“Practise Kata Correctly” by Mabuni Kenwa

Translated by Mark Tankosich MA, this essay, originally written by the founder of Shito-ryu Karate (Mabuni Kenwa), first appeared in Vol. 29, No. 1 of the Hiroshima University of Economics Journal of Humanities, Social and Natural Sciences. Emphasis and illustrations added by me. Published with permission.

Practice Karate Correctly

Mabuni Kenwa (1889 - 1952)

By Mabuni Kenwa

In karate, the most important thing is kata.

Into the kata of Karate are woven every manner of attack and defense technique. Therefore, kata must be practiced properly, with a good understanding of their bunkai meaning.

There may be those who neglect the practice of kata, thinking that it is sufficient to just practice [pre-arranged] kumite that has been created based on their understanding of the kata, but that will never lead to true advancement. The reason why is that the ways of thrusting and blocking – that is to say, the techniques of attack and defense – have innumerable variations. To create kumite containing all of the techniques in each and every one of their variations is impossible.

The author performing self-defense from the ground

If one sufficiently and regularly practices kata correctly, it will serve as a foundation for performing – when a crucial time comes – any of the innumerable variations.

However, even if you practice the kata of karate – if that is all that you do – and if your [other] training is lacking, then you will not develop sufficient ability. If you do not [also] utilize various training methods to strengthen and quicken the functioning of your hands and feet, as well as to sufficiently study things like body-shifting and engagement distancing, you will be inadequately prepared when the need arises to call on your skills.

If practiced properly, two or three kata will suffice as “your” kata; all of the others can just be studied as sources of additional knowledge.

Breadth, no matter how great, means little without depth.

In other words, no matter how many kata you know, they will be useless to you if you don’t practice them enough.

If you sufficiently study two or three kata as your own and strive to perform them correctly, when the need arises, that training will spontaneously take over and will be shown to be surprisingly effective. If your kata training is incorrect, you will develop bad habits which, no matter how much kumite and makiwara practice you do, will lead to unexpected failure when the time comes to utilize your skills.

You should be heedful of this point.

Correctly practicing kata – having sufficiently comprehended their meaning – is the most important thing for a karate trainee.

However, the karate-ka must by no means neglect kumite and makiwara practice, either. Accordingly, if one seriously trains – and studies – with the intent of approximately fifty percent kata and fifty percent other things, one will get satisfactory results.

The author performing kata Bassai Dai

6 Comments

  • Kanbei
    All right! I believe the man... He´s Mabuni Kenwa, a wise (very, very wise) sensei. Sadly, a lot of people out there don´t show any respect for kata. Dominique Valera said this: "kata has no purpose for fighting, this stuff can be seen as a tribute for the ancient masters of the past, or maybe as a good exercise about coordination, but if you are attacked in a real life struggle..." Ok. We´ve heard this opinion so many times. What do you think about it?
  • Mark Tankosich
    Jesse,While I'm flattered, and sure you had no ill-intent, I would have appreciated your seeking my permission before posting this.While providing a link to my work is one thing, reproducing it like this is another.And yes, you now have my permission. Perhaps you can note that fact on the blog, so that others realize it's appropriate to receive such in a case like this.Please just check with me in the future.Thank you.
    • Hi Mark!I understand you, and thank you. I have now included "With permission..."I have frequently seen this translation on other websites (probably without your permission!), so I thought it was a shame if I hadn't posted it. Now I know better. :)Arigatô gozaimashita!
  • Mark Tankosich
    Thanks Jesse.BTW, for those who would like to read my complete work on this, it can be found here: http://seinenkai.com/articles/tankosich/tankosich3.html
  • Drew Baye
    I think what the people who argue about kata not being relevant to real fighting or self-defense miss the point - in addition to being "libraries" of movements, when practiced mindfully they reinforce the fundamentals necessary to fight or defend oneself as effectively as possible.Mabuni's statement about only needing two or three forms really caught my attention because in Wing Chun we only have three hand forms, but a lot of emphasis is placed on their practice, particularly the first form which contains the majority of the style's hand techniques.Like what Bruce Lee said about not being afraid of the man who practiced 10,000 kicks once, but fearing the man who practiced one kick 10,000 times, it makes sense that you'd get more out of mastering a few forms than just being good at a dozen.
  • Two or three kata makes sense to me (I currently practice Sanchin, Uechi-Ryu version and Seienchin). I've come across this idea many times including a statement from Shinyu Gushi that the practice of Sanchin alone would be enough, kata wise. However, from what I've seen very few people adhere to this idea and are often part of a system that requires practitioners to 'know' many kata in order to progress through the ranks. At one level, it would be possible to practice a couple of boxing style punches and spar, full contact, which would be great preparation for most street fights.

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