Karate theory: tense kata vs loose kata

Discussion in 'Standup Technique' started by Hotora86, Mar 15, 2017.

  1. Hotora86 火虎 空手道

    Hotora86
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    DISCLAIMER: This thread is going to discuss kata and Karate-related themes so it is targeted mostly towards Karateka and the like. If You came here just to post "kata is a waste of time" - please just leave, thanks.

    Reading a book by Shigeru Egami, the founder of Shotokai, I recall him writing about how they used to train in his youth. When practicing kata (and probably kihon as well) the moves were supposed to be tense, rigid, forceful, hard. Despite building impressive muscle, he writes, he found this way of training to be detrimental to his technique (and also to his attitude, but leaving that aside for now).

    Here's a picture of young Egami:

    [​IMG]

    Learning from his mistakes, Shigeru founded Shotokai, where the kata are done without tension, in a loose and smooth manner, emphasizing technique and a relaxed state of mind.

    To quote from Wikipedia: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Shōtōkai

    As someone who has had his share of Karate-related injuries and then lots of physical therapy I can tell you that throwing your arms and legs out with full speed and force is not healthy for the joints. There have been numerous studies and posts on the subject and I'm sure many of you are aware of this and so was Egami. His solution was to train in a way that is relaxed and fluid. Fair enough. But what about TENSE and fluid?

    Recall that in many Okinawan styles (esp. Goju) there exist kata which you're supposed to do in a tense manner - slowly, controlling your breathing and muscle contraction in all the right spots - for example Sanchin. Shotokan doesn't have those (or at least doesn't practice them as often).

    Moving on, there is another thing that Shotokan doesn't do much, when compared to Okinawan styles - Hojo Undo. For those who don't know - Hojo Undo training was designed to develop ambidextrous physical strength, stamina, muscle coordination, speed, and posture with the use of simple, traditional devices, made from wood and stone. To simplify (horribly) it is a form of weight-lifting. Judging from personal experience - if I had done Hojo Undo regularly I might have avoided many ailments which still haunt me today. I remember a buff brown belt from my dojo, who did powerlifting to supplement his Karate. "You can't have Karate without lifting!" he would say half-jokingly. I now realize every one of us should have taken that joke very very seriously!

    Now I return to the "tense kata" issue mentioned by Egami. He mentions the muscle growth that they experienced as a rather coincidental, unintentional result of essentially erroneous training. What I am beginning to think is that PERHAPS this strengthening of the body was very much INTENTIONAL and thought-out by Funakoshi and his son. Without Sanchin (and similar) kata, without Hojo Undo a Karateka is very much at risk of injury in every part of his training, and even more so in a real fight! So even before proper technique comes into focus, all the muscles that take part in the stances, punches, kicks, blocks etc. must be strengthened properly.

    A common thing to hear in Shotokan is "low stance for beginners, natural stance for advanced students". The low stances are supposed to strengthen your legs, improve balance and posture. Wouldn't it be logical to assume the same attitude for kata? Slow and tense for beginners, fast and relaxed for advanced students.

    That's basically the point I wanted to make. Discuss? :)
     
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    Last edited: Mar 15, 2017
  2. Hotora86 火虎 空手道

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  3. ARIZE Orange Belt

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    Do you mind opinion from TKD ITF?
     
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  4. Hotora86 火虎 空手道

    Hotora86
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    Not at all, TKD is very much welcome here. :)
     
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  5. ARIZE Orange Belt

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    The way i learned, and i have no idea if it's the only way, best way or whatever was:

    The movement between the different strikes/blocks must be fluid. The strike/block must be tense, like against a "real" opponent that you want to finish in one strike. The inhalation is done while moving, the sharp exhalation while striking/blocking (and helping it to have power).

    Another little detail, that i don't know if you have in karate is: The transition movements are done like a "wave". For example you have a regular walking stance, for your next strike you must put your back foot in front. The foot must come next to the other, your whole body rising up, then the foot is placed in the right position while striking...
    So the wave rising is fluid, your body goes up, you breath in...and when it's time to strike, the whole body tenses, lower it self and crashes like a wave...

    The idea behind is mostly to have a "realistic/hard" strike behind a fluid, controlled, balanced motion.

    While you learn the katas in TKD, you learn the proper technique and all the little details you may not give intention otherwise. You have some katas that have the techniques in slow motion, and its one of the hardest part to master. (specially kicks like spinning hooks in slow motion)
    You learn how to breath properly when striking to give more power (but i prefer the way Thais do the HUSH HUSH when kicking).
    You learn good balance.
    And while it's very demanding to the body, i don't think it's the best way to strengthened it.

    Beginners tend to be neither fluid neither tense. Intermediate are mostly too tense, they have difficulty relaxing between strikes, and difficulty with the sharp exhalation as a power tool.

    In TKD, it's also used as a library of movements that are not allowed in sparing, like elbows, knees etc..

    To me, kata is a sort of choreographed shadow boxing.

    TKD's idea for not hurting while training, resulted in the light contact format.




    PS: kata is a waste of time
     
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  6. fluffball Brown Belt

    fluffball
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    Uechi Ryu (which I've never trained in but am fairly familiar with) is really big on the yin yang of martial arts. Sometimes they do katas while holding jars full of water to blow out the forearm muscles. And their schools are (in)famous for "sanchin checks" where the instructor beats the shit out of your stance of stomach or traps every step of the kata to make sure you're on balance and properly flexed. On the the other hand, they also do flow drills similar to sticky hands.

    TLDR: It's good to practice hard and soft your entire martial arts career. There is a time and place for both.


    Semi related story: My dad was at a football game a few years ago and a fan for the other team decided to do that dick move where you slam your shoulder into someone instead of walking past them normally. Unfortunately for the fan, even though my dad is a senior citizen (seriously who slams into an old man?), he also runs marathons and has legs like tree trunks, so my dad blew him off his feet. he asked me if there were martial arts moves to deal with someone doing that, and I said you could do what you did which is the hard approach, or you could wait for the guy to lean into you expecting an impact and then slip away at the last second so he just falls into air and looks retarded. The soft approach.
     
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  7. Frode Falch Gold Belt

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    I allways liked the fluid way of doing forms. Like most nothern kung fu styles do. Most of the moves flow, then some strikes will be tense with flexed muscles. Just like in a fight.

    I also like the idea of forms that dont follow a strict pattern. You got some sets of moves and concept you got to follow. But its not like a HAVE to turn left here, then you HAVE to do this exact move before the next.. Ect

    Its not 100% free as shadowboxing. Its somewhere in the middle.

    That kind of form training i like.
     
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  8. Jimmy Jazz Brown Belt

    Jimmy Jazz
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    Hey thanks for thinking of me man! To me kata was helpful in regards to getting good form and strengthening the whole body in regards to stance. Those deep stances make moving around in neutral stance so easy and makes you explosive. I believe you should do kata sharp with some tension and loose and slow as well.
     
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  9. AndyMaBobs Green Belt

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    I can't give any real opinion on kata, because I've never used it, but I'm of the Yodsanklai school of thoughts where you're relaxed until impact and then you tighten your muscles.

    So say you throw a kick your bring that kick up nice and lose as you turn into the target you tense, which is why the Thai's tend to make that grunting sound because it forced the body to tense. In terms of shadow boxing I think its important to fully extend but to do it slow rather than fast. I'm more of a proponent of slow shadowboxing in general.

    I don't know how useful or not that is to the discussion but I appreciate the tag :)
     
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  10. a guy Black Belt

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    In general, before doing anything, I think you need to ask what it's meant to accomplish. Some guys will tell you to go slow and tense, others fast and relaxed, but if they tell you that either one is better you need to ask better for what? If you try to get strong by practicing relaxed kata you're gonna have a bad time, but if you try to become more fluid doing forceful kata you're also gonna have a bad time. Training methods, whether for technique or conditioning, are all meant to accomplish certain goals. You have to pick the right training method to accomplish the right goal, depending on what YOU individually need. So the idea of doing one type of kata for beginners because they need to develop certain attributes and skills, then another type for more advanced students to develop different attributes and skills, is spot on.

    If Egami did years of kata that made him strong and developed his muscles, it makes sense that when he started emphasizing relaxing and being more technical he felt improvements in those areas. It's because he hit diminishing returns and was probably neglecting those aspects of his training to more or less build muscle. As you say, that doesn't mean it wasn't beneficial to him. It just means he evolved past the point where it continued to be AS beneficial as other methods.

    Now we've been talking specifically about evaluating different types of kata, but it's also important to ask if kata is the right method to use at all. Is there anything it improves that can't be done better and more efficiently by something else? I think that's a very important question that needs to be raised.
     
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  11. j123 Pro Sherdogger 500-0-1

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    loose vs hard?

    [​IMG]
     
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  12. a guy Black Belt

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    This is why he didn't tag you in the thread
     
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  13. Azam Purple Belt

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    It sounds like what Egami is referring to is the unintended isometric strength training that they gained from tense, rigid, forceful and hard movements during kata.

    I can see why it would be detrimental to technique. I mean imagine doing kihon this way and throwing endless repetitions of tense/rigid punches - sure it will do great things for adapting your physique/musculature for the activity you're doing but I'd imagine there'd be negatives also - like replicating this tense/rigidness with technique in competition, sparring or outside the environment kata/kihon. I mean we all know here from experience the significant negatives of throwing with tension/rigidness (especially punches). I'm guessing this is what Egami eventually figured out himself.

    I think training this way; with tension/rigidness also brings with it the potential for injuries - more so than you'd imagine. Especially if your body gets repeatedly tweaked from the rigid/forcefulness of the moves - I'd imagine there are a substantial number of studies & anecdotal evidence which can attest to this.

    Unfortunately I found out first hand that this was true when I partially tore my lcl over 5 years ago from doing rigid/forceful kihon and for many years had issues with my knees - literally took 2 to 3 years off training to rehabilitate (accumulative knee issues). Thankfully it's nowhere near as bad as it once was but I still have issues every now & then and my flexibility is very much shot because of these injuries. I can personally attribute the injury directly to rigid kihon - in my case doing endless repetitions until my knee literally twisted & popped.

    So to that degree I kind of agree with him - training should be relaxed. It's much more optimal than the alternative especially when you consider longevity, health & actual application. Ideally in my opinion you need a mix of both but it has to be supported with strength/mobility training.

    In regards to Okinawan Karate (tension/fluid) - I think it's an exception because of hojo undo. Hojo Undo are supplementary exercises that you practice alongside training that develop/strengthen the body for the rigors of training. The equivalent is someone who weight trains to supplement their martial arts training - i.e you weight train so your body can better handle training demands. You're less likely to develop injuries from training.

    Unfortunately many karate styles outside of Okinawa don't bother with hojo undo (hell there are many people that train martial arts that don't bother with weight training or strength building exercises). Shotokai unfortunately doesn't engage in the practice that's why for them I agree relaxed training is best for that style.


    With regards to Funakoshi & the "tense" kata issue. I've noticed that shorin ryu based styles don't really do hojo undo to the degree that naha styles like uechi or goju ryu engage in it. I mean in Uechi ryu it's a core part of the training & I know the same goes for Goju. In Shorin ryu & other styles only some aspects are done - like makiwara. With Funakoshi even though he trained both shorei & shorin - it's obvious that he leaned one way more considerably than the other. It may explain why hojo undo was also neglected in the development of shotokan - and maybe why tension in kata was emphasized.
     
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  14. Azam Purple Belt

    Azam
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    Personally there is a lot of stuff that kata does inefficiently depending upon what it's used for.

    I don't buy into the muscle memory rubbish, retention of technique or shadowboxing benefits.

    If you want muscle memory drilling is better, if you want retention of technique repetition is better whether it's on a heavy bag/pads or in the air and kata are fixed forms not better than shadowboxing which is not fixed or restricted by forms.


    Kata does do some things more efficiently though than others imho. There's no other consistent method that teaches you how to transition during techniques and how to apply techniques. When I talk about consistency I'm talking about across the board - sure some instructors do a good job of explaining transitioning/technique but there are an equal number that do a poor ass job. Kata is consistent precisely because it's fixed and can be used consistently across the board to teach basics/fundamentals.

    When I talk about transitioning - I'm talking about how you shift your body weight with techniques, how you shift from attack to defense (the movement, footwork & weight transitions that goes along with it) and how to leverage yourself optimally with techniques. Basically the fundamentals.

    Like the shifting from zenkutsu dachi (fowrard stance), to kokutsu dachi (back stance) back to zenkutsu dachi (foward stance) - teaches a very basic way to go from offensive, to defense back to offensive counter. Masao Kagawa teaching this in the video below:




    Many don't realise how much kata/stance works plays a factor in how shotokan stylists move/counter & control distance. For example watch a video of how to move backward in kokutsu dachi (back stance) then watch a Lyoto Machida video and you can see the same mechanics at work when he moves backwards. I mean just watch a JKA point fighting highlight and you'll see the same mechanics (back stance for example) at work - to illustrate that kata does play a significant role in how stance work is taught in karate.
     
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  15. AtlSteel Blue Belt

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    katas are bullshit
     
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  16. panamaican Forum Moderator

    panamaican
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    Over the years, my opinion has evolved with my training. I think the flaw is in never evolving your kata training as you, the student, evolve. My time in bodyweight training has also changed some of my thoughts. The other big flaw is that modern students train 2 dozen kata when originally, it was far fewer practiced.

    The Funakoshi quote about "low stance for beginners, natural stance for advanced students" is extremely accurate. As is the 2 points about Naihanchi Shodan being "...all that was needed for a student to learn Karate" or the 5 Pinans being a complete system in and of themselves.

    By practicing kata in a variety of ways, the student should be able to get a variety of benefits from it. But this starts with having a very limited set of kata to practice. The problem with training 26 (or more) kata on a regular basis is that a student never spends enough time with a single one to achieve real deep mastery in any of them. Well, unless you have more time to train than your average practitioner. Wasn't there an old quote that it takes 3 years to master a single kata but now people learn 6-10 in the same time period.

    If we think in terms of a single kata then things are very different. If you start with a single kata, say Bassai Dai, in the beginning you won't be able to perform the movements individually, let alone in a smooth sequence. As you become more familiar with the movements then you can gradually shift into a strength building approach. Going deeper into the stances to recruit more leg strength, applying tension to the movements to achieve some muscle strength. Once you've achieved knowledge of the movements and then you've built strength through gradually increasing the tension you're practicing under, now you're ready to smooth out your movements and become more fluid in their application.

    This progression in growth seems to get lost because of the focus on picture perfect kata without similar focus on how the kata are supposed to be improving you as a fighter.

    A blog I read kind of highlighted this for me. It was about the importance of keeping the foot properly rooted to the floor during techniques. Everyone knows to keep the outer edge of the foot grounded. But the importance of the foot's centerline and the 3 points the foot (the ball, the heel and the outer edge) being grounded throughout the technique is something that was slipping in my practice. Really focusing on that wore out my calves in an unexpected way and was a sign that slippage in small details was reducing come of the strength and conditioning benefits of the kata themselves.

    So, I think that tense vs. loose isn't a real choice. I think it's part of a continuum in the evolution of the student. Tense to learn the movements and build applicable strength evolving into loose as you pass those milestones without losing the technical points.
     
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  17. panamaican Forum Moderator

    panamaican
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    I disagree you on this because of this

    Muscle memory is more than just drilling sequences of techniques. It's the muscle memory for properly transitioning through techniques and under different conditions. And the muscle memory for properly shifting your balance as you move around an opponent.

    It's a constant point of discussion in all martial arts (from boxing to karate, to wrestling, etc.) about the importance of not overextending, not being off balance, etc. But people become off balance because mastery of balance and being aware of your body in motion is some that has to be drilled into your muscle memory so that you don't have to think about shifting from a deep crouch into a forward drive without losing your balance. Or, as you noted, sliding back from an attack but knowing how to stay properly balanced to shift back into the offensive. These are things that are as much based on muscle memory as your standard 1-2-kick combination.

    Where things get funky, imo, is that instead of kihon that directly enhances the type of movements and transitions that kata teaches (say the opening 5-7 movements of Heian Shodan), we drill kihon that's either far less relevant or more like kickboxer drills. And so the link between kata, kihon and kumite gets broken and we focus on kihon for kumite but the kumite isn't based on kata either.
     
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  18. Azam Purple Belt

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    Muscle memory is built through repetition. The question was "Is there anything it (kata) improves that can't be done better and more efficiently by something else?"

    I'd argue that the same benefits you ascribe to kata above can be accomplished by drilling instead of learning long fixed sequences. For example your average karate class will drill reverse punching whilst in zenkutsu dachi. Take Taikyoku Sono Ichi - is drilling that kata repeatedly better than drilling oi tsuki/gedan barai in zenkutsu dachi by itself? You can even shadowbox that without the restriction that kata enables on you by staying in a fixed pattern of movement.

    I don't believe in the muscle memory thing that is often attributed to kata. I don't think (one of) the purposes of kata is to drill muscle memory - I think it's simply a physical record of techniques & how they should be applied (i.e. with which stance/weight distribution). I have no problem with people dissecting kata sequences into smaller chunks & conscripting these to memory by repetition in fact like you've mentioned above it can be extremely beneficial and that's more to my liking. In fact this is what we do in most karate classes - i.e. drilling x technique in x stance or what Masao Kagawa demonstrated above switching from zenkutsu to kokutsu back to zenkutsu.

    My point is you don't have to memorize whole katas to get that down like you suggest. In fact shadowboxing could do the same thing without the restriction of being in a fixed pattern of movement like with kata.

    That's just my opinion.


    I agree on most of the other stuff you've said though (the post above the one I'm replying to). Especially when it comes to there being too many katas and a disconnect with kata/kihon/kumite. It's one of the primary reasons why I stopped Kyokushin training because there was huge disconnect between kata, kumite & kihon to the point that 80% of kata/kihon content wasn't really addressed in kumite and the fact that there were 26 katas - where no-one could really explain why we're learning them, what they were for or why it was even a requirement to learn things in ura. Sure the training made me tougher physically & mentally but there was a lot missing that I felt was crucial & I was missing out on.

    In contrast I found Okinawan Goju & Uechi ryu to be far less complicated, a lot more basic/compact and more in sync with kata.
     
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  19. Oldguy Blue Belt

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    I started in JKA and received my Shodan from Nishiyama sensei. A few years ago, I converted to SKA Shotokan.

    The difference is night and day.

    JKA has the hard muscle contraction approach to making kime. In SKA, the kime is made by aligning your skeletal structure and sinking your body weight into the technique. In my opinion, the SKA way is more effective and better for your body. The JKA way actually has you putting the brakes on your technique at the very end. The SKA has you sink into the technique and project it via your body mechanics and breathing into infinity.

    I wouldn't call the SKA way loose. It is relaxed upper body with connection to the ground for power. The JKA way looks silly to me now.

    SKA and Shotokai are very similar. The katas and techniques should always be relaxed for both beginners and advanced students.
     
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  20. Inquisitus Blue Belt

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    I've found that with JKA style techniques, "kime" looks good in air. We didn't hit too many things so alignment of the body to receive feedback was not at all taught. After transitioning to kickboxing and hitting pads, it makes it easier to understand the point of the technique.

    IMO kata can be a good way to encode techniques but you have to practice the techniques outside of kata in the intended interpretation. Shotokan is poor on this while I feel the Okinawan styles and Naha-te derived styles are much better at this. Maybe Judo or BJJ has a better methodology in maintaining their technique syllabus because the stuff in kata is closer to those than to boxing/kb/MT.
     
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