Saturday, 19 March 2016

What does your kata do for you?

I have found out only very recently that we have a long weekend coming up- so my self defence group has ditched me to head off on vacation. I was promised, however, that I will soon get to make a demo video. So- I forgive them. Fortunately I had this post to write as well- 

In this blog's beginning I have written a post about form practice in Wenhsiuquan saying that I use three different types of form in training:

1. Power Form;

2. Combat Form;

3. Energy Form.

These 3 types of form were not developed or invented by myself, but were already there for me to be used when I embarked on a lifetime of martial arts study.

The very first kata I have tried to learn was a Shukokai kata called Rohei. It is in Tommy Morris' book on karate without any explanatory notes or those useful arrows that you find in books about kata.

At 14 I joined the Shukokai dojo in my town and I got a proper introduction to kata. Before the year had passed I have learnt Taikyoku and Matsukaze. Our sensei made it very clear that the movements were definitely not mere movements of the limbs and we got taught of all the muscles and the parts they play in each movement. More importantly we were taught which movements were punches, strikes, grabs and so forth. This helped us know where we were supposed to move fast, slow down and when to tense the forearm muscles and so forth. In this style we have learnt a lot of bunkai as well. We never did a kata having to wonder what any movement's purpose was. (Most of the movements in Shukokai kata, if not all, have a combat application.)

It is not unusual for one to work up a sweat with these kata and I regarded it as great exercise. 

With Shotokan I have found that we did not move as fast in our kata as with Shukokai. I think part of the reason is that the stances are the main reason for this. With this style I have learnt to slow down and the importance of pauses between certain movements. In this style being winded and sweaty after a kata was actually a sign of being too tense and I often got told to relax more. Funny enough- Now that I am back at WSKF I found that I have to work on relaxing again. :D

My first book on Taichi was not a good one and I have only learnt a sequence from it that I had to figure out for myself how energy was exactly to be channelled. Ironically enough- I only got put on the right track with some lessons from a wonderful woman and later a book on Shaolin Kungfu. 

Later on David Gaffney and Davidine Sim's book on Chen Style Taijiquan would answer the last questions I had about gathering and channeling energy.

Here's the thing now-

Taijiquan holds no monopoly on slow, relaxed movements in their forms (called taolu in Mandarin Chinese). What does set Taijiquan apart is that it has forms with only slow movements called "silk reeling" forms meant for gathering energy and holding thereof while "cannon fist" forms would contain explosive movements in which energy is discharged.

Whether karate students know it or not, their own forms employ these principles, but they are interwoven and not clearly separated in these forms. 

The forms of traditional Shaolin Kungfu- not the acrobatic forms, but those very basic forms- contain movements that Wong Kiew Kit call "force training". These movements can be slow, tense, relaxed or explosive depending on what type of force is being trained.

I prefer to keep these types of movement separated in form practice. A power form would be one like this:

These forms are explosive. A while of doing Shaolin forms like this helped a lot with understanding karate forms. I also use my karate forms as force or power forms.:

These forms are explosive and may contain the what the Chinese call fa song elements which are essentially the relaxation your muscles need to have in order to be able to explode into the next discharging of fajing movement.

But- in order for me to get you to fully understand how the flow of energy feels in your own body I choose to remove all fajing  elements and let you do a form like this:

This allows you to feel your arms floating weightlessly when they need to and your limbs becoming hard and heavy when they have to. You also get some more time to breathe in than with power forms. 

Then lastly- there are the combat forms. Your opponent is not guaranteed to give you time to gather energy or breathe in. In this type of form you actually test your ability to respond by allowing your mind to throw imaginary attacks at you from various directions and where you just respond. This type of solo training has done wonders for me and I strongly recommend it-

If you don't normally have forms in your training routine you can use these guidelines to choose the forms you want to help you work on those areas to which you want to pay attention. If you already have katas at your style I hope that these guidelines will help you appreciate them more for what they are.

If you thought that katas are done for a grading panel or judges at a competition then I hope that this post makes you realise that you are actually practicing forms for yourself.

Train well. :)

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