A kata is an integral part of learning any martial art - check out these tips to help you master these forms quicker and easier!
You're hot, sweaty and tired from trying over and over again to perfect this particular kata. You know all the moves but it's just not coming together for you. But what can you do? Read on for a few tips to help you bring it all together for a perfect performance!
First, let's go back to the basics. A kata is a pattern of specific defensive and attack positions usually found in martial arts, such as judo and karate. Performed either solo or in pairs, it is used to help the artist perfect his/her form and to demonstrate their knowledge of the art. A kata can be done using swords, staffs or nothing at all and is an integral part of learning any martial art. But they're not easy – an average kata can be anywhere from twenty to seventy moves long, each one flowing into the other and depicting a specific attack or counterattack vital to the technique being studied.
Katas are also used to grade students, with black belts sometimes having to perform every single kata ever learned to illustrate their mastery before being promoted. A single misplaced foot or a loss of balance can make the difference between a good kata and a great kata!
But the kata isn't only to help you perfect the physical motions. It also encourages the artist to look inside beyond the simple moves into an almost meditative state. Indeed, many martial artists perform katas not to improve themselves so much physically as to increase their inner awareness of their own person and how to improve their skill with a purity of mind and body.
With this in mind, let's go back to helping you learn your kata. First, don't look at the entire kata as a huge sandwich you need to eat all in a single bite. Break it down into individual movements. After all, a kata is nothing more than connecting all of these forms into a single group.
Look at each movement and the reason behind it. Is it a defensive reaction? A form of attack? How does it flow into the next one or the one before it? When you see the overall ebb and flow of a kata it's easier to remember the movements as you would a popular dance step or top song lyrics.
Group them into smaller sections of three to five movements and practice them over and over in these sets. Memorizing fifty moves may seem impossible, but doing three or four moves at a time will be much easier. Then mentally when you complete one set you can begin the next three or four after it. Start at the beginning and make sure that first group is as perfect as you can make it before moving on to the next group and the next. You'd be surprised at how much you can remember when you're taking bite-sized portions instead of trying to jam the entire sandwich into your mouth!
Perform in front of a mirror to help you see possible flaws in your movement if no one is available to help you. Check the angles of your feet, arms and back to make sure that you're in the right position to move to the next form. If it feels wrong, it probably is – remember that these katas have been around for decades and have been performed by millions of artists, so if your foot is twisting unnaturally from one side to the other it's likely that you're the one at fault, not the kata. Even the smallest adjustment can make a world of difference and allow a more even flow from section to section.
Maintain a calm, rhythmic breathing at all times. Huffing and puffing won't get you through the forms any faster, and will only hinder you in the long run. Take your time, perfect each movement and take a deep breath when needed. You don't get points for racing through a kata, even if you've seen it done faster. Remember that those black belts dancing their way around the floor with swords or a staff in hand once were just where you are – learning the basics and going at a slow pace to perfect their form and movement. Speed may be flashy, but in the long run you will be judged on how accurately you follow the kata, not how quickly you twirl the swords or how loud your yell is.
Learning a kata can be a rewarding experience, allowing you to grow both mentally and physically. The next time you find yourself faced with a difficult kata take some of these tips and see if they can help you master these moves easier and assist you in moving to the next level in your chosen art!
Sebastian Coquin Traditional Form at Quebec Open 2009 Kata Unsu