by Sensei Walt Fast
May, 1996

At a seminar in Radford VA Bill Wallace (the ex-middle weight kick-box champ) questioned thevalidity of doing kata. Bill's reason was this: If you don't spar like you do kata, why train likethat? He has a good point. We train in low kiba dache or zenkutsu dache in the katas. When wepunch the opposite hand comes back in kamai position leaving a vast open space on ourchests.

If a karateka spars like this he/ she will be foot swept or nailed in the mid-section with a punch.So why do we practice kata?

In answer to Bill's question I can think of four general and four specific reasons for katapractice.

General Reasons for doing Kata

(1.) Kata is the backbone of karate. All aspects of basics, sparring, and self-defence relate directlyto kata.

A new karate-a learns the basics of blocking, kicking, striking, and punching. He/ she alsolearns how to move the body for effectiveness in these techniques.

(2.) Kata is training for multiple attackers. Kata is not designed for tournament sparring or kickbox fighting. The various techniques used, when looked at closely, are devastating if they areapplied as intended. Blocks in kata can be deflections, and they can also be leg breakers andelbow destroyers!

Sensei Gichin Funakoshi refused to endorse kumite (sparring) for he believed the validity of kata.To him, the results of a conflict using these techniques would be deadly. If kata techniques wereapplied with 100% earnestness, with complete conviction and total bravery, I tend to agree withhim.

(3.)Kata is an expression of one's personality. Although we train for uniformity of movements,done with proper application, kata still varies from person to person.

Emphasis placed in various areas of the kata define the look of the kata; explosiveness, strength,timing, speed, flexibility, sheer power, aggressiveness and deflection are displayed differently byindividual karateka.

(4.) The "bunkai" or application of movements in kata open the mind to more possibilities insparring. "Kaku-shite" or hidden movements refer to several different applications of the samemovement in kata practice. I find this to be true since my first style of karate was Shotokan. ThePinan kata of Wado are very similar to the Heian kata of Shotokan. The "Embusen" or the planview path the kata takes is virtually identical in both persuasions. Where the two styles diverge is in the Bunkai (application of technique).

For instance when doing our Pinan Shodan's first movement: the left foot heel up, the left handprescribes a radius going up and ending down at the hip level performing a simultaneous Jodan(upper) and Chudan (middle) block. When doing their Heian Shodan's second movement theapplication is that the opponent has grabbed your left wrist. You pull your left foot and handback to your right, breaking the grip. The arc or radius movement of the left arm is a downward"Tetsui" (bottom fist strike) to the opponent's collar bone. The same yet different... veryfascinating!

Specific Physiological Reasons for doing Kata

(1.) Focus: We train kata with others, yet we do it by ourselves. We force our minds and bodiesto do the motions and this requires focus of attention and will.

(2.) Reaction Time: Doing kata with explosiveness shortens our reaction to a given stimulus. Ifthat stimulus starts out to be the Sensei's counting out the different movements, it eventuallyleads to our immediate and appropriate response in a physical situation.

(3.) Martial Spirit: Those of us with an aggressive nature can find a welcome release in doingkata hard and fast. Those who are more passive by nature learn to develop the martial spirit byfocusing and training intently in kata.

(4.) The Box: This refers to the area from the upper thighs up to and including the abdominals.Sensei Richard Kim of the Butoku-Kai said that karateka should be training this area verymuch.

This location is the centre of the body. It includes: the muscles in the upper thigh, groin area, abdominals, obliques, gluteus maximus and erector spinae. When a karateka does kata in properstance all these muscles come into play. It stands to reason that if this Box area is very strongusing kata as the stress factor, there will be very much power in the sparring techniques even ifthe fighting stance is closer together and higher up.

In conclusion this list of reasons for doing kata is by no means complete. I'm sure there are othermore compelling factors involved. My challenge to any reader is to think of your own reasonsfor practising kata and let me know. Your reasons could be a variation on any of the above. Yetsince kata is both a shared experience and a personal interpretation, your reason for doing katacould be something new and refreshing.

Back for More Great Reading