“A kata is not fixed or immovable. Like water, it is ever changing and fits itself to the shape of the vessel containing it. However, kata are not some kind of beautiful, competitive dance, but a grand martial art of self-defense – which determines life and death.”
Master Kenwa Mabuni*
Karate is made of up three core pillars,
- The basics (kihon) [or “green beans” as we like to say at Samurai]
- Sparring (kumite), and
- Form (kata)
Together they are an integral and essential part of karate training, with kata perhaps the most complex and nuanced of the three. In layman’s terms, kata is simply basics – different stances, punches, kicks and blocks – delivered in a set sequence, in different directions. It stands to reason then that the better the basics, the better the kata. Side note: just because they’re called basics, doesn’t make them easy.
In addition, kata must also look like a real fight, and show power and impact potential in all its techniques. Along with strength, power and speed, kata must demonstrate grace, rhythm and balance.
Kata draws its roots from China, and then moved to Okinawa through immigrating Chinese Kung Fu masters. The weapons ban in Okinawa profoundly influenced and refined the practice of kata as practitioners focused on unarmed combat. Because the ancient masters found it difficult to draw or illustrate their techniques through words or paintings, they created numerous solo combat forms to store and record the movements and concepts. This is how they passed the techniques down from generation to generation.
Here’s why training kata is so important. Kata:
- Develops proper body mechanics. It helps to develop footwork, balance, speed, precision and explosiveness, understanding that the power in techniques comes from the core and not the limbs.
- Builds muscle memory. By consistently making the same motions, kata trains the muscle-brain reactions so that certain moves become automatic, requiring less thinking and more reflex.
- Develops proper breathing. This is one of the most critical aspects of kata. With practice, the body automatically inhales prior to a movement, then exhales at the end of a technique, resulting in an increase in strength and stability.
Tips to improve
- Practice every day. The more often you do it, the better your muscle memory.
- Consider the whole body. It’s not just about the hand or limb doing the movement.
- Don’t forget the pauses. Kata is also about what happens between the movement.
- Think real fight. It’s not a technical demonstration but an actual fight.
- Use a mirror or film yourself. A great way to detect small technical errors.
- Be open to feedback. Someone more experienced than you can pick up errors or bad habits.
- Watch other people do kata. Particularly those better than you.
- Relax. Muscular tension does not equal power.
Students, keep seeking a kata that you enjoy. These katas will make breakthroughs for you as you get older and practice them over and over again. You’ll adjust your movements according to your mind and body as you age, but it’s a wonderful experience to have these katas throughout your life, to improve all functions of mind, body and spirit.
Osu, stay strong
BRUCE VAN RENSBURG | 6th Dan Black Belt KSI
*Master Kenwa Mabuni was the teacher of Sensei Tani, who was the teacher of Sensei Kimura, who was the teacher of Shihan Chris Thompson.