Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Kihon as art

Rhetoric is the counterpart of Dialectic. Both alike are concerned with such things as come, more or less, within the general ken of all men and belong to no definite science. Accordingly all men make use, more or less, of both; for to a certain extent all men attempt to discuss statements and to maintain them, to defend themselves and to attack others. Ordinary people do this either at random or through practice and from acquired habit. Both ways being possible, the subject can plainly be handled systematically, for it is possible to inquire the reason why some speakers succeed through practice and others spontaneously; and every one will at once agree that such an inquiry is the function of an art. Aristotle, Rhetoric, I;1.
So, two characteristics of an art include:
  • anyone can do it, but not everyone can do it equally well
  • it can be systematically learned, practiced, and made habitual
Not only are martial arts art forms in the above sense, but so is the teaching of the martial arts. A well thought-out syllabus or curriculum of instruction is not only a list of things to be learned, but also a structure for individual classes - like a lesson plan.
For instance, in Aikido, we practice ukemi (falling), tegatana (walking kata), and hanasu (wrist releases) in the beginning of every class. These actions form the kihon that undergirds the entire practice, and the repetition gives the individual classes structure. Another example is the Isshinryu kihon. They selected about 20 of the most common fundamental techniques and they practice them in sport-specific patterns at the beginning of each class. Contrast this with a hypothetical karate style that has some arbitrary set of kihon that varies among the instructors and no specific structure for practicing them. Even if the class always contains kihon practice, it can easily happen that some different subset of kihon are practiced every class.
Funakoshi, in Shotokan karate, created four simplified kata (Taikyoku shodan, Taikyoku nidan, Taikyoku sandan, and Tennokata) as a mechanism for making sure that students get structured repetitions of at least a minimal set of necessary kihon. Some Shotokan schools have dropped these four kata because they are "trivial." I think that is a shame. I, for one, would much rather participate in a school where these four "kihon kata" are practiced at the beginning of every class as part of a sport-specific warmup.

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