Why Reconsidering Kata is a Good Idea Post-Pandemic

Why Reconsidering Kata is a Good Idea Post-Pandemic

DISCLAIMER
I am not against teaching kata as an art form. That is great. It’s like being a museum curator.

However, I am strongly against kata being presented as a tool for self-defense. That is fraud. That is what I am addressing here. 

I spent a decade of my life learning to be one of the country’s top kata competitors and teachers, only to discover that what I believed and taught was pure fantasy. At the bottom of this page, you can see me execute a kata and bunkai in my 3rd-degree black belt test.

Kata for practical training is worse than a waste of time because it creates terrible habits that can get you killed.

It’s confounding to me how many reasonably intelligent adult black belts believe that kata is the end-all to a martial arts curriculum. 

Unless it’s only for the art how can you justify spending 50% or more of your classroom time teaching traditional skills and kata?

How can you justify advertising that you teach self-defense when you’re spending 50% or more of your classroom time teaching traditional skills and kata?

In my experience, the best thing a martial arts school can do is to eliminate kata from the curriculum as fast as possible because there are so many far more effective drills and skills you can work on during the time that is wasted on kata.

Traditionalists talk about the “secret moves” in kata that you can only learn if a master reveals the hidden and protected bunkai of the form. These guys are in an eastern hypnotic trance.

Why not just teach the secret move instead of burying it in a bunch of useless moves? Remember, the root word in bunkai is bunk.

Before I get into the bad habits traditional martial arts create, let me help you with some perspective.

Kata was created by Asians that were probably about 5’ 5” foot tall and 130lbs. 

They did not fight 6’ 5” 250 lbs drunken males intent on smashing their faces.

As far as I know, they did not collaborate with law enforcement, prison guards, the military or anyone who deals with violent adults day in and day out.

Kata is one size fits all self-defense, which is foolish.

Where in kata can you adjust for a taller fighter? Where in kata can you adjust against someone trying to tackle you? Where in kata can you adjust to fight a shorter, stronger bull of an attacker? Where is there an in-direct attack using a fake in kata?

You can’t. You must execute all the steps in order or you are penalized by your instructor. 

Bunkai reveals that all kata are against multiple attackers. Why is the form designed so that you are standing between your opponents rather than moving to the outside and lining them up. That is rule one in fighting multiple attackers, yet kata does an awful job of teaching how to defend against more than one attacker.

Karate and Kung Fu Kata are all theory and teach TERRIBLE HABITS.

  1. Pulling the hand back to the hip instead of the face.
  2. Leaving a punch out for good form instead of snapping it back to a guard.
  3. Thrusting punches instead of snapping them.
  4. Squaring the center body-line to the opponent instead of turning it away to protect the groin, solar plexus, and throat.
  5. Becoming “one with the earth” in a deep stance rather than keeping your feet under you for instant mobility.
  6. Keeping the chin up for good form instead of tucking it down for protection.
  7. Pulling the shoulders back for good form instead of pulling them up for protection.

The best move I made was to replace traditional karate with modern skills that are much easier to learn and to teach. This is the basis of my  Empower Kickboxing curriculum at EmpowerKickboxing.com.

Escape the Jail Cell of Style

Escape the Jail Cell of Style

Escape the Jail Cell of Style

 

I recently posted this “Fighting Form” from our Empower Kickboxing program on Facebook. I designed the forms in the late 1990s to replace the traditional TKD forms I practiced and taught since 1974.

While the video didn’t quite go “viral,” it did stimulate over 100 comments and a number of “debates.”

I loved kata. I won more trophies in kata than fighting. I was the first center judge for the WAKO World Kata Championships in Berlin in 1986-ish. I was the US Open Korean Forms Champion in 1982. Just like my instructor Walt Bone, I was a kata guy.

However, after opening and running my school for a few years, I had a few revelations that I’d like to share with you.

Traditional kata creates confusion and contradiction.

1. It makes zero sense to teach my students to pull their hand to their hip during basics and kata in the first half of the class only to yell at them to put their hands up during mitt work and sparring. 

2. It makes zero sense to make students memorize and perform a clunky series of skills in stances that are way too deep and static only to yell at them to keep their legs under them and move during mitt work and sparring.

3. Each form and skill has an Asian name that students had to remember. For instance, one brown belt form was named Kwan Gae after the 15th Empower of some Korean dynasty. What do I care?

Why was I teaching Korean history in class? If I was going to teach history it would be American history. Remember, we won the war.

I wanted forms that taught the skills of sparring and self-defense.

Today, we can see what really works in self-defense because YouTube has hundreds of thousands of security and iPhone videos of real self-defense. 

Do you know what I’ve never seen in a real self-defense video? I’ve never seen an attacker in a deep stance holding his arm out with his other hand on his hip.

Why on earth would I spend time teaching what is clearly decades old impractical theory? 

Some will argue that the deadly skills of self-defense are hidden in the kata. Maybe they are, but people do not pay tuition to learn tedious forms in the hopes that one day they might figure out how it really works or, even worse, doesn’t work.

Think about it. Of all the skills that can be taught in a martial arts class, why would you pigeon hole yourself into the limiting jail cell of a style? 

How often have you had a prospect contact you can say, “I want to learn traditional kata.” Never.

When I replaced my TKD forms with these fighting forms, the students loved it and retention skyrocketed. I replaced basic TKD blocks and lunge punches with dynamic boxing and martial arts based combinations that they could apply that night in sparring.

The reason that most of us are so emotionally attached to a style is only because that’s what the school nearest taught. If the school taught a different style, you’d be just as attached. 

Attachment to any style is limiting. It’s limiting in what you learn and what you teach. Style attachment is like a brainwashing experiment reminiscent of The Manchurian Candidate. 

In my first white belt class, my 14-year old brain was ripe for influence when my instructor Walt Bone said, “We teach Tae Kwon Do. It’s the best style because it emphasizes kicking. Your leg is a much longer and stronger weapon than your arm. An attacker has to get past our kicks and then our punches in order to get to us.”

Three years later, a dad of one of the students didn’t think karate worked so he challenged Mr. Bone. Bone put sparring gear on the guy and bowed him in. After an initial clash, the guy tackled Bone. It was not pretty. 

So much for the power of the style. Walt Bone is facing the camera in the dark grey gi. 

Grab a copy of The Dark Side of the Martial Arts at WaltBone.com