Musical Kata

“The irony of musical kata is that the kata were probably folk dances to start with. They lost their musical ties and have since been reborn with them, amusingly to widespread scorn by ‘traditionalists’. This is theory, of course, for the vast majority of kata, we don’t know what the name means, who invented them or what the hell they are all about. They might be one big practical joke started hundreds of years ago and passed down the ages. However, the ties between dancing and martial arts are very close in many cultures. This is because they both exert and develop similar physical qualities, and require that the body be moved in particular motions and to certain rhythms.” (Philip Richard Thomas,, 2004)

What I like about Mr. Thomas’ quote is the notion of dancing. Several terms for forms (kata, sayaw, set) have been translated as dance by at least one expert I know. Even in our own system, the core kata we practice are called Monkey Dances. So it’s natural to want to perform kata to music.

Black belt in stance

Black belt in stance

First, find a song that you like with a clear beat. Songs that are energetic and up-tempo work best as they excite both you and the audience. However, the song should be something you like and enjoy listening to. Like all kata, musical kata requires repetition through practice.

Next, select a kata that ‘feels’ like the song you selected. You can also do these two steps in reverse. The most important step to do is find two things that fit together. The pacing you practice in traditional kata doesn’t need to be the pacing with the song. What I mean by pacing is the rhythm of the beat should be similar to the rhythm of the strikes and movements of the kata.

Now practice the kata to the song a few times. Get a feel for how they mesh together. Adjust the timing of the moves to match the song’s beat. You can also add a move or two to the kata if it will make the song and kata work better together. Remember you are improvising and creating a work of art. Even merge two katas together if the song is long or inspires you to such debauchery.

As with any performance, you must ‘act’ the part. This means you should have your ‘game face’ on. Look mean or act surprised at moments. Provide elements in the kata so it looks like a fight scene from a movie. Even if the kata has a specific height for a kick, feel free to change it. High, fast kicks look better than low kicks. Articulate your movements. Make each punch and kick clear. Hold them for a brief second or two. Demonstrate your balance by staying in the Crane Stance longer than usual. Most of all explore the possibilities of the music and kata – don’t limit yourself.

Have fun working with the kata and the music. Any form of kata practice is good, especially creative practice.