Most reading this article have likely come across a phrase along the lines of “function over form”. It's a phrase which has been used by us “practical/applied/real” karate-ka’s for a long time. “Function over form” in its most reductionist sense means that a techniques actual application against an enemy is the real purpose of the technique and the “form” or the solo representation is merely a by-product of the technique once it is drilled in a solo manner.
Getting good at a solo technique for the sake of getting good at performing a “solo technique” would be to miss the point of the technique entirely.
The techniques of karate’s kata, (such as strikes, kicks, stances etc…. ) were never designed as purely solo movements. They had real world applicability and the point of these moves were to get good at applying them in real world violence.
Over time and for various reasons the real reasons for the techniques were lost, so all that was left was the solo movements – until a new-wave applications were created. These new-wave applications took the kata techniques from applications against real world violence to applications against other karate-ka – albeit karate with often a limited attack-base (straight punches, front kicks and occasionally the deadly “low swing of the bo staff to the karate-ka’s ankles!).
Once the “function” changes, the “form” then changes as the practitioners try and make sense of the solo templates movements which were originally deal with a problem far different then the problem they are using them for.
Sadly, karate kata techniques have become our version of Little Mermaid’s Dinglehopper!
In the Disney adaption, the Little Mermaid (AKA Ariel) with her fish friend Flounder explore a sunken ship and find a number of human artifacts which include: - a fork. Ariel takes the fork to her friend Scuttle (who just so happens to think of himself as an expert all things human). Scuttle, who portrays and has a reputation for being an expert on human artifacts, does not know what a fork is. Instead of letting his reputation take a hit, Scuttle makes upon an explanation for the fork – firstly he calls it a Dinglehopper and explains that it is used to brush hair.
Scuttle essentially takes a look at the fork without its application (picking up food) and context (on a dining table) and comes up with a use as best as he can within the confines of his own environment.
The next time Sensei Scuttle tells you that the prongs are on your Dinglehopper are to far apart to brush your hair properly, politely remind him that your Fork picks up the food just fine.
Until next time...
PS - Here is the scene from the Little Mermaid when Scuttle describes it as a hair brush.