A Matter of Style

It’s been awhile since I’ve posted anything about karate.  Since this is a karate blog, I guess I should get to it.  I’ve been thinking lately about how an individual’s style comes into play when performing kata (forms) or kumite (sparring).  Often what we criticize as failed technique is really a matter of style.  Here are two examples.

This is a video of Kanei Uechi performing sanseiryu kata.  It’s not the highest quality, but notice how relaxed he is.  He’s not trying to kill anyone with his strikes; he is maintaining a smooth flow of techniques.  He is very loose, and you can see some little things that might be criticized in most dojos these days: a little light on the feet, not gripping with his toes, strikes are a little too high, etc.

Now take a look at Tsutomu Nakahodo, a modern Hanshi-dan in Uechi-derived Shohei-Ryu.

His kata is much different than Master Uechi’s.  It’s more focused and powerful.  He pauses in different places, he steps differently, and he is generally more aggressive in his stances.  I’ve been lucky enough to see him perform kata in person, and it is quite impressive!

So who’s way is best?  Is there a “best?”  We’re comparing the man who named and popularized his father’s art and one of the art’s most formidable practitioners.  One of the best aspects of the style is the blending of “soft” and “hard.”  You can see that each master has a different way of achieving that balance.  Neither can be wrong so long as their training is effective: it’s just a matter of style based on personal preferences, training focus, interpretation of technique, body type, and even your mood on any given day.

It’s easy to watch the quirks of someone’s kata and proclaim them “wrong.”  It’s hard to watch someone’s kata as a whole and proclaim it “wrong.”  Everyone does things a little differently, and it’s important to keep this in mind while training together.

With that said, have you run into a training partner that’s a little too tough on you–picking on every little thing?  Has anyone let you off way too easy, simply saying “nice job” when you know it wasn’t?  What are some tips for delivering good, beneficial feedback?  Consider any discipline that involves some peer review; consider golf, writing, or even driving.  Tips are greatly appreciated!

About moaimartialarts

Lucky enough to grow up with the martial arts, I have felt their positive influence throughout my life and am especially interested in sharing these experiences with others. I enjoy working with youth and adults to give back some of what I've received. If you would like to learn more about Uechi-Ryu/Shohei-Ryu Karate, or if you want to find people to train with, please contact me. I am the head karate instructor for the Meriden Martial Arts Club.
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4 Responses to A Matter of Style

  1. Matt says:

    Very nice post, and an important point I think. A lot of times when I am giving critiques I will tell students ‘I do this way, and here is why.’ that gives them the option to do my way or to do a way that a different teacher has shown them (especially if that teacher is higher in rank).

    • shoheiryuct says:

      Good point. I always try to take the best advice from teachers and training partners and sort of omit what doesn’t work for me. I expect the same from others.

      Personally, I’ve changed from a very hard style to a very soft one over the past two years. People seem to commend and critique both styles equally. So I guess it’s not only a matter of preference for the person practicing the kata but the viewer as well.

  2. Mark Flynn says:

    Some really good points made here. No student likes to be overwhelmed with corrections all at once.

    One thing though, you have to consider the the format and purpose of each kata shown here. Master Uechi was performing his kata for a camera for instructional purposes. In this “kaisetsu” mode he was probably emphasizing the form aspects of the kata, slowing things down so that people can see the details of his movement. On the other hand, Master Nakahodo was performing his kata in front of a crowd where he would have emphasized speed and power.

    In Okinawa they say that (in normal mode) everyone must try to collectively stick to the traditional form and presentation. They know that even when we do that there will be some variation from one person to another, but pratitioners should try to minimize those differences. =]

    • shoheiryuct says:

      Thanks for the clarification, Mark. Understanding the different “modes” of kata definitely helps us with interpretation. I’ll be more careful to compare apples to apples next time!

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