Making The Kata-Kumite Connection
The kata must always be practiced correctly. Real combat is another matter. - Gichin Funakoshi
Here's a pertinent question raised by Michele over at Just A Thought: What is the relationship between kata (pre-arranged practice forms) and jiyu-kumite (free-style sparring)? To expound on this, does the practice of kata necessarily translate into good fighting skills? Kata translates as form, so then this suggests that karate's form and function can be found in its kata. Kata is like a living textbook of karate's techniques and their precise execution. But principles alone don't win a fight. That is, knowing how to do something and actually doing it are not the same. Kata is a dry run; kumite is a bit more like actual combat.
I will say that most of the good kata people I've seen through the years are also pretty decent fighters. On the other hand, some of the other good fighters' renditions of kata have been less than inspiring.I've actually seen dan level promotions given to people based almost solely on their fighting prowess. With that said, should a black belt rank be given to a trainee who has mastered kata, comprehends the mechanics of kata, but can't really fight?
Tatsuo Shimabuku, the founder of Isshinryu karate, offered kumite in his curriculum as an option. He had black belts who never sparred. Should we assume these same individuals were then held to extra high standards in regards to understanding kata and their martial applications?
Broadly speaking, I think certain elements of kata could present themselves in a fight. (Kata as a canon of self-defense techniques falls outside of the sparring/fighting paradigm that I'm referring to.) In naihanchi, for example, the entire form's movements are side-to-side. One explanation for this is that the defender has a wall or the edge of a cliff to the rear. Another interpretation implies the lateral movement (tai sabaki) necessary to keep an assailant off-balance, as retreating in a straight line from your opponent is a cardinal sin in sparring. Interestingly, naihanchi is the only kata seen performed in old photos of Choki Motobu, an early innovator of kumite on Okinawa.
While I strongly agree that the techniques used in kata should be of the same caliber as the ones used in sparring (and vice versa), it should be pointed out that the rehearsed movements of kata do little to prepare anyone for the spontaneity and chaos of a full blown attack.
What do you think?