NATHAN J. JOHNSON holds a sixth degree black belt in Ko-do Ryu Karate, and a fourth degree black sash in traditional Chinese Kung Fu. He is also a Martial Arts historian and researcher, and the author of several books, including:
Zen Shaolin Karate (Tokyo: Tuttle 1994) and Barefoot Zen (York Beach, Maine: Weiser 2000).
KARATE: A MYSTERIOUS deadly Martial Art whose ‘master exponents’ can easily kill with a single blow; defeat multiple opponents in style and with grace, or tackle dangerous wild animals unarmed. Karate: a fearsome art in which the split-second timing of a fist or foot-strike determines life or death. Karate: the study and application of multipurpose-Martial Artsroutines, comprising techniques, ‘inscrutably’ designed to be used equally well, with or without weapons. Karate: an art conceived for use by warriors who had lost their weapons on the bloody battlefields of ancient Japan. Karate: an art through which exponents may cultivate the abilities to easily smash through rock, brick, stone and bone, and (fatally) pierce human flesh, even delaying the time of an opponent’s death … These and other misinformed and inaccurate stereotypes figure amongst some of the most grotesque and misleading caricatures, distortions and
hackneyed misrepresentations of Karate extant. Certainly very common, they are equally as false, attesting more to populist Oriental mythologizing than to the technical material contained in authentic kata – elegant, solo choreographed sequences of movements that record Karate’s ancient techniques, the true source of Karate and the inspiration for this book.
Today, most Karate styles divide their practice into three types of training: kihon (basics), kata (forms) and kumite (sparring), respectively. However, kihon, the constant repetition of basics – isolating techniques and repeating them in drill fashion – is a relatively new invention, as is modern free-fighting or sparring. Indeed, modern basics often include the repetition of techniques not actually found in the traditional kata; high kicks for example. Of the three types of training mentioned, kata is the most traditional and is said, by the masters, to be Karate and Karate to be kata! Yet kata, sometimes described as the ‘soul’ of Karate, and revered by traditionalists, are also a source of great confusion and much disagreement between the various schools that practice them, particularly with regard to ‘applications’. In reality many applications taught as ‘traditional’ are in fact very modern (dating from the 1950s) and could not be further from the original intentions for – and purposes of – the kata, as this book will show. Admittedly, as well as ancient kata, there exists a plethora of modern kata, but they are not dealt-with or discussed at any length here, being (typically) re-workings of already misrepresented classical kata.
It may be largely unknown to the general public that, within Karate, there is currently something of a crisis in confidence in the meaning and application of historically important kata, a situation that can only be denied by the most entrenched or blinkered of experienced practitioners. Many disconsolate Karate-ka have spent, and continue to spend, countless hours trying to fathom, unravel, and apply, misconceived, improperly passed-on or downright bogus kata, portrayed as ‘traditional’. But true kata do exist, they have simply been jumbled-up (modified) and their functions confused, confounded and twisted into an ever tightening ‘Gordian knot’. This book is intended to untangle that knot. It was not written to be deliberately controversial or to directly criticize established Karate, yet the explanations and applications for kata presented here, unquestionably represent a major breakthrough in the field of Karate, its history, and philosophy; but more importantly in the practical applications of its primary, ancient (key) kata, including the fundamental kata of both major streams of Karate.