Kata is one of the foundations of karate. Generally speaking, people that have a good understanding of kata, have a good understanding of karate and usually a good understanding of effective technique.
However, kata tends to be one of those things that you either love or hate! Whatever your view on kata, one thing is for sure. Kata is something that can always be improved.
This article is designed to help you improve your kata, one step at a time. If you can achieve the following 10 easy steps then you will be on your way to performing kata at your very best.
1. Bow before you perform!
You should always bow before you begin your kata. Bowing is required before you enter the tatami. If you are competing at competition, or performing in front of the class, it is good practice to bow as you enter the tatami. You should also bow again at your starting position. The first bow is a sign of respect to your club and training area. The second bow is a sign of respect to your Sensei.
2. Announce your kata in a loud voice!
The beginning of your kata is where you set the stage for the show. By announcing your kata in a loud voice with some feeling, you show your Sensei that you are serious about your karate. Announcing your kata in a loud voice gives you confidence and inspires you do perform at your best.
3. Compose yourself.
After you have announced your kata, take a few seconds to compose yourself, clear your mind of everything but your kata and focus on the task at hand. Make sure you are breathing slowly and deeply. Your kata should start with an outward breath.
4. Pause slightly at the end of each direction.
This helps you with the timing of your kata. By pausing after each series of techniques, you regain your composure before you proceed with the next series of movements. Of course there are katas that require immediate changes in direction without a pause, but as a general rule, pause slightly at the end of each direction. This will prevent you from 'rushing' through your kata.
5. Look where you are going!
Imagine you are really fighting your opponent. If you remember this, it will prevent you looking at the floor (usually a lack of confidence) or up to the left (often a sign of visualising the next move). If you were really fighting an attacker, you would be looking directly at them. Your kata should be no different. Focus on your target.
6. Kiai and feeling.
Your kiai is one of the most critical parts of your kata. Your kiai signifies your 'killing blow'. This is the technique into which you put all of your effort. It is the technique that everyone remembers if you do it properly. A strong kiai with 'feeling' shows that you are using all available energy to deliver your technique, just as you would if it was in fact a 'killing blow' to a real life attacker.
7. Know your bunkai.
It is equally important that you understand the movements of your kata. Do you know what every single movement represents? If not, learn the bunkai! How can you expect to perform at your best if you don't know exactly what you are doing? By understanding every single movement and the real life application from which kata is derived will help you perform better. Practice all bunkai that you don't understand until it becomes second nature. This again will help you imagine you are actually fighting a real opponent.
8. Return to the start position.
Your kata finishes by returning to your starting position, followed by a bow to your Sensei. It does not finish at the last move of the final direction! Make sure after your 'final' move, you return to your starting position and then make a bow to show your Sensei that you have finished the kata. You should then wait in yoi dachi for author instructions from your Sensei. Avoid finishing the kata and just walking off the tatami at all costs!!
9. Practice small series of movements.
Katas are complex. Most have around 30 - 60 moves, sometimes more. It's a lot of movements to learn in one hit. Make sure you write down each movement of your kata after you learn it. Then break down your kata into series of 5-6 movements and practice each series until it becomes second nature. This is an effective way to learn your kata.
By running through your kata from start to finish, you will be aware of things you do wrong at the beginning and at the end (this is what the human brain does!). So all those middle bits of your kata that need improving actually receive the least amount of attention. By breaking your kata into series of movements, you can concentrate on perfecting each chunk. Once you are happy with each block of movements, put it all together and practice it as a whole.
10. Ask for help!
If you don't know what the bunkai is for a particular part of your kata, or if you are unsure about the correct stance, don't just take a guess at it. Many students skip over, or rush movements that they are not familiar with, hoping their Sensei won't notice. Let me tell you now... Your Sensei notices everything! If you aren't sure about something, ask! As my Sensei says, "There are no silly questions, just silly mistakes."
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