An instructor’s submission for consideration.
This essay has been submitted by Carl Gigg, Yondan, of the Gima-Ha UK (Shisei Kai Branch).
Please give it careful consideration.
Chakugan Ten of Kata
Essay by Carl Gigg
For this essay, we are looking at the ten elements of kata, highlighting five or six points in detail for discussion. To select five or six points. I first considered if there were some more key to performing a successful kata than others. However, looking at the generally prescribed list of ten elements (as highlighted by many of the known masters and listed below) as being of huge importance to the performance of kata, I found it difficult to break them into categories of higher and lesser importance. The more I looked, the more I realised just how important they all were. In fact, while searching for clues, I found one Shito Ryu list that included 13 key elements. Others shortlisted the key points to 8. Whichever way you look at it. A successful performance of any kata, must demonstrate a multitude of factors, that to be frank, should be demonstrated in all of the karate that we perform. I would actually say that some are for life, not just karate.
So, before we hit the list, what is kata? As karateka we know of it as, a set pattern or moves and techniques that form a kata. A pre-prescribed sequence of techniques, with changes of directions, sometimes jumps and always (nearly always) a couple of set kiai points. If you enter the word kata into Google Translate, the English translation comes back as, Direction. Interesting…. We know often that karate phrases and words don’t often translate well, if at all through basic language convertors. However, I recently read an article in the SKM magazine. It was an interview of Sensei Fred Bonomo of the JSKA in Florida, by David Palumbo. In it, he was describing details of his Ph.D. of philosophy in arts where he was looking at Zen/Budo of the arts. In which, he stated that “the word kata, which became part of the Japanese vocabulary as early as 300 BCE”. It was introduced from China and “the first kata, was a highly detailed plan for instructing a group of people on how to successfully plant rice in a cooperative manner and with a high degree of success”. The value of this kata (training manual) was such, that it became a template for instructing people in many aspects of life. From how to eat (correctly with etiquette), write, bow, dance and even interact with people. Centuries later, it was adopted by the Samurai and dignitaries to define every part of their culture.
If we take this path, it is now natural to consider that a kata is less about a pretty dance and more about a clear instruction manual on how we should perform our karate. We have our kihon, the fundamentals of how to use the body to punch, kick, block and strike for instance. We learn at this point how to harness the energy of the ki, the core, the hara, tanden and directing our energy flow from floor to target to create devastating power. But doing this in isolation does not create a fluid style for defence or attack. Learn three kata and all of a sudden (well several years) and we start to be able to combine moves into sequences. We can turn, alter our focus to another target or person for instance. By learning the kata in a precise manner, we then find, once we have to use our karate in a kumite situation, we have the freedom to move where and how we want. The kihon can be allowed to flow unharnessed, hopefully with devastating success.
Now we are finally at the elements of kata. As I said before, I can’t pick favourites from the prescribed 10. Well in that case, let’s look elsewhere first. The three that appear in Shito-Ryu that are not sat in the top ten for Shotokan. Although, when you look at them, they are there. Maybe the unspoken, taken for granted inclusions of our karate…
Hyoshi: Timing, the rhythm, the tempo. The syncopation of the kata. This can be applied to a musical timing. How a tune can flow. If it is just thud, thud, thud. It is boring, it is lacking life and interest. It is just noise. Create a flow of notes that rise and fall, some sharp, some flat. High, low, long held or fast. Suddenly, if the correct sequence is built, we have a beautiful piece of music. This goes for kata. The speed of a turn, can alter the impression from a decisive action, slow and strong control, OR, if not executed well, a clueless and pointless change of direction. One could also include Hyoshi’s partner here of Maai (distance). Although there are no real opponents in kata, you must believe there are and deal with accordingly.
Kime: Decisiveness, finality, everything together for the completion of the technique. Yes, believe it or not, it is not in that holy ten of kata. Maybe it is presumed included in the kiai points, but really? Surely kime is on every move. If we take kime as that moment of decisive action, then it is throughout every part of the kata. This is from that first move, that is executed with instant action, often into the imaginary opponent, to the final move, where the battle is over. Kime lives here and every move, if not, then it is a bunch of hollow actions without a purpose.
Antei: Stability, steadiness and balance. Adjusting your body weight to maintain perfect balance and form. From transferring the centre of gravity from kokutsu dachi to zenkutsu dachi. Done in a clean and precise movement without any superfluous actions from any other part of the body. Drawing up into Gankaku dachi with poise and no flapping limbs. I remember suffering from a lack of this terribly at my 2nd or 1st kyu grading. Over effort with nervous and stiff limbs creating total lack of poise and balance. That makes it three out of three elements that we would definitely describe as key to a successful kata.
Here is the list, 10 elements of a perfect kata (taken from Gima-Ha UK website)
1. Yoi no Kisin – the spirit of getting ready. The concentration of will and mind against the opponent as a preliminary to the movements of the Kata.
2. Inyo – the active and passive. Always keep in mind both attack and defence.
3. Chikara no Kyojaku – the manner of using strength. The degree of power used for each movement and position in Kata.
4. Waza no Kankyu – the speed of movement. The speed used for each movement and position in Kata.
5. Tai no Shinshuku – the degree of expansion or contraction. The degree of expansion or contraction of the body in each movement and position in Kata.
6. Kokyu – breathing. Breath control related to the posture and movement in Kata.
7. Tyakugan – the aiming points. In Kata you must keep the purpose of the movement in mind.
8. Kiai – shouting. Shouting at set points in Kata to demonstrate the martial spirit.
9. Keitai no Hoji – correct positioning. Correct positioning in movement and stance.
10. Zanshin – remaining on guard. Remaining on guard at the completion of the Kata.
Now I will pick at random three from the familiar ten. Let us look at the front and back of the kata first. Yoi no Kisin and Zanshin. Call them the bookends of a successful kata.
Yoi no Kisin: Preparing one’s mind, concentrating the mind, summoning your will. There are many ways to put this state of mind. Look at the mind of a warrior (seeing as it fits our world of karate). Do we think that any battle-hardened warrior, downs his breakfast, pats the dog, jumps on his horse and rides off to battle without a care in the world? Of course not. First there would have been planning, preparation of what would be about to happen. Then likely, some form of mental ritual that clears and focuses the mind to the task at hand. They will arrive at the point of battle in an almost meditative state of mind. There may be deflective humour if a group activity, to normalise what is about to take place. This would then dissipate at the point full focus is required. For kata, it is from when you stand to ready yourself for walking onto the tatami. Once you approach your mark, as does the warrior, you will draw in your energy and your gaze will become fixed on the target. To onlookers, there would be a neutral facial expression with steely glazed eyes. The word Hajime would be met with a reaction as if to an attack. How many sportsmen and women do you see, preparing for a race, a lift, a dive, draw the bow, or even drive a car. That focus is Yoi no Kisin, readiness of the highest degree.
Zanshin: Awareness, remaining focused and on guard, until the point you are back at Yoi and maybe told Yame. Until that battle is over, you are ready to react, jump back into the fray. This closes the book on the battle of kata. But, is it not in the kata all the way through? For if we are not in a perpetual state of readiness throughout the kata, how can we truly depict a person dealing with multiple imaginary foe! This may not be something that would show when bouncing through a sequence of two or three linked techniques. Surely though, when a sequence is complete and we are about to turn or launch another sequence, there must be Zanshin, as we cannot (should not) turn off that awareness. Neither do we turn off that spirit from Yoi.
And lastly for this essay…..
Chakugan/Tyakugan: Focus, aim, direction of our attention. Keeping in mind the target. Where are you aiming and why? Again, the prescribed format of any kata is precise as to where your target points are and what you should be striking with. A jodan tsuki is precisely that. It cannot be a chudan nukite. To put the wrong move in at any point is like missing a solder joint in the wiring setup or missing a few fixings or timbers on the shed. The point is missed and the kata becomes worthless for what it is intended. You must show clearly (nothing ambiguous) what you are striking/blocking/kicking, at what target with what technique. Anyone left guessing, you have missed the point of Chakugan.
My conclusion is. Study the moves of the kata. Know what they are and what their purpose is. Practice in sections. Perfect each sequence as a miniature kata. Each one of these mini kata, perform with spirit, awareness, focus and commitment. Be precise, do not accept nearly, or almost. As a master carpenter aims to create a perfect joint, so it not only works properly and is strong, but it can be beautiful to see. Function and form, no compromise.
Although the kata is a form of displaying our ideal techniques, every kata has a reality below the surface. There are real blocks, locks, breaks, chokes, punches and kicks. Each one can be pretty realistic if performed correctly, with the elements in place. This makes them real. You can perform the Bunkai of the kata, but Bunkai is a stylised reality too. It must be close to the kata when performing the practical defences and attacks on a real opponent. If we wish to take it to a more realistic version, that will likely pervert the beauty of the kata performance, we go to Oyo. In Oyo, we can have more freedom from the confines of the kata. An onlooker will be aware of which you are demonstrating but the techniques should be more real, less precise and often slightly altered for practicality. Directions become more diverse than straight up and down, more Tai Sabaki, more shifting.
So, kata becomes a great learning medium, an excellent teacher. After all, a student will be more interested trying to perfect a kata than perfect a 1000 tsuki waza. Partly because it will engage their imagination. They have a succession of achievable goals. Learn the sequence, understand it, improve the effort, tidy the techniques, slow down the slow parts, speed up the fast. Turn quicker, be more balanced and then continue through those improvements again. A student gains a confidence and pride in performing a kata nicely. In many ways it is the perfect medium of disguising repetition of techniques.