It is often said that learning a martial art takes a lifetime. Yet it seems counter-productive to the notion of self-defense to say it takes a lifetime for it to be useful. The problem may be that we tend to study a style but fail to see the system within the style. So we collect katas the way a museum collects artifacts. But the katas are not arbitrary; the forms are used to preserve both the techniques and principles of the system. The classical Goju-ryu katas, for example, are composed of combinations or sequences of self-defense scenarios, each of which is in turn composed of blocking or entry techniques, controlling or bridging techniques, and finishing techniques--many of which show remarkable similarity. It is this similarity that allows us to employ it effectively as a system of self-defense, moving fluidly between the sequences of similar techniques from one kata to another, changing in response to the movements of the opponent and the dynamics of the situation. In doing so, we begin to realize that this system of self-defense is neither a mish-mash of randomly collected katas, nor an encyclopedic collection of a seemingly infinite variety of techniques. Rather, the classical Goju-ryu katas--like a musical composition or a pictographic language--present themes and variations--like a book of changes.
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