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Kata Vs. Self Defense Drills

Something my good friend and senior Sensei Pat Nakata recently mentioned has stuck in my mind. I am paraphrasing him.

If you teach kata, it will take longer, but the student's potential is not limited. If you only teach self-defense drills or applications, the student can learn those techniques more quickly, but his potential will be limited.

I agree with this 100%.

Kata does take longer, and for a considerable time the student will probably not be able to use the self defense techniques contained in the kata. The student will, however, learn the proper basics and how to move well. Once this is attained, the applications are taught, and with good body dynamics, the student will be able to use the applications well. At least that is how it is supposed to be.

If someone grabs your throat with both hands (from the front), there are many techniques that will work. Quick. Review all the kata in your mind and think of the techniques that you could use.

Sorry, that does not work. If you are choked, you have to be able to react instantly, without thinking. Your body has to be able to react. This type of spontaneity does not come from kata easily. However, it is possible with drills and pairing off sequences.

If you practice choking drills, you will be able to defend yourself against a choke very well. But you will not know how to move in the most efficient and effective manner possible. Karate is much more than a string of techniques.

Learning drills alone is a little like stacking one brick upon another. One brick, two bricks, three brick. Bricks and mortar make a wall.

To me, kata is like mixing explosives. A little of this, a little of that, mix, mix, mix and you have a potential bomb. Bricks are quicker but explosives can do more if you have the time to mix them properly.

As Nakata Sensei often says (quoting his Sensei, Chosin Chibana), there is no Karate without kata.

Of course, there is another possible scenario. A student could learn kata but never learn any techniques or applications. Such a student will be unable to defend himself. In such a case, kata would be useless (from the perspective of self defense). It does not matter that the kata might "look good." If it can't be used, it is useless.

The cleanest kata and best body dynamics in the world will mean nothing if you don't know what to do when someone grabs your throat.


Charles C. Goodin