Monday, April 16, 2012

Omote, ura and the poetry of kata

The art in kata is not in the visual appeal of it's dance like moves, nor in the simple kinesthetic appeal of moving. For me, good kata is very much like good poetry, where instead of a few words we have a few gestures communicating volumes. It's the economy that I appreciate.

Misunderstanding kata is like expecting poetry to read like prose. Kata is not prescriptive-if attacker does "x" you respond with "y." The newer, so called fighting kata, attempt this. The traditional kata are a bit more complex. An appreciation of symbolism, pattern and structure is requisite. There is a reason beginning readers start out with "Fun with Dick and Jane" books instead of say the words of Robert Frost. First get command of the language, then develop an understanding of its nuances.

Symbols? A punch is a punch, a kick is a kick. This is true if your karate is merely kick boxing in pajamas. At first, I thought the problem in understanding kata lay in the Japanese concept of omote, what is out front and observable, and ura, what is behind and unseen. This suggests perhaps a conscious effort by early karate masters to conceal secrets. Maybe in the old days, today I believe it's analogous to a failure to appreciate poetry. It is difficult to understand metaphor and simile with a limited vocabulary. There's no spark of recognition.

My prescription, increase your martial arts vocabulary by cross-training. Then go back to your kata and see if that has not made all the difference.

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