Too much of one aspect alone will always make a lop sided practitioner. Too much emphasis on any one method means you miss out on the benefits of another. Training must be holistic, all encompassing. Kata, Sparring, Mental strength, Discipline, Physicality, Courage, intelligence, Sparring, challenges, Adaptability, Creativity, awareness, self awareness, Respect. All these are important aspects in building an Expert. Kata is just another piece of the whole.
A boxer Runs to enhance his performance in the Ring, Though running is not everything. An Olympic Athlete Pays attention to Diet, Though diet alone wont win the medal. Sprinters will tell you that Stretching is important, But it isnt stretching that wins the race. Expert Martial Artists Practice beyond sparring, Beyond Kata. In Fact beyond just Fighting. Some schools only teach Fighting. Martial Arts can offer much more than this for those who want more. The bigger Picture approach recognizes and enhances Our wider nature as Human Beings, so Martial Arts cant be just one thing. It has to be all things that develop us as confident, Skillfull, Capable, Serene yet Powerful Martial Artists. Though i believe that the Greatest Gift that This Wonderful subject has to offer, happens when the Students very own Acheivements, Inspire themselves in to even Greater things, inside and out side the Dojo. Self belief is everything.