Beyond Kata

” The reason for postures in the martial arts is to facilitate transformations. Forms contain fixed postures, but in actual practice there are no fixed postures. When applied they become fluid, but still maintain their structural characteristics. ”

Tang Shunzhi (1507–1560) cited by Meir Shahar, Shaolin, from Douglas Wile.


Some people don’t like kata. They think that kata is a relic, a dance, some kind of ritual that supposedly encodes long lost information. They aren’t interested in it.

Some people love only kata. They repeat the same moves over and over. For years. Then they learn a new kata. And repeat those moves over and over. For more years. They think that this will somehow transform them into fighters. They cling to kata like a magic charm.

Some people use kata as a training tool. Getting good physical skills – strength, focus, speed, coordination, balance, unity of body and mind and more.

They test themselves against training partners in bunkai – learning the dynamics and energy transfers for each move. Getting a deeper feeling for the applications and seeing more and more of the possibilities present in each move.

Then they apply that experience and skill, acquired over a long time, under increasing pressure, to unpredictable encounters – in kumite or in combatives.

That is a good way to see that the postures of kata are necessary and useful but are like still images picked out of a video, not self-standing, rigid tools. Points along an unpredictable flow, to arise and be used spontaneously. This  freedom and power only happen as a result of long hard training.

That is one way in which you can see that form is emptiness and emptiness is form.


Post by Jeff Brooks

Photo of forms adapting to conditions

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