Why do I need to punch the air?
I had a conversation with our coach (Sir Ian Jereos, JKA Philippines) about Kata. He is part of this blog and community and we always talk about how to promote Karate. He is a big fan of the traditional ways and values of Karate but he is also open minded. Many times we discuss the time and tested method of teaching Karate. This is basically practicing the basic moves via one step exercises, then putting it all together in katas or forms that increase in level of difficulty as you move up in rank.
Sir Ian is the perfect master to ask about this topic. Not only is he open minded and can render you a healthy discussion, he is a true master of Kata. At 16 years old, he became a gold medalist in the synchronized kata event (picture below) during the 1993 Southeast Asian Games. From the early 90s to the early 2000s, He competed and won in a lot of international tournaments with the SEA Games, AUKO, WUKO and WKF winning medals everywhere on the planet. He always competed on the Kata category.
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And so this one discussion turned to the question, “Why practice Kata?”. I didn’t ask this because I didn’t know. I had some idea, at least. I asked this because I knew there were karatekas that did it just to go through the motions and all they want really is to spar and compete.
So why practice Kata?
The answer is very much the age old way of the karate outlook. I believe it is still relevant and will always be.
We practice Kata to simulate combat. How?
By practicing Kata, we practice the right body dynamics to master the techniques. Right body dynamics mean right body movements, right sequence and executed at the right moment. You need to do this over and over again until it becomes muscle memory. Until it becomes instinctive. That’s why when we practice the kihon basic exercises, we do it over and over again while our sensei checks on specific relevant muscle groups and movements. That’s why when you execute a basic reverse punch or lunge punch, we need to relax the shoulders and leave the muscles on the side of our body to tense. In these exercises, the movements we need to learn also mean learning to deactiviate unnecessary muscles.
This brings me to the second reason. In practicing kata, we learn to practice the efficiency of technique execution. The objective in Karate, from the kihon basics to kata to sparring to actual combat, is to gain minimum effort at maximum effect. It follows a teaching from someone a long time ago named Sun Tzu: “In the art of war, you need to exhaust your opponent’s energy as much as you can, while conserving yours.”
The last reason for practicing Kata is to condition the karateka mentally in anticipation of actual combat. Because in Kata, with all the minute details, sequence and sporadic simulataneous movements that you concentrate in executing, it gives the karateka a controlled exposure to the simulated chaos of combat. It increases your stress level while achieving excellence in execution. You will notice that when a beginner does a kata, one does it slowly in the process of learning. The master, on the other hand, increases in speed while the facial expression exudes calm and peace.
Before I end, I leave you with a question and a favorite kata – Unsu.
Why do you practice Kata?
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