When considering the combative nature of kata and how it fits into the civilian self-defence model of old-style karate (whatever 'old-style' may be, we'll leave for another blog post!), we have to first start with some simplistic truths. Once these are understood and appreciated, it is not too difficult to see how the movements of kata fit well into that model.
The first aspect to consider is that from a practical standpoint, there are really only two states when applying 'self-protection' against a threat to our safety. We are either 'escaping' from the threat, or we are 'engaging' that threat in such a way so that we may facilitate escape at the earliest appropriate opportunity. This is in stark contrast to consensual violence, where physical confrontation is actively sought out and time spent in that confrontation is often purposefully drawn out.
In terms of engagement ranges, there are again, really only two to be concerned with. You're either engaging the threat 'unattached' or engaging them 'attached'. These can of course be both pre-emptive and reactive, but the key contrast is the physical attachment. Your enemy may attach to you, you may attach to your enemy or both. Although crossovers exist, these two states require different combative tactics and it is obvious that being unattached will naturally facilitate an escape much easier than if already attached.
So based on the above, the list of priorities for the context of civilian self-protection may look something like this:
Practicing karate for personal safety requires a holistic strategy that covers far more (and sometimes the opposite) than the skills normally practiced in the dojo. Even if the practical methods taught are contextually aligned and effective for civilian self-protection, these still only represent a small part of a viable personal safety game-plan, as they tend to focus heavily on the last resort of a physical response. Of course, there are numerous options available before the requirement to go physical that unlock initially through the ability to maintain a healthy level of situational awareness and perceive potential threats before they may become a significant problem.
Now that's what I call a question...
What is correct form?
Ask ten people and I expect you'll receive ten different answers!
In fact, the reason why we have differences in the performance of kata across style is ultimately down to what is considered 'correct form', which is in essence a human construct.
After all, karate doesn't really care what style it's from!
So let's take this idea of 'correct form' and explore what it may actually mean...
Please check out this incredible playlist that features a series of short interviews with some of Okinawa's most respected karate masters...
These genuinely heart-warming interviews have been beautifully produced and serve to create a very valuable record of 16 teachers who not only have direct links to the pioneering masters of our past, but who have also contributed greatly to karate's continual evolution and inspired so many to find passion in this incredible art.
Following the ongoing debate and controversy over the Internet surrounding the practical purpose of Hikite (pulling hand), I thought I would offer my own take, which doesn't suggest any specific application per se, but instead covers what is in my opinion, a far more essential understanding of this concept in action.
For me, in order for the physical expression of karate to become both holistically effective and integrated, we must look at the classical kata choreography according to its most essential elements. Regardless of any particular combative purpose (which due to lack of historical evidence is always going to be a product of reverse engineering based on informed opinion), the expression of universal principles that govern karate are entirely dependent on how we move as a human being. That is really our only constant.