Kata: The Folk Dances Of Shotokan

Kata The Folk Dances Of ShotokanSubtitling a book about Karate “Folk Dances” seems an odd move. Almost enough to put you off before opening the cover. Rob Redmond has drawn on his time learning karate in the US and Japan, his knowledge of the Japanese language and his analytical skills to create this authoritative work on kata.

Ultimately kata are a way of encoding, remembering, practicing and teaching karate techniques especially those that are not used in day-to-day sparring. A folk dance, of course, is often used to tell pass history and myths from one generation to the next, hence the subtitle: “Folk Dances Of Shotokan”.

The book has two distinct parts. The first is an exploration of the history and use of kata, a look back through Shotokan to Okinawan karate and further to Chinese Gongfu. Redmond creates a consistent story explaining how and why kata originated, debunks more than a few myths and shows the relevance of kata to modern karate. Redmond acknowledges the flaws in kata and demonstrates their strengths as only someone with an intimate knowledge, and love, of kata could. The first section concludes with 23 principles of performing kata for competitors.

The second part of the book is a step by step guide to each of the 26 Shotokan kata: an extremely useful reference whether learning a new kata or polishing a much practised one. The use of American terms such as “sword hand block”  is unnecessarily confusing; in English this is usually known as “knife hand block”. It  would have been clearer to use the Japanese “shuto uke”.

Very little is talked about the applications of kata (bunkai). One chapter of the book details Schmeisser’s rules for breaking the kata into real life techniques: why some movements are slow, why there are repeated patterns and how the kata escalates.  These rules start to make sense of the kata. I would like to have seen more made of this section of the book.

The book is drawn from articles on Redmond’s website, 24FightingChickens.com. At times the book is disjointed, summarising  information again that was presented only a few minutes ago. This is a minor criticisim for what is a comprehensive guide to kata.

The book is available as a free PDF from http://www.24fightingchickens.com/category/kata/

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