Kata, why it is the backbone of your martial art! | Kevin Pereira

By Kevin Pereira, 6th Dan, Renshi


Kata what is it? Is it a dance? Is it for a show? Is it for children? Kata is practiced by millions around the world and some don’t even realize it!

Let’s take a deeper look into this huge part of the martial arts firstly as an Okinawan bujutsu practitioner I will try and shed some insight into the word and it’s true meaning.

To translate it simply as a form is insanely incorrect for example here is the kanji for Kata 型 this Kanji is comprised of 3 separate Kanji.

These are the three pieces of this puzzle  

刀 + 土 + 形

The first Kanji 刀 is Ka which means sword or scalpel.The middle character 土 is Chi which means the ground. The base or third Kanji 形 is pronounced as kata which by itself means form or shape but this isn’t the Kanji used to mean Kata.

Sound and words can have multiple kanji associated with them which makes translation hard for those who aren’t native speakers or have teachers who speak and write the language fluently.

So the combination of all 3 characters which makes the actual Kanji used for kata 型 essentially means to cut a pattern into the ground.

Why would we cut a pattern into the ground? Simple!, to forge a concept into our bodies to etch a strategy for combat! Some Okinawans would say kata was the essence of your style. Your Ugoki (method of movement) was all set in your kata which defined your style.

Back then people didn’t learn basics like let’s do Keri and uke waza (kicking and receiving techniques) then learn kata. They learned kata first then with bunkai 分解 the disassembly, dismantling, and analysis of the kata they refined their movements.

So by today’s standards, they worked backward. The better question is where did some of these kata they were learning come from?

In Naha for example many of the young men served in the Chinese military. This was due to their Chinese lineage as most were descendants of the 36 families so many had obligation to serve.

One of the most widely practiced kata was born from drills taught at the Beijing military academy. Sadly most are unaware of its origins but practice and teach some version of kata Seuichin

刺引戦 Which means Pull into Battle. aka Seiyonchin Mandarin: 随運勁 Fujian: 青鷹戦 was developed by Sakiyama Kitoku after serving 10 years in the Beijing military academy he pieced together some of his favorite morning drills practiced at the academy to pass on these battle strategies to others.

Another example of where the Okinawan people got material from is the sapposhi they were government representatives of the Emperor of China, and they would travel with their bodyguards and military representatives of the Chinese empire. These military attaches and bodyguards were the individuals responsible for teaching kata and empty hand tactics to the Okinawan Pechin class.

The Pechin were a privileged class in the Okinawan infrastructure, but NOT SAMURAI. They had nothing to do with SAMURAI at all a completely different thing and culture under the Ryukyu Kingdom.

There are even documented records as far back as 1762 in regards to a boat traveling from the Ryukyu’s to the Satsuma shipwrecked and drifted near Oshima Island This event was recorded by the scribe Tobe Yoshihiro and became known as the Oshima Hikki.

During this event, a demonstration was witnessed where a man named Kusanku (as stated in the Oshima Hikki), it is unclear if he practiced a form of Chinese wrestling or Quanfa (Kenpo) was witnessed performing a demonstration where his students tried overpower him. His demonstration left such a mark that people asked to learn Kata from him. They were all in owe of his incredible power and skill.

Now how do 1762 and a demonstration relate to 2021? Some of the examples I mentioned dispel the fairy tales of, out of shape monks using kata like a form of jazzercise or Taebo.

Kata has been recorded and documented as a method of passing on a combative strategy to groups of people. In training camps lines of soldiers would work kata in a synchronized fashion to build not just combative skill but cultivate the spirit of brotherhood sweat together, bleed together and die together…

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A Warrior Is Humble

By Michael Fuchs creator of Shaolinbutterfly.com

A martial arts “Warrior” in the traditional sense of the word must learn and master and internalize many seemingly contradictory principles. These include such principles as respect, discipline, confidence, humility, compassion, wisdom, and many more. Traditional Asian Martial Arts have evolved far beyond mere pugilism or arts of war; or as is often the case in modern times, sports. For the lucky ones who can find a teacher who has learned in a traditional way or to those who commit themselves to this way, they can be true arts of the way. In other words, they are spiritual arts. No, not a religion, but methods of “personal perfection,” as one famous teacher put it. Character development is another modern way to put it. As such, none of this can be possible without taming and transcending our own inner “demon,” that pesky little three-letter troublemaker known as the EGO. As to whether this is actually ultimately attainable, I will leave that to the thoughtful reader to contemplate. Intellectually, perfection may seem to be impossible to achieve, but as my teacher advised, the key is to “shut off the mind and perceive the world from the heart, then the Dao is a possibility and each moment is rich.” Keep in mind, each time we bow or perform break stance or the like in our training, we are acknowledging and honing these principles.

Now, I know some of you are reading this and thinking, “Say what?” I don’t blame you, it can sound very lofty and unattached to modern reality, “on the street.” I assure you, however, nothing could be further from the truth. The Martial Arts Warriors of the past developed these insights in an age where fighting was visceral, not a video game or conducted by drones — it was conducted hand to hand, blade to blade, kill or be killed. No joke. We may not have to face death by the sword nowadays, but we all have our own tests and stresses to face, and the traditional arts can help us with these as well.

One of the more practical traditional philosophies we can study is known as “The Teachings of the Cup,” of which there are a number of versions, including the Tibetan “3 Bowls,” as in soup bowls not tea cups. Each “cup” has to do with our ego and qualities as a student/person. At any rate here is a short introduction to these 5 “cups.”

-The Empty Cup

This is the cup that symbolizes being open to receive knowledge: from our teachers and everyone and everything within and around us. We must make an effort to “empty the cup” daily or else we are done learning and growing. Be humble, empty your cup — yeah, you too, 20th Dan Grand Pooh Ba Sijo Soke Grandmaster!

– The Full Cup

Obviously, if our “cup” is full we can’t learn anymore and may be no fun to be around, as in being “full of you know what.” Check out the famous story of the professor meeting the Zen master for a humorous story on the virtues of the 

“empty cup” and the drawbacks of the “full cup.” I have been told that Bruce Lee and SGM Ed Parker would argue over this one, the “Little Dragon” emphasizing “filling the cup,” while SGM Parker would argue we need to focus on “emptying the cup.” At any rate, if your cup is full, please empty it appropriately, do not let it leak all over the place!

– The Upside Down Cup

If our “cup” is upside down for whatever reason, we obviously can’t learn anymore. This “cup” is in a different mind-set or position in life than the “full cup.” She may want to learn and grow and be open to it but is being prevented for some reason. The goal here would be to find out why our “cup” is upside down and to turn it right side up if possible, or to make the best of the situation until we can do this.

– The Cup With a Hole In It

Obviously, if we have holes in our “cups” this will impede our ability to learn and grow. Again, why we have these “holes” is up to each of us to learn and overcome, with the help of trusted guides, teachers, and friends. For instance, if I am a body builder but my favorite foods are pizza and ice cream, this dietary “hole” is not going to be helpful in building my body!

– The Cup Held Above the Spigot

Like the “Upside Down Cup” this sad situation will prevent us from receiving any knowledge or insight, or growing at all in our arts and life. My teacher taught us a live lesson in this one evening when a lady entered our school and loudly proclaimed to him for all to hear, “I have already mastered all of the laws of the universe, all I want is for you to teach me some tai chi techniques.” His response was priceless: “If that’s true, then you don’t need to be here.” Rather than humble herself to learn, she turned around and left as my jaw dropped witnessing this unbelievable act of egomania. Same for the guys who have mastered video game or movie martial arts who challenge a real expert — time to take out the garbage, boy.

– The Cup Tainted With Poison

This is the most challenging and potentially dangerous cup, think Darth Vader — he was such a bad seed even wise, old Master Yoda could not reach him. Traditionally teachers of Martial Arts won’t teach people like this, they turn them away no matter how much money they might be offered. But of course, even Darth Vader saw the light eventually, so there is hope for all of us — I hope!

In conclusion, I would like to quote a true Martial Arts Warrior, Guro Dan Inosanto, He said, “The goal of Martial Arts is not for the destruction of an opponent, but rather for self-growth and self-perfection.” May the journey continue.

Author: Michael Fuchs Learn about Michael Fuchs, C.B.I.S.’s books: The Shaolin Butterfly Style, The Seven Jewels of Reiki and The Compassionate Touch of Reiki. This website also informs you of Michael’s classes, training and events being offered throughout Connecticut, Regionally, Nationally, and beyond. Butterfly Tai Chi System, Butterfly Reiki System, Kung Fu, Kali, Meditation, Qigong, Martial Arts, Pai Lum, Healing, Yoga.


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