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Equilibrium's Gun Kata

After working out last night I watched the move Equilibrium. In this dystopian sci-fi movie "clerics" (essentially thought police gestapo) are one man weapons of mass destruction against enemies of state. In order to maximize their lethality they practice "gun kata" which are described as:
The gun katas. Through analysis of thousands of recorded gunfights, the Cleric has determined that the geometric distribution of antagonists in any gun battle is a statistically predictable element. The gun kata treats the gun as a total weapon, each fluid position representing a maximum kill zone, inflicting maximum damage on the maximum number of opponents while keeping the defender clear of the statistically traditional trajectories of return fire. By the rote mastery of this art, your firing efficiency will rise by no less than 120%. The difference of a 63% increase to lethal proficiency makes the master of the gun katas an adversary not to be taken lightly.
Although this is a fantastic description of enhancing martial arts prowess it brings up an interesting discussion about the concept of kata. Citing more factual sources, kata is literally translated as "form". It is defined as a "Japanese word describing detailed patterns of defense-and-attack movements practiced either solo or in pairs" ( and "is practiced following a formal system of prearranged the best way of defense and attack in various cases, being theoretically systematized" (
Thus in its loosest interpretation properly performed technique in a non-competitive, non-self-defense, non-"live" setting is kata. It is the pursuit of perfection of technique, whether you are throwing jabs, setting up armbars, shooting a double leg, or performing nijushiho ("94 steps" a traditional karate form). The difference is in context of training, when drilling a jab, armbar, or double leg we perform in a artificial and theoretical shell, but then we take what we've learned and test its application by sparring, rolling, randori, or reality-simulation training; something that rarely happens with most traditional martial arts, theory is performed one way while application is performed in another or not at all. In reality-based training (e.g. sparring) theory breaks down because of the addition of numerous annoying variables, i.e. different physical attributes (size, strength, speed), experience, environment, etc. However, without the theoretical basis of kata applied training is useless if not detrimental.
The "gun kata" described in Equilibrium presents the idea that it is based on a scientific analysis of data, it is statistically the best way to cause mayhem. There are a finite number of ways to do things with the humanoid body and when something works for us, we assume this is the best and only way for things to work. Everyone "knows" how to run, but high-level athletes who do run are taught to do so by coaches and trainers, its not poorly instinctual ability. Scientific analysis of stride, posture, materials, breathing, diet, supplemental weight training and the like has contributed to faster runners.
In the martial arts, we supposedly train a form that is theoretically the most efficient way to maim the other guy but based on little or no scientific evidence. Sure, the stories say the grandmaster of the style was breaking limbs and ripping hearts out, and if you, too, put pressure here and force there, your opponent's spine will pop out his @$$. However, nobody's seen it done since the grandmaster's time, the techniques been through several people (ever play "Telephone" as a kid?), and you couldn't test it anyway as the uke would die (sudden, forceful ejection of the vertebrae will do that). More applied styles, that is, styles that fight have more evidence to support their theory, such that boxing, muay thai, sport jiu-jitsu, submission wrestling, and mixed-martial arts show us that techniques work and evolve with time. We've observed the knockout punch work and seen it improve, compare Dempsey to Ali to Tyson, we've seen the technical advancement of mixed-martial arts fighting, watch an early Ultimate Fighting Championship and watch one now, they are miles apart.
We still deceive ourselves, because different teachers and coaches have different success with the material. From them we get a perspective on the art, not the art itself. In addition we often rely on what initially works well for us, without analyzing what would actually work more often. For example, big, athletic guys advance more slowly than smaller, less athletic guys in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, because the less "gifts" you have the less hard you have to work at being technical. The more athletic may win more often initially but they grow very slowly, the less athletic have to analyze and adapt (as well as get beat up a lot, at least initially).
With the data available to us today in the form of the internet, DVD, video, and television we can begin to scientifically analyze what we are doing as teachers and competitors. There is a best way to do things but we will argue with poor evidence rather than approaching the problem systematically, since dogma and tradition are safer than questioning the lore of the masters. However, the flip side is sacrificing on an artificial altar of science by constant questioning at the expense of training what works. The sample has to be larger than one's own experience in order to synthesize an adaptable perfect kata.

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