While we were doing karate via Zoom, we spent several weeks practicing a kata of our choice with these 10 foci. It was so helpful! I really enjoy this type of practice.
The way we practiced these was to perform our kata ten times, each time adding one of these principles to focus on.
As you focus and bow in to your kata, set your intent for the kata in your mind. Say the words in your head for how you want the kata to be (if someone was watching it, what would they say about how you did it?).
You can use the same intention for all your kata, or you can create your own for specific kata. A good starting phrase is:
Relax / Take your time / Breathe
Other words and principles that you can use are: grounded, snappy, smooth, explosive, flowing, dynamic.
Set your stances!
Even if it’s a fast move and fast transition to the next move, don’t shortcut it.
Show off when you can; if you can go lower in your stance without compromising your posture or ability to transition to the next move, do it.
Keep your eyes up!
Fix your gaze on a spot in the (relative) distance that is about your eye-level. Glancing around at different spots, and glancing down, can break your posture and move your shoulders in the wrong direction.
If the move is supposed to be looking down (e.g., kiai moves in sepai, sanseru, hangetsu etc), try to keep your back straight, don’t round the shoulders down with your gaze.
Consider and control your breathing as much as you control your limbs. Don’t forget to breathe!
As a general principle, if your limbs are drawing inwards, draw in a breath, if they are going out, breathe out. Match the intensity of your breath to the speed and intensity of the movement.
If there is a series of fast techniques, consider not breathing out on every one, but breathing out gradually across them all, or breathing out on some, but not all techniques. Breathing out on every technique in a short timeframe can slow you down.
I have found this one of the most difficult to conceptualise. I think the best way I can describe it, is that slow moves should not stop, but continue with a breath, and transitions such as turns should not be separate from their accompanying block or strike.
When we first learn the moves we do them in stages in order to get their positions correct, but we need to work toward shaving off the hard edges and flowing them together
There’s many sections of kata this applies to; some examples are:
- Bassai-dai: move 6, turn to the right with gedan berai
- the block preparation never fully stops, it moves slowly, but continuously
- Bassai-dai: pat the dog move
- you tend to learn it “hand out, sweep across, collect other hand, sweep back, pull in”, but once you can do that, make it flooooow
- Seiunchin: moves 1 + 2 (4 + 5, 7 + 8)
- You have to stop between these moves when doing to the count, but to your own timing flow them together
- Sanseru: changing direction after side kick
- we get taught to make sure we put the foot down before turning, which initially results in a stilted foot down > turn > execute block sequence, but they should flow together
Maintain focus throughout the whole kata. Ensure speed and snap on fast moves.
Kime is a difficult concept to articulate. The word literally means something like decision, and can apply to something completely mundane, like, “what time did you decide to go to the shops?”. In karate we use it to refer to the focal point of a move, or the decisiveness and speed with which a move is executed.
In order to be fast you need to learn to relax. It’s somewhat counter-intuitive; when we think we want to be fast and powerful we have a tendency to tense our muscles in preparation, but that is the opposite of what is needed. Make sure to relax between moves in order to make the next move fast.
Use your hips!
There are big hip movements; hanmi is when our hips are turned off to the side (traditionally 90º, but when you’re in a wider stance they’ll only go about 45-60º off), and shomen is having the hips forward. This is the type of movement we do from a block, or fighting stance, to a reverse punch.
There are also smaller hip movements called gamaku. These are the type of movement we do when the hips are already facing forward, or not going to move far from where they are, but twitch forward to facilitate a strike, such as the strikes in the openings of the Sanchin-based kata (Sanseru, Shisochin, Seisan).
Draw your attention to the fast and slow, the transitions, and pauses. Incorporate the kime and flow you practiced before.
Make sure to include pauses, for breath and for emphasis. Don’t stop during a move that should flow, and don’t break your momentum, but do pause when appropriate (changing direction is usually a good time to do that).
Make the kata your own and play to your strengths.
If you have low stances, show them off, or amazing kicks, use them. Don’t let others rush you, keep your own timing.
Presentation combines all nine principles above.
Two words that I didn’t use before, but could be incorporated with a few of the principles are focus and volume. When performing kata, your focus should be sharp from the moment you step forward & bow in until the moment you bow out & step back.
Don’t be afraid to be loud! Announce your kata with kime, and show strong spirit when you kiai.