Old Style Kata

Doing kata in the traditional manner requires a calm mind and steady stance. There is a difference between the glitzy, acrobatic extreme kata and the older more sedate kata of old. The older kata do not require Olympic level flexibility and gymnastic ability. Rather, they require the elements that make an artist a warrior. Here are some tips to keep your kata looking more traditional.

  • Stay relaxed in the motions and movements.
  • Look before you move into the next step.
  • Keep your movements crisp and sharp.
  • Maintain great stances according to the kata’s requirements. Usually these are low and stable.
  • Breathing should be smooth and even.
  • Show power and fluid grace but do not strike too hard or else you’ll loose the essential flow
  • Be balanced through your stance transitions
  • Kiai at the right time with intensity
  • Single leg stances should be held slightly longer than two-legged stances to demonstrate control

Two other elements for tournament competitors:

  • Begin the kata before you step into the ring
  • The kata doesn’t end until you’re dismissed

Do you have other tips for performing a traditional kata? Add them to the comments.

Lights, Camera, Kata!

When you compete in tournaments, remember that you are being judged on your performance of the kata not only the technical execution. Kata are subjectively judged by Black Belts from other systems and styles. You can’t meet all their technical requirements if you tried. Some are diametrically opposed to each other.Great side kick.

The best thing to do is demonstrate crisp movements and smooth flow. These qualities develop from repetition and practice. Show solid stances without wavering. When you are on one leg, maintain your balance. Don’t wobble while kicking or in difficult stances. Don’t adjust your feet in a noticeable manner once you plant them on the floor.

Kiai shout on powerful strikes. Make it loud and crisp. Draw the power of the kiai from your belly. Always look before you move your feet. Watch and monitor the pacing of your form or kata. It should have a comfortable, exciting rhythm. There should also be variety in the speed of movements. Not everything is fast or the identical speed as everything else. Rhythm and speed should be natural, which means you need fast, medium and slow sections.

Display confidence in all your movements – including the time sitting waiting for your turn, the walk up and the walk back to your seat. Once the competition begins, you are performing. It doesn’t begin when you start your kata. It doesn’t end when you finish either. Maintain your demeanor and professional posture at all times.

It is best to imagine doing the kata for a movie or TV show. See the lights. See the camera. Put on your super-powered ninja costume and let loose with the confidence of an actor. It’s all about showmanship.

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, Panlane.com, 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.