Kata training in Martial Arts
and Judo kata
Using kata training in traditional Martial Arts, and Judo kata specifically, is one of most misunderstood – or maybe the most misunderstood – aspect of traditional Arts (contesting this questionable “privilege” with vital points striking).>
When it's many ways to understand kata wrong, there is only one way to understand it right: kata is a method of training. This it! It's not imitation of fight. It's not a presentation of Art to a casual observer. It's not an examination exercise. This is training method, and as any training method it's affective as much as it understood and done right.
As a training method, kata – or, more accurately, different types of kata – serving two distinct goals: (1) physical conditioning and (2) setting a motion pattern for a specific fighting style.
Perfect example of the conditioning kata is Sanchin. It used in many (but not all) styles of karate – most notably in Goju ryu – and in many traditional styles of Chinese kung-fu, like Wing-Chun. Look for demonstrations of Sunchin by top Goju ryu masters – examination including pretty nasty beating to ensure that demonstrator's “muscular shield” is really well developed (which is main objective of this kata). The Judo conditioning kata is Seiiryoku Zenyo Kokumin Taiku, but other katas have conditioning elements as well.
While many other physical conditioning methods have been developed over last hundred plus years, as sport moved into mainstream of human activities on the waves of European humanism that resulted in such sport novelties as creation of French (a.k.a Greek-Roman) wrestling and start of modern Olympic movement in late 19th century, the conditioning kata still has it place – after all we're doing the best what we like to do and martial arts fan will enjoy more (and, as a result, will benefit more) from doing Sanchin kata than from doing sit-ups and push-ups even the end-result for development of particular muscular groups will be the same.
The second group of katas are much more diverse and Judo is a good example of it: when on July 24, 1905 more than 30 schools of traditional jujutsu agreed to accept Kodokan Judo as their all-inclusive style, the preservation of their traditional technique in the form of kata was part of this agreement. So, Judo formal technique and Judo kata is the martial heritage upon which Judo is build. But it's not all: when part of Judo formal technique is the living equivalent of a family history book, the other part is developed specifically to emphasize (and to train) important elements of Judo fighting stile – developing right posture, keeping your balance when dis-balancing opponent, etc. Yet other part was developed to address technique that can't be trained any other way – Goshin Jutsu self-defense kata, which was developed in 1956 and addressing such modern issues as defense against taking on hand-gun point.
When talking about Judo as a combat sport, training historical katas may seen as time wasting (and it's indeed a rare thing outside of Japan) the training of Nage no Kata and Katame no Kata will add to your competitiveness as it proven by top Japanese judocas. Benefits of self-defense katas (Goshin Jutsu is just one of them) are self-explainable.
When training kata as-is is a good exercise, it become invaluable(!) if you understand the application of kata – bunkai. This understanding is more exception than rule nowadays, but, without bunkai, kata became just fancy “dance”. This is more evident in karate where kata performed solo (as Judo kata is mostly a pair exercise and therefore easier to understand).
Karate kata is even more confusing because it's eclectic – historically each kata represented a particular completed self contained fighting style. In the old days a master studied (and taught) two or three katas for years (one is conditioning and one or two are technical), but nowadays a dozen katas squeezed into a year schedule to meet grading requirements. It is many historical reasons why it happened to be this way, but the bottom line is that kata training McDojo style without bunkai is what giving kata the bad name among “modern” practical martial artists.
Kata is the very interesting and the most endangered aspect of the traditional Martial Arts. It is number (even not very big) of good resources on bunkai – both, in printed materials and on the web – and I encourage you explore it.
Judo kata list