Do karate katas really teach functional self-defense?
Well … it depends. The problem is that the complete training methods needed to get the most out of a kata are often overlooked. That’s why we’ve adopted the 4 step method of “learning” a kata.
- Learn the form – memorizing the techniques in order, know where and in which direction to turn. At this point, you’re basically playing follow the leader with your instructor. Unfortunately, this is as far as a lot of people get in their karate training.
- Learn the application – it’s been said that learning the kata without knowing the application is like buying a book and never reading it. Doesn’t make sense does it? Studying the “bunkai” or application of kata sequences gives function to them. The important part here is not to train the kata as if it is one choreographed sequence … it’s actually several fighting techniques and strategies. The karate masters that developed our kata used this format of preserving and passing on information because they could encapsulate so much information that could be passed on by training it in physical training. Katas are quite literally the textbooks of karate!
- Learn the underlying principles – Learning a new kata shouldn’t just add to your back of karate tricks. Although if we stopped at step 2, that’s all you would have! Do you know the difference between technique and strategy? Strategy is your overall plan. Techniques are the tools you use to execute your plan. Katas don’t just teach techniques. Although the entire kata is not a choreographed chain of techniques, there is an overarching theme. If you can connect the dots, you can discover incredibly important fighting strategies and principles of combat in any kata.
- Gain live experience – Partner flow drills, kata based sparring, free sparring – these are all ways to test the skills learned from kata training. In fact, the only real reason to train the kata solo should be to practice at full speed and power (because that would be irresponsible to do with a partner) or to fine tune the technique you realized wasn’t quite working right during partner training (a.k.a. – back to the drawing board).
If any ONE of these steps is missing from your kata training – then no, kata does not teach functional self-defense.