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A fundamental reason the Asian combative disciplines developed kicking and punching was because so many poor souls were denied, by law or circumstance, the use of better weapons.

used their hankies to flirt or to express petulance or ennui? One competitor comes out flashing a pair of what could be agricultural sickles. I say "could be" because the only way I can imagine them being used on crops is on a farm on the Vegas strip. The sickles are chrome-plated and punched with holes to make them whir. If a competitor tried to cut rice stalks with them, he'd probably blind himself with the reflection.

If you think I'm exaggerating, pay attention the next time you watch a kata performance by a nunchaku wielder. Look where he's holding the weapon. Is his grip out at the end of one section, where it can provide maximum reach and velocity? No. That would make sense only if it were being used in the manner of a weapon. Since it's a fashion accessory, he holds it at the top, where he can maintain control and look flashy.

Speaking of weapons kata, could somebody please explain why anyone in his right mind would, with weapon in hand, hold it still and choose instead to kick? I saw that the other day in a photo of a woman using a long, halberdlike pole arm called a naginata. Her kata performance entailed using the weapon to boost her balance while executing a spectacularly high side kick. Uh-huh. Picture a soldier using his fully loaded M-16 the same way. Allow me to explain something: A fundamental reason the Asian combative disciplines developed kicking and punching was because so many poor souls were denied, by law or circumstance, the use of better weapons. Nobody, with the exception of action-film stars, foregoes the opportunity to use a weapon, even a stick or rock, and depends on his body. If you're going to use a weapon in a kata, use the weapon. If you want to kick or punch, leave the weapon at home.

Another suggestion I'd like to offer, one that would make kata events more interesting for paying spectators, is the show-me-how-that-works rule. It would go like this: Manny Jo Machismo comes out to perform his kata. Its highlight comes when he does a double flip in mid-air, lands on his head and extends both legs and arms. The crowd roars, but one of the judges has a question—which is within his rights to ask. And he does: "What did your final movement mean?"

"Well, sir," Manny replies, "that move shows off my tie-dyed jacket and my silver hakama."

"Yes, but what does the move actually mean in terms of combat?"

Manny stares off into the distance, concentrating as if he's been given a tricky calculus problem. "I'd say it's a move designed to clear a bar with the front flip, followed by simultaneous strikes to get anyone who's left standing," he finally replies.

"That's interesting," the judge says. "Show us."

At this point, four or five fellows appear from behind the curtains. They're not here to make fools of any of the competitors, mind you; they're just for demonstration purposes. They arrange themselves as Manny dictates, to attack from whatever angle or in whatever order he wishes. He can set it all up; he just has to execute the technique against them and show the judges and the crowd how it actually works.

Can you imagine what would happen if kata competitors actually had to demonstrate the practical applications of what they do? Heck, even I'd go to watch something like that. >•<

About the author: Dave Lowry is a freelance writer who's trained extensively in the Japanese and Okinawan arts. He started writing Karate Way in 1986. To read more of his work, visit

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