A higher standard for kata interpretation

Shotokan's Secret presents a complete theory of the heian katas. There are the forums where the research was conducted.
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A higher standard for kata interpretation

Postby HanshiClayton » Wed Mar 31, 2010 12:50 pm

Shotokan's Secret, Expanded Edition is finally in print! The book demonstrates that it is possible to interpret a whole kata, indeed a system of katas, in a single, synoptic explanation that holds from top level down to every individual step of the katas. I have dared to suggest that, to some substantial degree, I have discovered the "real," original applications of the heians.

A main theme of the book is that the butterfly-collection approach to kata interpretation is no longer viable. It isn't good enough to trot out half a dozen applications that remind us of each cluster. Instead we have to address the entire kata, pinning ONE practical application on each cluster, and demonstrating that this exact sequence of applications forms a well-balanced lesson on a specific martial topic. For instance, each of the heians appears to be a lesson in exploiting the weaknesses of a specific class of enemies. The heians are a primer on fighting the five most common enemies of Shuri.

I said in the book that we have to reach for a "higher standard" in kata interpretation. Specifically, if a kata is a syllabus of a lesson plan, then we should see characteristics in the kata that a well-planned syllabus usually has. When our explanation of the kata begins to take on these characteristics, we may allow ourselves to think we have "picked the lock" and have discovered the secret of the kata.

    A well-organized syllabus has a theme. The kata is about something. It isn't just a bag of oddball techniques.

    A well-organized syllabus presents ideas in a logical sequence. We'll take a weapon away before using it, for instance. There will sometimes be tightly-linked chains of applications where one move feeds into the next one.

    We should see techniques that exploit an enemy's weaknesses.

    The techniques of the kata will play to our (Shuri's) strengths. We'll see Matsumura's linear technique, Itosu's strength, Azato's disarming skills, etc.

    The techniques will fit the setting. They will be techniques used in historical martial arts. If we see swordplay, it will be Japanese or Chinese swordplay, not French or German swordplay.

    Finally, when we find the historical applications, we'll see answers to questions that have been achingly empty up to now. When we see the applications, we'll know why Itosu hid them.

That's what I mean by pursuing a "higher standard." The applications we choose for a kata must build an image of our Shuri-te masters drilling their recruits in skills they needed for survival. Until that image comes into focus, the kata is just a dance.
Bruce D. Clayton, Ph.D.
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