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Paul Herbert 5th Dan
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Kata Practice for effective kumite in Karate-do

By Arijit Chakraborty

The study of kata forms an integral part of karate-do, especially for styles like Shito-ryu, Goju and Shotokan which have a rich repertoire of kata. It is generally felt that kata is the ‘living textbook’ of karate, containing techniques, strategies which have been perfected through hundreds of years by renowned Masters, after reviewing their effectiveness in actual combat.

The Shotokan style of karate is heavily influenced by both the Shuri and Naha schools of karate and as such, embody the principles of both hard, heavy, slow and fast, soft and reflexive. We have ‘power’ kata like Hangetsu and quick-witted ‘light’ kata like ‘Empi’ or Gankaku. Within this article I will briefly explore the defensive and offensive links between kata and kumite.

Uke waza - All kata begin with uke-waza or defensive movement, like a parry, block or disengagement, which is centrally useful for blocking techniques in actual jiyu kumite. The opening block in Bassai dai or Heian kata or even Niju shiho kata serve as effective blocking and evading techniques which should be used in kumite.  Double blocks as in Jion, Heian 2-4, Ji-in , Gojushiho also have direct applications in kumite where they may be employed to execute dual block or block / attack sequence. The continuous middle level blocking in Tekki Sandan or use of switching blocks in Bassai portray this example suitably. Essentially uke waza or blocking in karate is also a disguised form of attack.. .so the age-uke sequence in Heian Shodan is actually used / can be modified to represent breaking of opponents forearm / attack to elbow joint. This has relevant application in shiai as well as a hard practical technique in self defence. There are many spectacular blocks in kata not usually practiced as part of kihon, for example, the sweeping blocks ( sukui uke) at the end of Bassai dai kata, or the U Punch ( Yama zuki) in the same kata, which also serves as parry / block..

 Counter attack - Kata also contain spectacular counter attacks, evasions, jumping, going to ground and other changing techniques (henka waza) whch can be employed in kumite by experienced and seasoned karateka. The tai sabaki used in Kanku dai kata while going to ground or two-level kick (nidan geri)  can be effective attacking techniques in kumite. The last 2 movements in Jion kata also serve as effective counters. Another kata noted for counter attacks is kanku-sho  which has a middle –level focus so far as blocks and counters are concerned. Chinte kata teaches unusual blocks, rarely seen in kumite , but can be practical in real-life situation, for example the palm-heel block ( teisho uke).

In kumite, a vital winning technique is ‘sen no sen’ which is to seize initiative, get ‘into’ the opponents attack and dislodge and neutralize his attack even before the offense is completed. A very good example of such a block and counter is found in the grasping blocks in ‘Wankan’ kata. This kata, though rare to see, is unique as it has only one ‘kiai’ or high tension technique.

Jumps and airborne maneuvers : Jumping techniques, seen in JKA All Japan kumite matches in the 1970s, 80s and early 90s also find their origin in kata. Whether a simple jump as in Heian 5 or a more sophisticated leap as in Empi kata or the tri-angular jump (sankaku empi tobi geri) in Meikyo kata or even the breathtaking 180 degree jump in Kanku sho  or the artistic 360 degree jump in Unsu are all spectacular techniques which have been selectively applied in kumite. Some of the exceptionally talented karateka like Sensei Asai , Yahara and Kawasoe have been renowned for their actual jumps and reversals in the heat of kumite.

Feints / strategies – Complex feints, adaptations and false techniques form part of the advanced repertoire in kumite. These mature techniques found in Unsu , Sochin  , Meikyo, Nijushiho and Gojushiho kata demand absolute precision, spirit, timing and commitment to be used in kumite effectively against a strong opponent.

Conclusion : Thus it may be said that in karate – kata starts with kumite and kumite starts with kata. Most of karate masters and legendary exponents were equally versed in both kata and kumite, for example Senseis Kanazawa, Asai, Enoeda, Mori, Tanaka, Osaka , Yahara , Kagawa and Kasuya are renowned for their superior prowess on both kata and kumite and they have been All Japan and World Champions in both the aspects. Techniques in kata , if applied in kumite or actual self defence, can be highly effective, deadly and can have devastating impact on the opponent, unless controlled properly. Study of kata, deeper study of bunkai, oyo and theory  / rhythm of every kata is essential for proficiency in kumite, Karate  kata is a journey towards perfection, has implications in human life and is in essence, the heart of karate-do.