Did those early students not consider, say, the broad categories of attacks? Eight are identified in the web of knowledge, with examples across the eight in repeated patterns. Make a category, complete it, again and again. Makes for well-rounded training. From the moment the web of knowledge was created, categories were being completed, and I bet they thought of all that stuff long before the web was put to paper.
The opening example for cat com is often the four quadrants in beginner techniques. We establish the idea of the four defensive quadrants - upper left, upper right, lower left, lower right. We have a tech (delayed sword) that covers the upper left. As soon as someone thinks of those four quadrants, then you have to wonder, how can I effectively deal with the other three? The intro example for cat com is that, in the beginning techs, we have 4 techs taught early on that deal with the four quadrants, each effectively, without the need to burden or confuse the defender, and utilizing the defenders natural motion. So, the category is, 4 quadrants, restrictions are to use effective and natural motions/reactions, and, lo and behold, Ed Parker Sr., in putting together the yellow material, made sure there were 4 quads covered by 4 simple techs that did not require the student to get confused by "which hand" or "which foot" or "forward or back", because all 4 use the same hand, same foot, and go back. And, they all use natural motion for a beginner - get away from the attack, get my strong side forward to defend. That's covering the options while maintaining effectiveness for the beginner. I think it likely that Ed Parker was thinking on these terms when he went back to make the yellow techs -- or, if he wasn't, someone was.
(And, in looking at each of those 4 techs, questions come up as to why they differ. I.E. Why a closed-hand parry in Deflecting Hammer instead of a block or open-hand parry, and why move our bodies off the line of attack in Intellectual Departure, and so forth? Each of those questions leads to an answer that teaches something about making the art effective.)
The sheer volume and variety of symmetries in the forms demand the practitioner to believe there were patterns, variations on themes, and systematic construction considered in the making of the forms. That's cat com. They may have called it "good design" or "being thorough", but it's a rose by another name. Cat com is explaining the thinking behind the design and thoroughness, whatever name it was given.
Position recognition relies on recognizing many positions (to never be surprised), but made manageable by noting the similarities and patterns, so that the many positions become an essential few. Define a category, and complete it, all just variations on a few themes.
Examples are endless, which may well be an argument for cat com in itself. How do you make a comprehensive system without looking at the options systematically? That is the sum and total of cat com -- looking at all options systematically. That is where thoughts of effectiveness are born, as options are investigated. And, nothing points out the importace of basics quite like realizing that this wicked cool technique that I would never, ever have thought of because it is just so sophisticated, is actually just the logical extension of ideas I already know, a recombining of well-established basics.
Now, for the caveats:
First, I imagine Ed Parker Sr. probably wasn't approaching things so systematically. From what I've heard, he was a Big Idea and Let's Explore kind of guy. Probably it was others around him that brought this sort of hard-headed, practical thinking to the system, and he probably said "yeah, that's good". It is a logical extension of the old story of training by telling the class, "okay, here's how to do a right roundhouse punch. Work it, and then give me some options for defense." That story, if true, is begging for a cat com approach, but need not be seen so systematically or use that terminology. Exploring all the options (completing the category) will just naturally happen.
Second, and related to the first, I see things constantly that make me think "seriously, is that what the makers of the system intended, or was that just some nifty idea that this guy came up with by himself?" Some truly loopy stuff is out there, all with a claim of special knowledge or "old school" or "new school" or whatever. Any complex system (and even simple systems) will lead to a flowering of interpretations, new insights, and different approaches until the system becomes downright byzantine -- and heavy with convoluted irrationalities. Take Bhuddism as an example. Compare the simplicity of the early stories and philosophies of the Bhudda, and then take a peak at the disturbingly ornate and complicated rituals and symbology of Tibetan Bhuddism. The temples in Thailand are stunning, and the rituals of former Tibet are fascinating, but they are not what one would have predicted in 500 BC. Sorry, back to the point -- it is likely that many of the categories found are after-the-fact discoveries, more an example of serendipity than systematic planning. On the other hand, check out some of the wacky ideas you get from other quadrants of the kenpo world, and cat com seems very grounded, even plausible.
Finally, hell yes lots of folks use cat com as an answer to hide their own cluelessness. Or they use if as an excuse for not being able to make something work. I would say two things to this. First, they are abusing the term, because they don't understand as well as they think they do. Second, there are times when symmetry appears to have taken priority over practicality. There are a few examples from the forms that demonstrate just how limited in effectiveness a given basic is, in that given context. (Note the downward middle knuckle strike in the middle of short two, guaranteed to break the finger if it hit anything, and often changed by practitioners for this very reason.) And, there are plenty of places in the forms where we sacrifice effective movement for symmetrical and attractive movement. (My favorite example is in the first tech of Long 4, when we land in a square horse with the elbow instead of stepping into the imaginary bad guy, because that is what works for the needs of the form. This is also why I keep hearing "a form is not a fight" followed immediately by "visualize your attacker and take him out" -- of course forms are an imaginary fight, but if you get caught up in that, you will miss deeper points.)
To that extent, yes, cat com can be at odds with effectiveness. But you know, if those moments don't make you feel the need to be more effective, if they don't send little warning bells, then you've already missed a lot of what the system has to offer. By using a systematic process to force that exploration, we learn about effectiveness. I wouldn't call them ineffective (well, maybe that middle knuckle in short 2) so much as conditionally effective. Useful, unuseful, and useless. We explore all the useful and unuseful, and logic will lead us to the useless, and tell us the "why".
If we aren't getting the "why" of what works and what doesn't, then we are just aping someone else. That seems at odds with a lot of the philosophies attributed to Ed Parker, Sr. Not only should the instructor be covering the "why", but the instructor should also be leading the student into their own exploration of the "why", and, finally, the system itself, thanks to it's thorough and comprehensive construction (parts of which are known in some circles as category completion), will lead the student to still other discoveries of the "why".
Yes, I think that knowledge does make one more likely to be effective.
Doubly finally, don't forget that I'm just another brown belt, still not through with the system. These are my observations so far, and may well reflect a state of partial ignorance. They seem true, even obvious to me, but don't forget to consider the source.
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