(Though a Japanese term and concept, the creation of a set of movements, practiced according to a certain rhythm, pace and order, is a critical component of the practice of the martial arts, Japanese, Chinese or otherwise. I refer to these practices in the site as "forms", but in reality, the concept remains constant throughout regardless of the country of origin. doc)
Kata is a series of prearranged defensive and offensive movements, including intricate body motions,
each of which is an actual response to one or more attackers. At its highest value levels, the martial artist
'fights' these imaginary opponents in deadly earnest. One day while performing kata, I realized that one of my imaginary opponents caught me off guard.And I realized that if what we were dealing with was actual combat, I would have received a fatal blow.
I became aware of the seriousness of this situation, and when I finished the kata, I felt that my back was
wet and cold.
There is an important difference between martial 'art' and martial 'sport,' just as there is a difference
between fighting imaginary opponents for real (as in kata) and a single opponent for sport (as in
tournament sparring). No matter how hard the tournament fighters clash, the game is one of points; the
winner is he who scored most often. Obviously, tournament sparring must be this way in order to be
safe. With a bit of imagination, kata can be deadly.
Tournament techniques are limited by these safety factors and full-contact techniques even more so.
Only in kata is a martial artist encouraged to perform traditional destructive techniques like one-knuckle
punch, palm-heel strike, elbow strike, knee kick, eye gouge, etc.
Moreover, at its highest levels kata becomes a kind of moving meditation; in contrast with zazen (sitting
meditation) kata is considered dozen (moving meditation).
Kata is not without its difficulties. Because it contains abstract and symbolic movements, it is not always
easy to figure out what is happening without proper guidance. In fact, it is often said that the ancient
masters used to hide meanings and special techniques within a kata in such a way that only the worthiest
students would ever discover these meanings. For this reason, bunkai or kaiseki (analysis of kat a)
becomes very important to the sincere student. Even the most skeptical could not deny the value of kata
as useful physical conditioning. Aside from increasing coordination, kata practice develops strength,
tone, speed, balance, flexibility, and depending on the rate and duration of the student's practice, it can
become good aerobic exercise as well.
Much confusion and misunderstanding comes about as a result of the fact that tournament kata are
increasingly different from the traditional kata. In the tournament setting, the judges and audience are
influenced by various factors. The successful tournament kata competitor performs his kata outwardly
while the true kata can be experienced only when it is directed inward. Inconspicuous yet crucial muscle
movements and breath control are not obvious to audiences and are often missed by the judges.
On the other hand, large, flashy movements are appreciated beyond their value. In order to reach the
audience, the kata competitor must often sacrifice the basic meaning of a kata. But let's not be too harsh
on the kata competitor. As long as a tournament is open to the public and as long as spectators pay a fee
to watch, members of the audience must be pleased.
My enjoyment of kat a during training is immense. At a tournament, however, the only time I truly enjoy
performing my kata is when I succeed in denying the existence of judges and audience. Something
spiritualizing is deducted from a kata performance when the martial artist is conscious of being watched.
In tournaments, kata competition easily turns into a show.
However a kata is looked at, there are certain things that make a kata 'good' whether done for training or
Breathing and Breath Control
It does not take too long to find out the correct breathing is crucial to maintaining proper physical and
mental balance and the proper focusing of each technique.
In general, the rule calls for inhaling during preparation and transition and exhaling at the moment of
technique execution. Inhalation should take place through the nose. Concentrate on pushing down on the
diaphragm so that each breath travels into the lower abdominal area. At the moment of inhalation, the
shoulders should be completely relaxed, and even at execution point there should be no deliberate
tightness in the shoulders.
There are, of course, different types of breathing such as quick and short or long and deep. Each
approach to breathing is useful and even ideal for different body shifts and muscle control. Proper kiai
ought to be considered inseparable from breathing.
Power and Strength
One of the advantages of kata practice is the fact that each individual can find his own pace and perform
to it. Therefore, there can be no standard way to judge what power and strength should be put into what
moves, although it can be said that a good kata is a powerful kata. True strength is often hidden within
and one must be experienced to be able to see this.
A kata must be executed to a certain rhythm -- this corresponds to timing in sparring. Moreover, each
move must be executed with in intensity inseparable from power and rhythm. Correct rhythm means
more than dance-like movements. In fact, if you really imagine actual, moving opponents as you
perform your kata, it will certainly come alive.
Because each individual is different, each individual will allow a particular kata to express his mental,
physical, and spiritual qualities, just as each individual uses a language differently from another,
conveying the same message with slightly different emphasis and stresses.
Quite simply, the importance of balance cannot be exaggerated. Physical and mental balance is
controlled through the center of gravity, located in each of us, in the lower abdominal area. In part,
learning a new kata is a process of learning a new system of balances. Don't be afraid to lose your
balance in learning. With continued practice your balance will become more and more stable until
eventually you can perform the entire kata without breaking balance.
In a tournament setting, balance is probably the most important single quality, since whatever the style
or intention, there can be no good martial art without good balance. When a performer has no balance,
he easily falls under the control of his imaginary attackers and could be, in a real life situation, handily
defeated for that failing.
A gymnastics performer is penalized for loss of balance, how much more serious a mistake for the
Eyes and Focus of Technique
In kata it is vital that you remember that you are always in the midst of enemies, and that you execute
each technique to opponents you could actually see. Setting your eyes on opponents is called chaku-gan
and is considered crucial to kata execution. The beginner is likely to use his physical eyes alone; in fact,
total attention is what is called for. Moreover when your eyes are properly set, you can focus your
techniques more crisply and with more confidence. The focus of technique, or kime is indispensable in
any karate technique and the source of its power.
Simple and Complex Kata
A simple and easy kata is very important for developing the basics, and simple, beginning kata should be
practiced by advanced students as well as beginners. An advanced student is able to see deeper and more
. subtle meanings in the beginning kata, and by virtue of sound basics, is able to make simple kata look
good. By contrast, having a beginner attempt a more complicated kata doesn't make the beginner look
like anything more than a beginner.
In general it is safe to say that a kata which addresses many different situations is better and more
advanced than the one with simple technique and movements. A better kata should contain a variety of
blocks, attacks, and body-shifting movements, and for its complexity, is more suitable for tournament
competition. Obviously a well done difficult kata will out-score a well done simple kata.
The literal translation of zanshin is 'remaining mind,' which refers to mental and spiritual domination
over opponentes) after the execution of techniques at the end of confrontation. It is important to show
this mental attitude at the end of your kata.
Kata should be as beautiful as ballet and as precise as gymnastics, although it is essentially different
from these in that a kata performer must incorporate, in the beauty and power of movements, the feeling
of applicability to real fighting situations. This is the reason why it is unrealistic and meaningless in kata
just to stand on one's toes, for example, in order to create the appearance of gracefulness.
In other words, grace should be manifested in kata as a result of the person's refinement of the meaning
expressed in the physical movements of kata, and should not be something artificially added to it. Since
the beauty of a kata as a whole is the combination of its total qualities, it is impossible for gracefulness
to be manifested without a great deal of practice and training according to the way the masters have
Strictly speaking, there is no such thing as perfect kata, since as you advance in your level, your
'imaginary' opponents will also advance in theirs. It is a continuous process of polishing and
The important point that should be stressed in regard to the nature of kata is the fact that it can be
performed at one's own pace.
The elderly, who do not possess such power and speed any longer, may modify kata and perform
according to a reduced capability. We all grow old, or something becomes physically weak due to illness
or injury, in which case we may not wish to spar with young and strong students in practice. Kata,
however, can be practiced beneficially regardless of age. In this sense, kata is very personal; each
individual expresses himself according to capability.
If this is true, how can one judge the superiority of one kata against another? Well, if we want
competition we have to make such judgments, and, of course, they are artificial, superficial, and
arbitrary. A tournament is a game, and kata competition is just a part of the game designed to stimulate
interest; it all means nothing more than those arbitrary, artificial and superficial judgments. I personally
have had the good fortune and luck in my competitive career or more than ten years to have won almost
every major kata title in the United States between 1970 and 1980. Yet, I have never thought that my
kata was superior to the other competitors. I always try to reflect on my own performance after each
competition whether I win or lose. Even when I win, sometimes I am not happy with my performance
and go back to more training. Likewise, even when I do not win, I often am satisfied with my
performance and feel fulfilled.