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Tournament Kata -- Prancing

I was recently watching footage of a "traditional" Karate tournament. Where and when is not really relevant. But the main thing is that it was a traditional tournament with traditional kata.

A competitor walked out to the center of the ring, where she came to attention and shouted out the name of the kata. I have written before that I dislike the shouting of kata name. But that's another blog subject.

What got me about this performance, was the way the young woman (gender is not the issue here, but the person I watched was a woman) pranced (or strutted) out to the center of the ring. She almost looked like a gymnast preparing to do a floor routine. Her steps and arm swings were precisely coordinated and elongated. Her toes and fingers were pointed.

My point is that even the act of walking out to the center of the ring was ritualized. It was not a natural walk. The competitor was already trying to impress the judges and the audience.

Like shouting out the name of the kata, I really dislike this. I have used the word "dislike" because children may be reading this.

Karate should be a natural thing. We are preparing for an unexpected attack. While walking down the sidewalk, someone jumps out from the bushes and attacks. Bam! We must defend ourselves. We are walking down the sidewalk... not prancing.

I don't think we would say to ourselves, "Look, a mugger in the bushes up ahead. I think I will prance so that he will be scared and not attack me."

And don't get me wrong. Men prance too. The tournament format seems to encourage an artificial, ritualized walk.

It should not be surprising that a system that does this to the simple act of walking, does pretty much the same thing to the kata itself. The kata become ritualized, crystalized, exaggerated, posed, staccato, stiff, punctuated by theatric kiai, etc. The crowd loves it!

Again, don't get me wrong. The competitors are doing exactly what they have been taught and coached to do, and they are very good at it. They are in excellent shape and their movements are amazingly precise.

But is this Karate? Is this how Sokon Matsumura did it? Is this how Kanryo Higashionna did it?

And if not, why not? Are we doing it better today than they did?

I always think that the place to do kata is inside an elevator, crowded with other people. No room to prance.

Given a choice, I would always pick ugly kata over pretty kata.


Charles C. Goodin