Kata is more than just a series of pre-arranged sequence of movements. A series of movements is nothing but dead, yet it is becoming a common sight in many dojos or even seen at gradings. It is one thing to perform a kata, and another to put “life” or “spirit” into the kata.
This explains why a good kata is instantaneously recognizable within the 1st couple of steps, analogous to how is it easy to differentiate a living person from a dead. There is surprisingly an unquantifiable number of instructors who do not teach kata such that there is “life“. This does not mean these instructors do not know, it’s laziness or lack of responsibility, because good kata takes effort, and to teach takes even more.
What then are trainees who have the desire to better their kata supposed to do, when they know not what to look out for? Practice will not make a kata perfect, to quote Shihan Cameron Quinn it is, “perfect practice that makes it perfect.” Here are 9 tips to better kata (copyright 2000, Eric R. Shellenbarger).
1 Stances: Get serious about your stances. Nothing can make or break the appearance of a kata more than stances. If you do a kata perfect in every detail but have sloppy stances, the whole thing looks bad. In competition, the judges may not know how your instructor taught you the movements of a kata. What’s more, they may never have seen your kata before. This forces them to judge you by standards that apply to the majority of martial arts. One of these standards is stances. Everyone knows what good stances looks like so start doing them right.
2 Symmetry: Symmetry defined is beauty of form arising from balanced proportions. This sound a lot worse than it actually is. symmetry in kata refers to your general form. Martial arts techniques are very specific about how arms and legs are position in relation to the body. The blocking arm is usually extending from the line of the body at a 45 degree angle. Punches are usually at a 90 degree angle from the line of the body. An arm crossing in front of the body is usually parallel to the ground. In short, almost everything is squared off at 45 and 90 degree angles. Pay close attention to where your instructor positions your techniques.
3 Crisp Technique: make sure your blocks and strikes are executed crisp and snappy. The arm of leg should move from one position to the next as quickly as possible. It should also stop exactly in it’s next position. This is true of most karate techniques. However, there are some techniques, especially in Kung Fu, that are flowing rather than crisp. With these techniques, seek to be smooth rather than fast.
4 Timing: All kata have a timing that is distinctively their own. At some points the movement will be slow and at other points you may have a rapid firing of techniques. Kata are initially taught without timing. That’s because you are only trying to learn the sequence of the movements. After you have learned the sequence you can add timing, speed, and power. Your instructor will have to advise you on the correct timing.
5 Kiai: Kiai means spirit yell. It is meant to scare the opponent and boost your own moral. It should be loud and proud! when you are presenting a kata, kiai like you mean it! remember, you are trying to scare your opponent.
6 Facial Expression: Your facial expression control how you feel and how others perceive how you feel. it would be hard to take someone’s kata seriously if they smiled all the way through it. Keep your expressions serious throughout your kata and intensify your expression when you kiai.
7 Eye Contact: Eye contact is a term for turning you head and looking in the direction you’re about to move of strike. If I’ve just finished one move in a kata and my next move is to go left, my head should turn and look left before i ever turn my body. Or if I’m striking to my front and my next strike is to my right, i should turn my head and look before I ever strike. I know you can look out of the corner of your eye and see in the direction you’re going to move but turning the head is just one of those little things that really spruce up a kata.
8 Get into it: Getting into is is an attitude. Performing a kata promotion or competition is a performance. You are putting on a show for those watching. Enjoy the speed and power. Enjoy dropping into a nice low horse stance for a powerful technique. Excellent kata is a performance and like any performance, if you’re not into it, you can’t expect your audience to be.
9 Listen to your instructor: A big aspect of any martial are is doing things right. Knowing what’s right is easy because your instructor is constantly telling you. just do what he or she tells you to do. A lot of students fall into the trap of saying, “my stances aren’t right because I’m only a green belt,” or “I’m only a yellow belt.” The sooner you lose that “I’m only a…” excuse, the better. The number one thing that helped me reached Black Belt was the decision to do everything right, every time. This is karate and this is how it’s done. Do yourself a favor and make that decision.