KATA: A Way to Practice Balance and Centering

June 2016

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Many times students find the practice of Kata (empty hand forms) to be challenging because the practice requires so much repetition. They think that when they have learned the moves of the Kata and run through it a few times, that they know the Kata.

From Gold belt (8th Kyu) to Brown belt (3rd Kyu) the students learn one Kata per rank at each belt level. By the time they are preparing for Black Belt a student will have learned eight Kata. While the Kata involve many moves from the basics, these moves are executed in different directions and at different angles. The idea is to imagine different opponents coming from different directions and counter these imagined attacks. Directed use of visual imagery helps in the development of spatial thinking skills. The footwork learned through Kata practice develops skills and strategies for self-defense, while the adjustments of balance required throughout the practice teach a new level of self-control.

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Timing is important in the performance of your Kata. Each individual movement must be practiced to perfection. Each combination of movements must be put together for each direction so that you can flow from one move to the next. The Kata as a whole must be timed to fit together as a whole. It is like punctuation in writing where each move is distinct like a word, then each combination is like a sentence with a period at the end and a full stop. At distinctive points in the Kata there are Kiai (shout) which end that particular sequence and are like the end of a paragraph. The flow between these distinct stop and start points serve to make the Kata performance dynamic.

Kata also serve as a means of passing strategic ideas from one generation to another. Masters often hide specific strategic concepts within the moves of a Kata so that future generations can discover these ideas through practice of the form. Just as we may see a play or read a poem that was written hundreds of years ago, and yet is still meaningful today, so it can be with a Kata that, with practice, we can discover important strategic skills. Although Kata may sometimes seem very stylized and not like real fighting moves, like poetry or a Shakespearian play, the inner value remains intact.

While Kata is practiced in the Dojo for each graduation from Gold Belt on, it is also a division for competition. Kata tournaments are judged using a similar format to gymnastics or ice skating. Qualified judges assess each performance for balance, power, coordination, flexibility, agility, dynamics and other important variables to assess a score. The competitor with the highest score gets the biggest trophy. The confidence that grows from the experience of performing Kata, is part of the reward intrinsic to the process.


© 2016 Shihan Robert H. Mason