Kata are a syllabus or training manual for practical combative movements intended for civilian self-defense. These forms distill what were originally partner drills into prearranged sets of movements intended for solo practice when one does not have a training partner. Such kata or forms are the very heart of traditional martial arts. In the early 20th century when Itosu Anko took karate training into the school systems of Okinawa, the true civilian combative elements of the kata were downplayed, and kata became physical exercise routines, almost like dances. The aggressive, violent, and deadly elements of the kata were not taught to the children, understandably so, and over time many of these self-defense applications were forgotten or ignored.
Thus today, many martial artists have lost sight of the deeper, original meanings of the kata as resources for civilian combat training (learning how to defend oneself against an untrained attacker or street thug). Kata were intended to teach practitioners how to fight off untrained assailants, not how to fight other martial artists or trained fighters. When practicing and analyzing the self-defense elements of kata, this civilian combat or self-defense context should be remembered—you are training to fight untrained attackers who are not anticipating your defensive responses the same way a trained fighter would.
Karate’s kata are an offspring of “forms” common to Chinese kung fu training. Kung fu practitioners learned specific responses to common attacks (what Patrick McCarthy calls habitual acts of violence), and these responses were practiced in partner drills. To enhance learning and practicing these drills, the defensive movements were collected into short and long forms, and then transferred from teacher to student over the ages. Kata are manifestations of such forms.
Therefore, kata training should involve not only learning the moves in sequence but also exploring what these movements mean in a civilian combative context. The application of kata movements to self-defense is called bunkai, and at the Shorin Ryu Karate Academy we seek to learn and train practical bunkai applications that work in real self-defense situations. [Click for more information on the historical development of karate and kata training in Okinawa.]
The Matsubayashi Shorin Ryu system has 18 kata: ten modern and eight ancient. Many of these kata are common to other karate systems as well, and they may be performed with subtle to major differences in movement and technique. Below are two comprehensive videos by Sensei Katherine Loukopoulos. She is a Matsubayashi Ryu practitioner, and in these videos she thoroughly explains the movements and body dynamics integral to each kata. Katherine Sensei’s instruction closely parallels the core concepts embraced and taught at the Shorin Ryu Karate.Club. Note that these videos were originally filmed in 1994 in Okinawa and later digitized for the Web. These instructional videos are excellent resources for supplementing your kata training.
Katherine Sensei covers the following ten modern kata in this video:
Fukyugata I (Ich), Fukyugata II (Ni), Pinan I (Shodan), Pinan II (Nidan), Pinan III (Sandan), Pinan IV (Yondan), Pinan V (Godan), Naihanchi I (Shodan), Naihanchi II (Nidan), Naihanch III (Sandan)
Katherine Sensei covers the following eight ancient kata in this video:
Ananku, Wankan, Rohai, Wanshu, Passai, Gojushiho, Chinto, Kusanku