For decades, martial artists have debated whether
practicing katas (a prearranged set or form of offensive and defensive
movements) are important to the study and practice of martial arts.
Historically, martial artists created katas to mimic combat scenarios. Using
katas on a training partner was not feasible due to the risk of serious injury.
Martial arts styles later developed controlled sparring, which would advance
progress and decrease the learning time for many of the practical benefits.
Learning katas properly before sparring gives the
student a strong foundation. Katas teach This new knowledge of his natural
weapons (kicks, punches, elbows, chops, knees, blocks), and the necessary
ability to move onto the more advanced exercise of sparring.
Academically studying and physically practicing
katas have many benefits. Through the practice of katas, the student can
improve his sparring skills and self-defense techniques. Improvement develops
from executing strikes, practicing defense techniques, and learning about
Executing strikes during a kata reinforces the
techniques the student has in his offensive arsenal. The student executes
punches, elbows, chops, kicks, knee strikes, and other attacks. Will the
student ever use all the strikes from a particular kata in a self-defense
situation? Probably not. But the movements of a kata are like golf clubs.
Every golf club has its purpose. Some clubs are for driving the ball over a
great distance, some are for chipping, and some are for putting. However, the
professional golfer has all the clubs in his bag. The professional is ready to
use whichever tool the situation calls for. Likewise, the martial artist is
ready to use whatever movements from his kata are necessary for the situation.
Katas also teach the student defense through the
use of blocks and movements. Kata combinations include outward blocks, upward
blocks, inward blocks and more. Evasive movements are also a defense. During a
sparring session, 5th degree Shotokan Karate Master Augustus “PeeWee”
Blanco commented that the best block is to never be there.
Learning about distance and how it applies to a
fight is very important. In his book “Tao of Jeet Kune Do,”
Bruce Lee said, “The maintenance of proper fighting distance has a decisive
effect on the outcome of the fight—acquire the habit.” Katas teach the student
how to create distance through the use of footwork. I have never seen a kata
where the student does not move from the original starting position, nor have I
observed a fight that remained in exactly one place. Fighting is by nature
dynamic, not static. Bruce Lee also commented, “One can only develop an
instinctive sense of distance if he is able to move about smoothly and
speedily. The quality of a man’s technique depends on his footwork, for one
cannot use his hands or kicks efficiently until his feet have put him in the
Through the use of footwork, katas teach the
student how to use distance for offensive and defensive purposes. Offensively
footwork closes the distance between the student and his attacker so that the
student may strike. Defensively footwork allows the student to evade an attack
by creating distance. Just as in shooting firearms, a moving target is harder
to hit than a stationary one.
Practicing katas has many benefits, but it will not prove
advantageous unless practiced with the utmost seriousness and knowledge of the
practical application. The student should practice his kata like his life
depends on it, because one day it very well may. The student needs his muscle
memory to be strong blocks and strikes, not half-hearted techniques. Lotus
Mack Petry often said during training, “Practice as you will perform.”
If the student understands the purpose for each movement in
the kata, this understanding will transcend over to the execution of the
movements. When something is understood, it is easier to do.
The kata should be performed with: knowledge,
technique, focus, accuracy, good breath control, speed, and power, so that over
time the kata is done without even thinking about the movements. When the
student must use his kata movements in a real self-defense situation, it should
be as if he walks into a dark room and turns on the light switch without even
thinking about it. The Japanese call this mushin, meaning
A poster hanging in my high school biology class
said, “Knowledge is power.” The human body has areas that are more susceptible
to injury and pain than others. Most martial arts disciplines exploit these
areas. For example, most kata strikes are aimed at particular areas that are
susceptible to injury and pain. The student should learn exactly what the
purpose of the strikes and blocks in a kata are for, as well as the anatomical
destination. The student should train hard, but in a real-life encounter, fight
smarter not harder.
It may take a long time to master the technique
of a martial art strike, throw, or movement. However, the training toward this
mastery begins with the basics. The American Heritage dictionary defines
technique as “the systematic procedure by which a complex task is accomplished,
or the way in which the fundamentals are handled.” Therefore, practicing the
basics is of the utmost importance. The foundation of a house is built first,
then the various rooms that make up the house. Likewise, the fundamentals form
the foundation for more advanced technique.
Focus is very important. The American Heritage
Dictionary defines focus as “to direct toward a particular point or purpose.”
The student should not be thinking about performing the next move or strike.
Instead, he needs to think about the strike necessary for that particular
moment; Otherwise, he might not make it to the next movement.
Speed is nothing without accuracy. The student
needs to work on his accuracy first. Over time, when muscle memory and accuracy
develops, the student then gradually increases the speed of his movements.
Relaxation and good stamina promote speed. The more a student practices a kata,
his comfort with the kata should help ease his tension. This creates
relaxation, and thus speed. Practicing a kata for stamina also strengthens the
muscles and heart so fatigue does not set in early, and thus cause a decrease in
Breathing is critical in everything we do.
Breathing is the first thing we did when we entered this world and will be the
last thing we do when we leave. The importance of breathing is extremely
important in the martial arts. Breathing helps circulate blood throughout the
body, transports oxygen to major organs, helps relax the body, and can help
lower an excited heart rate. I witnessed a student almost faint during a belt
test because he was not breathing while striking.
Breathing should come from the abdomen area.
This is the center of the body and the focal point of ki, which is the
Japanese term for internal breath power. The student can start to develop this
long process of channeling ki through the use of proper kias, or shouts
of energy accompanying each strike.
Ultimately, martial arts katas generate power.
Power differs from strength. Power is the amount of force exerted. Strength is
a component of power, but throwing a 250 pound man is different from
bench-pressing 250 pounds. Whether the style requires power from hard snapping
strikes or from internal ki, the student should always infuse power in the kata.
Power also flows from speed. The faster an object moves, the more kinetic
over the importance of performing traditional katas in today’s modern martial
arts continues. However, the benefits gained from practicing katas apply just
as easily to today’s martial artist as they did hundreds of years ago. Kata
training teaches technique, various defense movements, an awareness of distance,
control of breathing, and improves speed and power.