Saturday, 14 November 2015

How to Practice a Kata

Most traditional Eastern martial arts have kata, hyeong, or training forms, that are practiced to develop technique, or to simply pass on a tradition. When certain people practice them, they look sharp and have a certain presence; when other people do them, they look like some kind of silly aerobic exercise. This article will help you understand the difference and apply it to your kata practice.

Kata practice is, however, more than simply performing the steps well, though that is important. Another aspect of kata practice is the analysis of the movements in the kata to determine the more advanced techniques which are encoded there.


  1. Practice a Kata Step 1
    Get into the mindset. At the opening kamae (combat posture), e.g. uncrossing your arms and putting your feet at shoulder width, imagine you are about to enter a real fight. This involves two things: Projecting confidence and being aware of what’s going on around you in a full, 360 degree circle. This should continue throughout the kata, as visualising every punch striking home will keep your attacks crisp and strong. Regardless of the actual posture (there are a wide variety of opening kamae for empty-handed and weapon arts), the mindset is the same.
  2. Practice a Kata Step 2
    Perform your first step (or group of steps) against an imaginary opponent of exactly your size. Imagine that if you don’t block or strike perfectly, you will be killed. Not hurt, not embarrassed—killed. You must move with this purpose in mind, or you’re just doing some sort of strange aerobics in Japanese underwear.
  3. Practice a Kata Step 3
    Relax between steps. There should be a natural build up of power in each series of techniques, then a pause in-between. If you are stiff throughout the kata (a) it will look bad, (b) you will be training your body to telegraph your moves. The key point is to relax (lower) your shoulders. It is natural to tense up; this is why kata training helps.
  4. Practice a Kata Step 4
    Some styles have kamae (combat postures) in the middle of the kata. These are not meaningless breaks in the form; these are moments where you are supposed to project yourself and stare down your imaginary opponent, as if to say with your eyes "You can withdraw and I will show mercy, but if you don’t, I will kill you." Again, not "I will hurt you" or any of that shoulder-flinching stuff; I will *kill* you. This is a completely different mindset. The main point of kata practice is to develop this mindset so that when you’re actually confronted, it automatically turns on, because you've prepared for confrontation this way (as opposed to the natural way, which is to be frightened). If you haven’t imagined real opponents, you are not developing this mental skill in your kata practice.
  5. Practice a Kata Step 5
    Understand that usually the last technique of the kata is the most dangerous or sophisticated. After the last move, pause a moment, and slowly return to the opening kamae (posture). This is done slowly to ensure the final, imaginary opponent is dead. Do not relax your presence or awareness until you bow, or you’ll look like you’re 

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