What is Karate?
How does the teaching system behind it work?
I have tried to explain the methodical approaches a little bit (and hopefully understandable 🙂 ). Of course it doesn’t hurt to look around in other sources – depending on style, coinage (self-defense, sports/competition karate, „spiritualized“ martial arts), trainer and association the views vary sometimes more, sometimes less.
„There are always more truths than just your own.“
Here at least the attempt to explain how it is lived in the Shinbukan Dojo.
The pillars of Karate
Our Karate lessons can be roughly divided into the following components:
- Kihon Renshu – 基本練習:
- „Basic Techniques“, basic exercises, basic movements practiced while standing, whereby there are innumerable prescribed stands
- Zenshin-Kotai – 前進後退:
- „Forward-backward“, basic techniques performed in forward or backward movement
- Ippon-Kumite – 一本組手:
- „A point-fighting (encountering) hands“, basic techniques practiced together with a partner in a previously determined and agreed upon sequence of „formal movement patterns“, each in the roles of „attacker“ and „defender“
- Kata – 型:
- „formal procedure“, a sequence of different techniques in often different directions and practiced in different states and timings
Beside these „generic terms“ there are other training methods, which are either variations (Ippon-Kumite, Yonhon-Kumite, Uke-Harai, …) or are known across all sports.
These are for example coordination training, endurance training, strength training, free fight (according to competition/rules system).
During the execution there can also be more special, „Japanese-influenced“ methods, e.g. strength training with special equipment (Chiishi, Nigiri Games, etc.) or toughening training (Makiwara, Kotegitae, …).
I will not go into these methods here, you have to contact me.
For a more detailed description I would like to start with „Kata“.
Kata is the origin of the teaching system and the most important part of Karate – it is the soul of Karate!
Karate is Kata – Kata is Karate
Kata is a „craft method“ to transport knowledge. So there are Kata in the Asian area in many craftsman occupations: Carpenter, cook, baker, uvm.
Certain and important movement sequences are brought in form and rehearsed, until the movement reaches an almost unbelievable perfection. The well-known „tea ceremony“, for example, makes this clear. Every detail, however small, is precisely prescribed: How often and in which direction the tea is stirred, where and how the spoon is placed, how the tea bowl is held, …
Thus, theoretical knowledge about the manner of an execution in a movement is manifested – quasi stored in a form comparable to data sets in a modern storage medium like a hard disk.
In the martial arts you can imagine the development of a kata in a similar way:
A theoretically known technique is practiced and refined in an application example together with partner. In order to apply the technique correctly, some minor adjustments may be necessary – sometimes a turn, sometimes a step to a certain side. All this helps to gain „experience“.
Once the first, often the simplest technique is in place, further possibilities for application are tested, discussed with the students, optimized even more deeply and perfected.
The experience gained here is invaluable. This is what makes Karate come alive! (It is incomprehensible to me that nowadays long-time black belt wearers have to attend special „self-defense courses“ at the national association…)
The knowledge about the practical application of a technique is called „Bunkai – 分解“, which can be translated as „analysis“ or „dissection“.
Now the knowledge must still be „stored“ accordingly for passing on to the next generation. For this purpose, the rough movement patterns, but also the smallest details from the application just learned are summarized in a closed form, i.e. the sequence of the individual techniques. The result is a fixed sequence of movements that sometimes resembles a kind of dance. A ceremonial beginning and end, always with a bow at the beginning and at the end, then the techniques – one after the other – as a loose movement without opponents, sometimes only one side, sometimes every side… It looks like fighting your own shadow or like a simulation against one or more attackers…
In fact, the person who practices the kata over and over again, memorizes the sequence of events, and is reminded of every single technique and thus of every single bunkai with every single execution of the kata. Likewise one will be enabled to remember the sentences of his teacher to be able to give these finally to his own students again. Of course, the passing on of the original will be mixed with your own experiences and values. This is the way it is intended and this is the course of events – everything in the universe is subject to constant change. The basic features, the course of the Kata, however, should be guarded like the foundation of a castle!
In order to decipher this knowledge of traditional fighting techniques one must first learn the sequence of the Kata and then disassemble it again with much practice – Bunkai!
This is how karate works, this is how kata works.
Kihon Renshu /Zenshin-Kotai / Ippon Kumite
Karate, this term is not so old – commercialized and made public on a large scale by a meeting of the most important masters of the time on October 25, 1935 – the „Karate no hi“. – the „Day of Karate“.
(Remark/assumption: Certainly there were one or the other precious Master who did not partake/would not participate in this meeting).
Before, Japanese terms for „Chinese hand“ (which reflects the influence of Chinese martial arts), „self-defense“, „wrestling“ and many more were used to describe the martial arts known in Okinawa…
Now the most different coinages/styles could be marketed uniformly (or at least under the same name).
Around 1900, Karate was also introduced more and more as „popular sport“ (popular sport) at schools. Special „beginner kata“ were created, often across styles.
Where a Sensei taught a handful of students in a small Dojo of only a few square meters before, now big public places, big halls were filled for training. One can now also imagine that not all students were equally motivated and not equally talented.
Here was the decisive development, which radically changed the method of teaching karate.
What was previously extracted from each individual kata has now been unified! There are a few master names that are mentioned here again and again, they probably had the most influence. One example is „Kentsu Yabu“, „the General“ – because of his military background.
Today’s popular karate still lets the military drill feel a little bit.
So now a fixed pool was generated in the most important pillars of Karate:
- Stands were unified
- basic techniques then practiced in the individual stances
- strengthens the biomechanical movements in the forward/backward exercise
- coordination, timing, distance feeling optimized with partner exercises
- … and whoever was lucky (or still is lucky today) was taught the possible applications
- … thus the basis was also laid to compare individual students on the basis of belt ranks and to check their knowledge – yes, of course this can also generate $€ etc… (The reason why the examinations in the Shinbukan Dojo are free of charge!)
Thus one can assert paradoxically way in addition: Where in former times Kata was at the beginning, today Kata comes to the end… – or in other words: First the hen or first the egg? The question remains, what is the hen and what is the egg? 🙂