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No Meaning?

Over time, as I have meet more Karate students and instructors, I have been struck by the number who have told me that they never learned the meanings of the movements of their kata. I don't mean that they only learned some meanings, I mean that they did not learn any movements. For them, the kata was simply a sequence of movements.

I know. This may sound hard to believe. When we learn English we learn words and their meanings. We do not simply learn to make sounds.

But if at least some people do learn kata without the accompanying meanings, or more appropriately, the accompanying range of meanings, then this explains some of the seamingly ridiculous ways that kata are performed by some people.

For example, you sometimes see kata rushed so badly that none of the movements could be applied based on the underlying meanings. Or you might see kata done with an emphasis on theatrical and exaggerated kiai, something that would have no use in actual self defense. You might also see strikes, designed to be executed quickly, done in a slow, almost vibrating manner, designed to convey deliberate power perhaps.

Pretend that you are hitting a nail with a hammer. You do this all the time when you work around the house. Now if you made a kata of the the movements involved in hitting a nail with a hammer, how would it look? As long as you knew that the movement was supposed to represent the simple act of hitting a nail, there would no problem. You could always refer back to the actual act.

But what if you taught your nail hitting kata to someone, who taught it to someone else, and so on, and eventually a student learned the kata without the underlying meaning? Maybe he would do the kata with a loud and protracted kiai. Is that how you hit a nail? Maybe he would perform the kata very slowly with his body really tense. Again, not a good way to hit a nail.

Hitting a nail is a pretty simple thing. Kata embody so many more and sometimes complex scenarios. How sad if the kata are practiced without reference to their meanings.

Perhaps the search for meaning in kata is the same as the search for meaning in life. Let's not just go through the motions, of anything.


Charles C. Goodin