random musings on keeping it simple

Sometimes I wonder if the kata I’m seeing and practicing are the same as the near identical ones I see my fellow karateka doing and describing.  To sum up my feelings I’d like to play a little game.

When I first began karate I learned a number of different forms.  I didn’t learn them all at once mind you, I had to spend a long time working on a single form before I was allowed to move on to another.  The training was repetitive, sometimes boring, often hard, but it helped me build up strength.

I got the opportunity to train with more than one teacher, for which I’m grateful.  They all had their own unique take on things, and would often do the same kata differently.  To be honest I don’t think I always understood the differences initially, that came later, after a lot of training.

Eventually I reached the stage where I wanted to codify my knowledge in the form of a kata of my own that I could teach my students.  Obviously I could teach them the kata I knew, and in the past I had taught those with my own unique twists, but they were at their heart another person’s kata.  I wanted to create something that embodied my favourite techniques and summarized the principles I felt were important.

My kata not only needed to reflect my favourite techniques and core principles, it needed to reflect my heritage as a martial artist.  Obviously the vast majority of the movements I chose would be found in Kata I knew and had taught in my own way: Kosakun, Passai, Naihanchi, and some of the Tomari Te forms.  I would structure those combinations my own way, to teach my lessons.

One extremely important thing I’d learned that I wanted to encapsulate in my kata was simplicity in technique.  The more complex something is the more likely it is to fail under pressure.  My favourite techniques have always been the ones that are so simple that beginners could do them; in fact I wanted beginners to do them.  It’s very easy to put together something complicated; it’s far harder to strip things down to their most basic levels.  Beginners are the most important people in karate: they are the future.  Added to that if a beginner can’t do something easily then I doubt that experienced practitioners will be able to do it under pressure.  I don’t want to create something that only experienced karateka can do, I want to create something that’s effective as a form of exercise and effective as a means of self defence.  That is the legacy I want to leave.  One of the biggest lessons I have learned is that simplicity is the key to success.

If I could do that it would give me great peace of mind.  To think of large numbers of students made safe and sound through training in my kata.

Who am I?

Anko Itosu.

The legacy he left us is not only the wealth of systems that have evolved from his teachings, but also the Pinan kata.  Just because a kata can be taught to beginners does not mean it is not an advanced kata.

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