Chances are, if you’re reading this post you’ve heard about something called kata. It’s that long choreographed sequence of movements they do in karate? A bit like a dance? Good for demos but not very practical right?
Kata (型 or 形) is often translated as "form" or "pattern/mold", and applied to martial arts (or other traditional arts) describes a codified sequence of steps that should be performed. In martial arts that generally means a sequence of attacking and defending movements, usually for a solo practitioner.
"I don't like it because it's not practical", "there's no point to it", "it won't help on the street": those are some of the most common criticisms of kata I've heard (and read) over the years. They're all valid points of course, but really it comes down to how you train in kata that determines whether it's practical, meditative, or basically just dance.
In this post, I want to talk about kata and share some of the conclusions I’ve reached from my own reflection and research. Tl;dr I absolutely believe kata is an important part of balanced training, and not just something you dust off for demos every 6 months. Why? Because done right, it hones the basics: good form, balance, stance, timing, distance, speed; in a controlled and repeatable way.
Shorinji kempo kata
There are 14 official ‘empty hand’ kata in Shorinji kempo. There are also several unique kata for shakujo, nyoi and dokko (totaling 16 more, that I know of!), and which are a subject for a future post!
Several of the kata are direct single form (tanen) versions of full pair-form techniques (hokei). Ryuoken dai ichi (1) is the single-form of the basic technique kote nuki (ryuoken 2 and 3 are single-form versions of yori nuki, and ryote yori nuki respectively); byakurenken dai ichi is single-form tsubame gaeshi. To emphasise this difference, the forms are often referred to collectively by a different name in Shorinji kempo: tanen kihon hokei (single form basic techniques).
Ben is instructor at East London Shorinji Kempo. He has been practicing for 16 years and has reached the rank of 3rd dan.
Shorinji kempo stances