Should Katas End Where They Begin?

To answer your question on kata and the ending point is not easy to give a definitive answer. Some feel that it is a spiritual emotion and others feel it’s a place to start your life and still others feel its nothing more than to structure the kata and build discipline.

  1. Spiritual: One that starts kata in a place is setting an area of dominance. This is to say that she owns that place and that she is on a journey to defend herself. The ending place is where she should return as one solider returns home from battle.
  2. Philosophical: Others feel that its a place that you are born and the ending of kata, after you have defended yourself and lived life to its fullest, is a place to end your life, passing. And that is why kata ends in the same place it starts from.
  3. Structure: Most, however, Feel that it is nothing more than to help build discipline. Meeting in the same spot is very important.
  4. Impeccable: One thought is what I feel is most correct is this. If you finish where you start it will show that you performed the stances correctly and that the technique you executed is correct. Or at least done correctly!
  5. Journey: One Soke from Japan, that I have never meet, feels that the start place is just that, a start. And that the ending is just that and ending, nothing more. He felt that the technique itself was most important aspect of kata and not if you end up in the same place you start in.

I had some one ask the same question a few months ago and as I research it I found that most Okinawan katas did not end up in the same spot. The Chinese systems did not either. I also found that some Okinawans did in fact demand that kata end in the same spot as did some Chinese arts.

Black belt teacher helping a yellow belt child

Black belt teacher helping a yellow belt child

So where does this leave you? And the question you asked?

It leaves you here. You must decide what is best for you and how you feel! I, myself, try to keep in the rule of structure and spiritual means, as this feels best for me. I never take away from a student that does not end in the same spot, but I will assist then in making sure that their stances are correct as well as technique. Then after years of practice they find the spiritual side for themselves and this is when you see your student really shine!  It makes me feel proud when I see them find their own way in the arts and not leading them 100% of the time.

Find you own path in kata and find that special spiritual breath that you are seeking. You will. I know it.

Gi Color Myth Revealed

During the 70s and 80s, it became fashionable for some Kempo instructors to propagate the myth of white and black gi. That myth will be discussed below. Prior to judo, there was no gi. With the wide spread interest in Karate-do, the bleached white karate-gi became very common.

The Hawaiians developed use of the black gi to distinguish them from karateka. One of the primary arts using the black gi was Kosho Ryu Kempo (Mitose’s art), which later was popularized as Kajukenbo. The karate-gi has no relation to the robes of Shaolin monks. They are two different cultures with two different modes of dress.

If you take the TV series “Kung Fu” as a credible source, the young boys wore black clothes. The older initiates wore white and black clothes. Once they passed the 108 Chamber Room, they could wear the orange robes of the monk. But I warn you that it may not be credible. A better source would be a book on the actual Shaolin Temples. Just remember, a Chinese-artist doesn’t wear a karate-gi.

The modern Kempo myth says the first few ranks are representative of being outside the Temple walls. The new student is trying to earn membership into the actual Temple. Once they enter into the “Temple” for real training, they can don the “black” gi. It’s quite a cute tale, but it’s not accurate.

The school’s chief instructor gets to choose what color uniform (or style) the students wear based solely on their preferences. Some prefer the “gung fu” uniform with turtle buttons. Others may opt for the XMA sleeveless uniform. Most prefer karate-gi colored black. A few enterprising schools use army battle dress uniforms or specialized uniforms custom-made.

Why Do We Wear Black
We use black gi to show our heritage from Hawai’i and it shows less dirt. Black gi has a mystique. It looks “cool”. The karate-gi is handy to use in class. It is more durable than cotton sweats. Not as confining as “biker shorts”. And they distinguish us as martial artist.

The color has a little to do with the Chuck Norris movie, “Good Guys Wear Black”. I’m one of his fans but good guys can wear whatever color they like. Keep a modicum of fashion sense before you introduce odd ball uniforms. In short, don’t get worked up over false traditions.

Tracy’s Chinese Kenpo’s website has a great article or two on the origins of Kenpo gi colors and styles. Take a minute or two and read them. This style also introduced the eye-boggling checkerboard-swirl pattern that was popular in the 70s and early 80s. Our industry is now large enough to support all sorts of interesting uniforms and colors so enjoy the selection. In another 30 years, I’ll be writing about why lightning stripes on the pant legs are traditional.

I’m still holding out for leopard print uniforms.

Motobu Seminar 2005 Review

Way back on July 23, 2005 (in Las Vegas), I was fortunate enough to attend a great seminar with some great instructors. Here’s my review for old times sake.

In the study of Okinawan Karate history, the name of Choki Motobu stands out as a legendary figure. However, this golden age of Karate was nearly a hundred years ago so any chance of me being near such heroes has always been ephemeral. That is until Prof. Kimo Ferreira and Prof. Tom Ingargiola invited me to their Kempo seminar in Las Vegas. The guest of honor was none other than Chosei Motobu sensei and his senior student Takeji Inaba sensei.

The son of one of Karate’s greatest instructors taught class. Both Motobu sensei and Inaba sensei don’t speak English, so Keiko Ferreira translated. The whole experience was surreal and exciting. Though freshly 81 years old, Motobu sensei moved with assured quickness and intent. Fifty years of teaching shows in all his movements.

The seminar was divided into three sections. The first section was on Shaolin Kempo concepts applied to techniques. The second featured Prof. Kimo Ferreira and his Kempo Jutsu. For the finale, we learned the kumite pattern of Motobu-ryu.

Prof. Tom opened the class up with warm-up exercises and shadow boxing but he quickly transitioned into several new techniques focusing on principles. He said students should avoid backing up into the power area of the opponent, rather one should move to safe areas like the side or behind the opponent. Several of his techniques were taught in July’s classes.

For those who are unfamiliar with Prof. Kimo, he studied Karazenpo Go Shinjutsu under GM Walter Godin, the co-founder of KGS with GM Sonny Gascon. He emphasizes the jujitsu aspect of Kempo, showing bunkai for several katas. His techniques favor absorbing principles and striking pressure points. His introduction to Kake-te drill was the highlight of his section. This drill will be introduced into our intermediate classes. It’s a great pre-sparring drill for developing combinations, accuracy, and muscle memory.

Motobu-sensei demonstrated Naihanchi one and two (Monkey Dance 11 and 14) from his families system. He said Naihanchi three was a later addition and not part of the original catalog of kata. Motobu-sensei began teaching Ju Ni Hon that is a set of 12 combinations. These techniques are similar to defense maneuvers or kempos except he calls them kumite techniques.

The seminar closed with his introduction to the Motobu-ryu Palace Hands secret style, which he learned from his uncle and a question period. It was great to see some of my old friends again.

The Galloping Horse

What is it? The galloping horse is a rhythmic method of striking for maximum effect. All three strikes must hit the same spot on the opponent. It is used to disrupt the flesh and then penetrate into the target area twice. These movements are often hidden in the kata and bunkai. If taught correctly, they should be explicit in the kata in order to perfect this method of striking.

Characteristics of the Gallop
When performed properly, it makes the sound {ba dum, dum}. For comparison, it is similar to the horse-gallop-clap young children make with their hands and knees. Regardless of the striking point, the rhythm must be readily heard. It is the result of proper timing.

Why is it important? The body and skin nerves are unprepared for the immediate follow up strikes. The first strike is not a hard strike. Rather, it is a softening blow. For opponents who are trained (or used) to being hit, this first blow is prepared for. The key elements of this gallop are the second and third strikes. The nervous system is recovering from the first blow. When the other attacks hit the same spot, it causes more shock and more pain. It penetrates the body, amplifying the strike’s impact.

It softens the opponent up. After a few galloping hits, the opponent should be demoralized. This is especially true if it’s to the body, attacking the internal organs. The deep penetration of the galloping strikes will erode the defenses of the opponent.

Ideally, you will develop this with multiple hand combination routines. Don’t disregard kicks, elbows and other strikes. You must have accuracy with each strike. The galloping horse strikes must be on the same spot to work. As with all strikes, continue to use the waist for power. Allow your body to utilize circling power generated by the waist for all the strikes. It is better to maximize a powerful strike than a weak, arm-only strike.

Review of Benefits
The galloping horse strikes maximize the results of your attack. It weakens the defenses of the opponent. This striking method amplifies the impact and penetration of the punches. When used with the waist power, you improve your martial form with correct movements. Rhythm is the key to self-defense and combat.

Daily Meditation

How do I relieve stress and pressure from my daily life? How do I relax and think clearly? I need to break the day’s fast pace for a moment of solace. What can I do? The answer is easy, daily meditation.

Regular relaxation and meditation allows the mind to analyze, learn and understand. Use meditation as a pressure value to help regulate your emotional well being. Like all things you learn in the martial arts, it’s a skill to be developed over time.

Mental Focus
Things that are important to you should receive your focus and attention. Daily mediation will allow you to channel your emotional resources to those things. By maintaining your focus and allocating emotional and mental resources to the most important items, you become centered. You’ll find yourself content and happy since the important matters are addressed. Being mentally centered leads to spiritually and emotionally center-ness.

How to Mediate
Sit in a comfortable position with a straight back. Hunching your back reinforces bad posture and is bad for meditation. You must first relax your body and mind. A great technique for relaxing the body involves clenching the fist and then release. That draining feeling is soothing. Experience the emptiness.

The next step is to visualize the qi flowing through your body. Imagine it seeping up through the ground into your body. The qi will flow up your back and then down into your lower stomach. From there, the qi will flow up the front of your body and out of the mouth. Down into the earth and visualize it starting again. Remember to breathe and relax.

Diaphramatic Breathing
In martial arts (and in meditation), it is never proper to breath using your chest. The chest should remain still. Use the stomach muscles to drive your lungs. Breathe in through the nose. Keep filling the lungs until there is no more room. You can find more room by sticking out your stomach.

Now, gently breath out through your mouth with one steady, easy flow. Push the air out using your stomach muscles. Imagine your stomach as a bellow, forcing the air out of your mouth. Stay relaxed.

Black Belt in meditation

Black Belt in meditation

Once you can do the diaphramatic breathing without thinking about each step, engage your mind in peaceful visualization. Imagine a peaceful meadow under a blue sky. The green grass is waving slowly. A crisp wind is blowing, orchestrating the whole scene.

When you can yourself in this place, visualize clean energy flow into your body, flushing out the bad energy. Some people don’t like the term energy. You can use water-images or anything else that can leave your body. The key is to use your mind to remove the bad thoughts and emotions.

When you are rejuvenated, slowly return to your peaceful place. Gently open your eyes. Remain still for a few more moments as your body and mind readjust to the world around you. You breathing are very slow and regular. Most people feel a sense of light-headed euphoria at this point. You’ve done well.

What’s Happening?
One of the benefits to daily meditation is positive thoughts erode negative thoughts. When you are under stress, you’re more likely to be defensive or agitated. By reallocating your resources, you can deal with others (and events) with plenty of patience and ammunition to deal with the problem.

Peace and relaxation erode stress. As you gain the skills to truly deal with your problems and life, you’ll find yourself more at peace. You become an emotional lighthouse for others. Do you ever wonder why perky and vibrant people attract others? It’s because they are better at dealing with stress than others. As you progress in focusing your resources and relaxing, you can help others. Sharing is a very rewarding and stimulating act.

Lead by example. Even if you only want to lead yourself, you must set an example for yourself. Promise yourself you’ll sit down for a few minutes each day to meditate. Start small and work to longer and longer times.

When is the best time to do it?

There are several “ideal” times to meditate. You must find the right time for yourself. Here are some examples:

  • In the morning
  • In the evening, prior to sleep
  • When stress is high
  • When you feel out of control

Remember that proper breathing is the key.

About Black Belt Testing

What is it for? Why is it so arduous? We test the candidates’ mettle. They should already know and execute the required material with a high degree of skill. No one is recommended unless they can perform at a Black Belt skill level. The exam is really evaluating the ability to perform Kempo under intense pressure and stress.

Row of black belts

Is there historical precedence? There is none, day to day life is stress enough. In most early schools, your name got moved from the grade level list to the Black Belt list. As people read the board, they would shake your hand. Most of the modern day Black Belt testing is a new development.

Here is our take on the test. We live in a comfortable and safe community. We need to add the pressure of survival to this existence. It should bring forth the indomitable spirit of the Kempo candidate. Black belts don’t give up, they just do. The Nike sales mark “Just Do It” should be the motto of all Kempo Black Belts.

Why is it so physically draining? You have to be exhausted to teach the concept of “second wind”, third wind and so on. You must overcome your tiredness to complete your mission and achieve your goal. You can’t explain that, it must be done. It must be experienced. Everyone must do it for himself or herself. The test provides an opportunity to do that. An opportunity to experience your real boundaries.

The Black Belt test should never degrade into a hazing ritual or a sadistic “Simon Says”. It should be a furnace to forge the final mental and emotional elements needed for Black Belts.

The Black Belt test should not be dreaded, but it should not be feared either. It is a milestone on your personal development. This test only marks the halfway point to mastery.

Colored Belt Ranks are traditional?

Colored belts, a tradition from the earliest times of martial arts history. Hmm, I think not. The colored belt ranking system is a recent invention, the belt, however is an old invention primarily made to hold up pants and tie jackets to the body. So why is there such reverence paid to the colored belts? Isn’t there another function besides a purely utilitarian use? Let’s start with a definition of a martial arts belt.

According to “The Original Martial Arts Encyclopedia: Tradition-History-Pioneers”, the belt, called obi, is worn around the waist of most Okinawan, Japanese and Korean martial arts. (1) (pg. 2)

“They are generally long enough to be wrapped twice around the wearer’s waist and then tied in a square knot, with 10 to 15 inches hanging from either side of the knot. Before the 20th century most belts were colorless.” (Pg. 2)

What do you mean “colorless”? How did they know what kyu rank they were? At the time, it didn’t matter. The instructor was usually your relative that you saw every day. He remembered your skill level. After all, only twenty or so family members trained with the sensei.

As often explained in my classes, the colored belt is a visible sign of skill, mental cue for instructor. When an instructor scans his third class of 30 students, his mind goes numb trying to remember who has which kata and who needs which technique. By setting a standard curriculum with specific requirements, the memory requirements of an instructor is greatly reduced. When your sensei sees that blue belt you’re wearing, he knows you have (just for arguments sake) 6 forms and 20 techniques. If you don’t then he knows what to show you.
Colored belts
The colored belt is also beneficial for the student. Ranks can act as milestone markers toward the goal of Black Belt. Any time you set a major goal, you should break it down into several sub-goals or milestones. This is an excellent method for seeing the improvement and strides you’ve made towards your goal. Otherwise, you may loose sight of the progress in skill you’ve earned.

In more traditional schools, colored-belts are also a sign of seniority. Certain ranks have specific duties based on their seniority in the school. In many Kempo schools, higher rank students are in the front rows during drills. This allows new students and beginners to see how techniques are done and follow along until they are comfortable with the class structure.

Who started the ranking system anyway? Many people credit the founder of Judo, Jigoro Kano, with the modern ranking system. Master Kano wanted a way to organize judo competitors by skill. All the non-Black Belts had the same rank but their skill varied considerably. He assigned students to various grades that grouped the beginners by skill level. As a neophyte advanced in skill, he could compete with others of comparable skill.

What are the correct colors? There aren’t any universal or standard orders. Many styles have implemented various orders, especially in eclectic styles that blend several arts together. The origin of colored belts can be traced back to the Tracy brothers of Chinese Kenpo(2) when they asked their Asian suppliers what other colors belts could be manufactured. (You could say Kempo is to blame for the colored belt phenomena.)

Korean arts use belt colors that don’t match Japanese belt colors progression. Both of these don’t match many Kempo ranks. From the local schools I’ve visited, Korean schools use white, gold, yellow, green, blue, purple, red, and black. Though I’ve been to schools that have brown belts too. Some of the Japanese schools use white, green, blue, brown and black. Gracie Jui-jitsu uses white, blue, purple, brown and black. This leaves Kempo, which uses white, yellow, orange, purple, blue, green, brown and black. There are schools that use different orders that the ones listed above.

To make matters worse, Chinese arts didn’t have belt or sash rankings until the 1980s. The Chinese gung fu schools I’ve been to rank by set or form. Each form can have three levels – student, instructor or master. Then again, Chinese schools are run in a less formal atmosphere. Most don’t require uniforms or formal school etiquette like their Japanese counterparts do.

If the colors represent different levels depending on the style, how do you compare ranks? All schools assign a kyu rank to the color belt. Kyu ranks or grades are those students who have not been awarded the Black Belt or shodan grade. In other words, beginning students. These kyu ranks compare easily from style to style. In Kempo, the kyu ranks are organized into three groups – candidates, beginners and intermediate.

Corcoran and Farkas describe the dan ranks like this:

“It usually takes three to four years of ascent through the kyu or gup grades to reach 1st-degree Black Belt, at which the dan ranks commence in some systems. Sixth degree and upward are awarded for merit or accomplishment, instead of physical proficiency.”

Dan ranks or degrees are levels of Black Belt. Below are the Japanese and Okinawan dan ranks:

  1. shodan – 1st degree
  2. nidan – 2nd degree
  3. sandan – 3rd degree
  4. yodan – 4th degree
  5. godan – 5th degree
  6. rokudan – 6th degree
  7. shichidan – 7th degree
  8. hachidan – 8th degree
  9. kudan – 9th degree
  10. judan – 10th degree

In the United States, many styles and masters are able to work together. Some masters promote exemplary instructors for their work for the benefit of martial arts and the community. Often times, these promotions are done across styles. As stated previously, ranks from 6th to 9th dan are honorary, awarded for merit or accomplishments. It would also be a fair assessment of a master’s abilities to recognize quality and skill that many would be unable to judge.

Self-promotion, on the other hand, is less honorable and lacks the necessary humility required by expert of the arts. “The Martial Arts Encyclopedia” notes that many Black Belts have emerged since the mid-1960s with questionable qualifications. Corcoran and Farkas go on to state that “…an especially acute problem is the large number of high-ranking Black Belts whose only achievement has come through self-promotion of rank.”

Is it bad? Is it wrong? That is something each individual needs to determine. Most styles have not formal organization to control the issuance of ranks and promotions. Judo is a prime example of an art that has gained control over ranking and teaching. Until such time as other styles are able to follow suite, there will not be a universal standard.

However, one might ask, who has the authority to dictate the qualifications for new ranks? The government? Some arbitrary board of directors? No, your style and your masters dictate what the qualifications are. Tae Kwon Do is a great example of a worldwide style that holds strict guidelines for advancement agreed upon by many masters. Also, masters outside of their style promoted many instructors to higher grades because they recognize that instructor’s ability. This was (and remains) the main method of high grade promotions.

The ranking system is a great tool for martial arts instructors. That’s why it caught on. It’s so successful that many Chinese styles are formulating a similar system utilizing sashes. When large numbers of students enter a dojo, an instructor must use tools and systemization to regulate and perfect their training. The ranking concept is nearly universal, but the implementation of the concept varies from dojo to dojo. My advice is, don’t fret over the little stuff. Admire skill and humility over boasting and ranking.


  1. “The Original Martial Arts Encyclopedia: Tradition-History-Pioneers” by John Corcoran and Emil Farkas, Pro-Action Publishing, 1993.
  2. Tracy Kenpo International Catalog, 1991.

Forms in Practice

Practice your forms. Forms may have many names such as kata, pinan, set, or dance. Use forms in your training. The old masters developed forms as a mnemonic aid for remembering their martial arts techniques. Practicing forms has a variety of benefits.

They serve as a record of the art’s techniques in application and motion. They allow the student to improve their cardiovascular system by producing a mild aerobic workout. Forms, done correctly, also teach proper breathing patterns. Many kata are very long, requiring precise breath control to maintain maximum flow and power. By combining handwork, footwork, and directional changes in patterns, the student develops the ability to use any of the techniques they have learned interchangeably. These routines develop proper stances during changes in balance that affects the fighting ability of the practitioner. Finally, forms serve as a standard to which an instructor can gauge student performance and evaluate student abilities.

Elements of Forms

Any system of martial arts contains numerous techniques. So many techniques that it would be nearly impossible to remember them while you attempt to encode the movements into muscle memory. A form, made up of a set pattern of movements, allows the brain’s natural grouping ability (called ghestalting) to capture and retain the information. Therefore, forms act as a mnemonic aid.

Similarly, forms are records of techniques in application and motion. Each portion of a kata represents a defensive maneuver against an imaginary opponent. These defensive maneuvers are called bunkai. In more advanced forms, there are several interpretations of techniques. The diversity of these applications demonstrates the adaptability and finesse of the structure.

Techniques can combine in various ways, like piecing together letters to create words. However, forms establish a basis for combining techniques into one continuous movement. Most people understand that forms represent combat with imaginary opponents. What few realize is the combat scenario has been preset to use several martial concepts. Key concepts repeat throughout the kata.

Forms can be used to improve one’s cardiovascular system. Performing one kata will not elevate your heart rate to that required of a full-fledged cardiovascular workout. Instead, executing forms several times with full power and intention can achieve significant results. Unlike aerobics or running where the pace is an even rhythm, forms have pace changes. The rhythm is dynamic. The rhythm represents combat more accurately and allows the heart to condition itself for an irregular pace.

Most pre-Black Belt forms in Kempo are not very long. This fact should not diminish the importance of proper breath control. In the longer, advance forms, breath control is crucial. Martial techniques are not limited to the coordination of muscles, bones, and tendons. They also coordinate with breath, balance, and intent. Breathing at inopportune times can limit the effectiveness of specific techniques. All forms have established breathing patterns that coincide with the physical movements.

Spontaneity in techniques is directly related to the proficiency you have with the forms. When the form is second nature, you can perform any of the bunkai instantly. The natural flow you gain from knowing techniques at this level allows you to combine different sections of various forms effortlessly smoothly.

Martial art techniques are useless without proper stances. In the early forms, there are only five stances to remember: twist, horse, cat, half-moon, and crane. At every point during the form, you must be in one of the five stances. Imagine being able to take a photograph at any point during the form. This photograph should depict the student in a proper posture, fully balanced, and focused. No other position is acceptable.

A teacher has to keep track of many students. Forms serve as a standard to measure student progress and the level of understanding. Each rank has a required kata. If the student does not comprehend the bunkai or can not perform the basic movements, then they must continue practicing the form. Observing kata performance provides the teacher with a standard to gauge student achievement and evaluate student abilities.

An Alternate Practice Method

When you perform the kata or pinan, visualize that you are in a fight for your life. Opponents are attacking you from several angles. You react. In the first Kempo form, 1 Pinan, you half-moon and block with block #7 or #8. Then half-moon forward and punch with the Front Two Knuckle Punch. What is happening here?

The best method for seeing the effectiveness of forms is to use them on an opponent. Find a partner. Face each other in half-moon stances. The uke (attacker) moves forward with a Front ball Kick to the solar plexus. The tori (defender), from a half-moon stance, will block with a #8 block, half-moon forward, and then Front Two Knuckle Punch to the solar plexus. Does this sound familiar? It should be, it’s the essential move from Wahiawa 1. Practice all your forms in this manner. And here’s how.

A good routine would involve a small, five-move section of a form repeated ten times a day. The next day, tackle the next part of five moves. Repeat this pattern until you complete the form. Once you finish the form, move on to another form. You can develop all of your forms in this manner. Remember, never neglect the beginning forms; they contain advanced concepts and proper martial arts techniques–mysteries yet to be discovered.

Another method for developing your forms involves power and focus. The old masters have specific strikes at each step in the form. With partners, get focus mitts or a heavy bag. Situate your partners at each angle or position in the form. Now run through that small section of the form hitting the heavy-bag or focus mitt with power, accuracy, and focus. Run through small sections of any form in this manner. Be sure to help other students with this type of workout too. This forms-development workout will improve not only your forms but also your sparring and overall ability in the martial arts.

Forms are essential to the development of an excellent martial artist. Try these new (actually ancient) twists in your kata practice. You will find that Kempo punch techniques (Kempo Waza) make up forms. Each step in a form is a Kempo technique, so practice them as such. The methods given above will help you develop and analyze these techniques.

Regrettable Business Practices

Read the full story here.,0,732400.column

Get ripped, not ripped off, by avoiding contracts with gyms, karate schools
By Greg Dawson -The Last Resort, Orlando Sentinel, May 10, 2009

Three of the four cases listed in the article were for Martial Arts schools that have contracts. I find the practice disturbing. I understand it from a business practice but we are not just a business, we are a part of the community. Any reasonable request should get you out of the contract, which defeats the purpose of contracts. So just do month-to-month fees and offer a great program. It makes moral sense.

Forms for Thought

Black belt girl kicking from floor

Form, set, kata, and pinan help you train in the martial arts. The word form is the best word we have in the English language to describe this aspect of martial arts training. Chinese artists use the term “Sets.” Kata is Japanese, and pinan comes from the Okinawan tradition. Forms are formalized training routines akin to dance routines. Techniques and stances organized into a preordained sequence are a kata.

By learning these forms, we honor the hard work and diligence of the masters and ancestors. Forms also provide a method of self-practice. They also teach standards of movement, which define a style. (Of course, there are many other reasons to practice your forms, but these will be enough to help you at this stage of your training.)

You learn a series of stances and positions early in your training. They eventually incorporate flow at later levels. But why do we practice forms? The answer is a many-scaled beast.

The goal of kata is to perform stances and movements with supple ease. We perfect our memories, encoding these movements into our muscles and sinew. Practice allows the student to execute classical moves effortlessly. In a sense, we become what our masters are.

Forms are vital to training. They develop skills such as focusing on correct stances, proper body alignment, stable balance, and waist power. During the regular group lessons, you work several skills independently. These are:

  • Stances
  • Balance
  • Power
  • Body alignment

Kempo forms are the amalgamation of these various drills and exercises to put your body’s motion in synchronized harmony. There is no substitute for this benefit. Practice and repetition create mastery.

From previous articles, we discussed memory and ghestalting. We need to create groups of movements called chunks that can be stored and recalled from memory quickly. Practicing our forms re-enforces chunking phenomena, thereby producing improved recall of techniques. The ancestors developed forms as a memory aid. We must endeavor to use it as such.

Without the old masters, the art of Kempo would be dead. We would not have the great gifts it offers. These masters spent years developing, testing, and refining the forms to help their student progress.

Black belt girl kicking from floor

The history and tradition of Kempo require us to pay tribute to these old masters and monks by faithfully practicing our forms passed down to us from our teachers. Our teachers work on remembering the exact movements so that none of the information is tarnished or lost. We, as students, must do the same. We must work very hard to do the movements of forms precisely as they prescribed, even if it is challenging. There is a purpose for that movement. Fight tested techniques make up the kata. We are not advanced enough in the art to decide whether or not it is useful.

Use your self-discipline to practice your material continuously. Often, you have a partner to practice Kempo, and sometimes you don’t. Forms allow the student with fiery determination to become great, to become a Black Belt.

On occasions when you want to practice, and no one is around to train with you, you still have the old masters. Train those forms over and over. Perform them facing different angles, on different surfaces, and with different clothing on. No instructor will ever say you’ve practiced any form too many times. Forms, therefore, are the best solo exercise ever created. Those old masters were very clever.

All martial artists travel this endless road of practice. It is a path we all walk because of the benefits practice develops in us. Forms are the cobblestones on that path. We need them to build healthy bodies and sharp focus. They are necessary for our development. They also link us to our ancient traditions. They are a link to the past. To be lax in your forms is, in reality, being disrespectful to our ancestors. You know what to do. Practice your forms.