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Heads-up: drills ARE kata

Photo courtesy of Judo Club Tellin
There is this perpetual debate about whether kata are worth a darn as a training method. Some modern martial artists poo-poo kata in favor of drills, proudly claiming that their martial art is superior because it does not have dead kata. Sometimes you even hear this anti-kata propaganda from judo and aikido guys.
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My instructor told us a story about learning judo in Japan. His groundwork teacher would show a technique and would not teach another technique until everyone in class had done 25 reps left and right of that technique. And not only that, but that instructor would review and rep all previous techniques before he would teach a new one, so in order to get to the new technique of the day, you might have to do thousands of reps of the previous techniques!
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When you get into drill mode like this and begin repping a technique that many times, it becomes a mechanical thing. You might develop a flowing, graceful, alive motion, but there is still a mechanical automaticity to your motion. This is a good thing. It's good to do your drill reps with consistency - the same way every time. That way, if you make a mistake its easier to correct than if you do a different form each time.
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So, what do you call the type of practice in which you do repetitions of a given form of a technique with precision and consistency between reps. I call that kata (sorry eclectic MA guys...)
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UPDATE:
The kata-no-kata debate is being carried to a very high level of thought on Budo Warrior's and Budo Bum's blogs. Check them out.

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5 comments:

  1. I hate to be a yes-man, but...

    I find it much easier to learn new techniques by doing just what you've described: going over and over the form until it's stamped into my mind. Hard wired might be a more modern expression.

    Interestingly I had a discussion with a fellow kenshi who was wondering what best way to improve his basic techniques. He was very much in the mindset of analysing and talking through what felt wrong and right. This is ok- I don't disagree. But I find it's best to learn the basic technique well by/and then practising lots till (as you say) your movements become fluid and there is a 'memory' of the technique within you. For sure we need to analyse to ensure we don't learn the form incorrectly but with guidance from teachers (as in your example) I tend to build up a sort of passive recall of the technique.

    This easy recall would certainly come in handy when the body and mind are stressed in a real situation or even in competition.

    For me it's all about the form...

    Thanks for your insight!

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  2. No one can get clearer than that!

    Colin

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  3. Excellent post.

    Broadly speaking there are two poles to training: kata and randori.

    If it's pre-arranged, it's kata. Otherwise there must some uncertainty (i.e. "ran" or chaos) so it's randori.

    So you can classify your training by the proportion of time you spend on kata (drills, forms, etc.) vs randori (sparring, push-hands, whatever). In the systems I do it's probably about 80% kata / 20% randori. And then there are many activities that fall under both categories.

    I also think that there is good stuff to be done in the gray area in-between.

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  4. What an interesting read, Pat. I've made the same point with friends who practice more conservative styles and it has been they who disagreed vehemently.

    For some of my friends, kata is what distinguishes "them" from "us." It's the 'art' in martial arts vs martial... insert pejorative here. Admitting that drills as trained by *gasp* mixed martial artists might be comparable is nigh unto blasphemy. :)

    Great post.

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  5. Thanks, Steve. Maybe if you would grimace and kiai at the same time during every repetition of a given drill - and maybe do one of the moves with isometric tension - then the traditional purists would recognize it as "real kata"
    ;-)

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