The Importance and Techniques of Kata

We use “kata” as a training tool. It is the encyclopedia of martial arts. A kata is defined as a prearranged series of blocks, kicks and punches against one or more opponents in a fighting situation. The first kata’s that a student learns is Heians. These kata has a limited number of moves and is easy to learn. As a student advances in rank they learn more complex katas such as Bassai Dai and Seienchin. But no matter what form you as a student are working on there are certain elements of a kata that one should always focus on.

Learn the Pattern
The first element a student needs to concentrate on when learning a kata is it’s pattern. By pattern I am referring to the movements in the form and their sequence. It is very important that the student commits to memory the steps of a kata exactly as he is taught. No deviation in allowed. Blocks, punches and kicks must be done to the correct location. The karateka should make sure he or she is moving to and from in the kata at the correct angles. Moving at incorrect angles is a common mistake when learning a form. A good way to determine if you are moving at the correct angles would be to check where you finish the kata and compare it close to where you started. You should not be more than one step off in any direction from your starting position. In order for a student to learn the pattern of a kata he must perform the kata repetitively. It is important for a student to understand that repetition is the key to becoming a successful martial artist.

Breath Control
In order to maintain the energy necessary to work a kata correctly the karateka must learn to breath correctly. Correct breathing is a critical element in energy management. Proper energy management will ensure the martial artist is able to complete the kata with consistent power and effective technique. Recently Psychologist have begun to teach breathing techniques to their patients. They have learned that proper breathing has a calming effect on both body and mind. We as martial artist should trained to breath correctly in order to overcome obstacles such as fear, anxiety, stress and physical exertions. However just as proper breathing will assist an individual in a combative situation improper breathing will have an equally negative effect. When your breathing is out of control you change the oxygen and nitrogen levels in your bloodstream. This change will have a adverse effect on your physical, emotional and mental state. It is vital that the karateka is able to control their breathing in order to properly manage their energy while working kata.

There are two type of breathing use when performing a kata. The first is called “ibuki” or quick energy breath. Ibuki breathing is done at the execution of blocks, kicks, and punches. The second is “nogare”, or slow breathing. Nogare breathing is usually done when moving from one position to the next or when there is a pause in the kata.

Through the practice of proper breathing the student is able to keep mental composer throughout practice in the dojo and in his everyday life. Correct breathing will enhance a students mental and physical endurance as well as his concentration, focus and develop the warrior spirit necessary to be a good martial artist.

A “kiai” or spirit meeting is an act where a shout in conjunction with the expulsion of air can reinforce a strike or a block by maximizing bodily strength. We define a kiai as a muscle tightening yell that adds power to a technique, reduces shock to the body and causes your opponent to hesitate. The breath is exhaled very quickly with a loud yell originating deep in the abdominal area, tightening the muscles throughout the body. Kiai’s are use in several locations in a kata. A good guideline on when and where to use a kiai in a kata is at the opening move and at the finishing move of each opponent in the kata. Remember this is a guideline and not a rule, in more advanced kata’s there may be additional kiai’s.

Combination and Timing
A combination refer to two or more techniques put together in a certain sequence. The are usually several combinations in every kata. Within this aspect is also the timing changes that occur within a kata. One way to think of it would be to compare the techniques in a kata to notes in a musical composition. The tempo in the music stays the same but the number of notes in a measure may vary. The tempo of a kata never changes, the tempo should always reflect the urgency of an actual fighting situation but the number of techniques in a combination may vary. Proper combinations and timing keep the kata from being a monotonous pattern of movements and more accurately depict a real fighting situation. It is important that the student understand when and where the timing of a kata changes and why it changes. By practicing correct combinations and timing not only will the performance of the kata improve but the student will become a much more effective fighter.

A kata is a story about a fighting situation against one or more opponents. In order to get the most out of a kata you need to understand what is going on in the kata. The term “bunkai” implies form and meaning. The form aspect applies to having correct body positioning while executing the movements in the forms. Correct positioning not only includes the technical accuracy of the techniques used in the kata but placing your body at correct angles when moving through the kata. Getting the kata’s form correct is one of the hardest aspects of learning a kata. It will require the karateka to not only be corrected by others but to also critique himself when working the form.

The “meaning” aspect of bunkai applies to understanding what is going on in the kata. How many attackers? How many attacks? How are they attacking, what techniques are they attacking with and from where are they attacking? What stance are the attackers in? What are the finishing techniques? In order to really learn a form the student needs to not only know what movement he is doing in a kata but the movement of his opponents as well. When this is done the karateka can then visualize his attackers and fully understand the techniques in the kata and why they work.

Tension is another aspect of energy management. Being tense too much in a kata will rob you of power. There is a correct time to be relaxed and there is a correct time to be tense in a kata. A good example is when punching, the arm and fist are not tense until just before impact. Being relax while working a form will not only increase your power but allow you to move fluidly throughout the kata.