Kata: Our Encyclopedia

Master Ron Cimorosi, kudan in the Order of Isshin-Ryu Martial Arts (OIMA), recently penned a guest article for the International Isshin-Ryu Karate Association (IIKA).  The article highlights the importance of precise basics in our practice of karate, as well as how the basics are within our kata.  We utilize kata as an encyclopedia to find, understand, and then apply the basics.  Please enjoy the article below and visit the IIKA as well: https://www.iika.org/!   

Kata:  Our Encyclopedia

For the martial artist, whether you perform the hammer fist (tetsui uchi) to the temple from Seiuchin in a self-defense situation, the double jump kick in Chinto (mae nihon tobi geri) for competition, demonstrate the 90-10 weight distribution of cat stance (neko ashi dachi) from Seisan for rank evaluation, or even perform Kusanku as a group kata in class 10 times for a great cardio workout, kata is essential to our karate training. In other words, you could say, “Kata is the encyclopedia for our karate techniques.”

In order for the kata to resemble an encyclopedia of your training, having a strong foundation of good basics and visualization of bunkai (oyo) is the key. You want to be great at Kata competitions? Practice your basics! You want to be a great tournament fighter? Practice your basics! You want to be able to defend yourself on the street? Practice your basics!

Our middle forearm block (ude uke) is in a “V” shape and not an “L” shape. So, if your ude uke block is in an “L” position, from a competition perspective, you’re telling the judges your basics need work. From a fighting perspective, you just got punched in the chest.

As much effort as I use in competition, I’m not going to get a good score if my rising blocks from Chantan Yara no Sai stop at my forehead because I want to quickly deliver the following punch. Conversely, I’m not going to effectively defend myself with that same movement using the sai against a bo. And most importantly, a shortened rising block won’t effectively protect me if someone is trying to strike me on the street. Cutting the rising block short means, I will get hit in the head with the bo or punched in the face by an attacker because I didn’t complete the movement of the block as it was designed. Clearly, this is a sign that I’ve not practiced my basics nearly as much as I should have.

When you perform kata, you are practicing your basics. You need to visualize both your offensive and defensive movements as well as polishing all the attributes that go along with those basic movements including balance, timing, focus, etc.

You are telling a physical story with your body mechanics. The judges and your sensei all know the story and are looking to see if your performance matches with the intent of what the kata is supposed to represent. Regardless of whether it’s in competition or on the dojo floor, the objective is to express the physical and historical intent of each kata. And the best way to accomplish this goal is through sound basics practiced relentlessly over a long period of time.

The three stars of the Megami (Mizu-gami) has several meanings. One meaning is they represent Shimabuku Tatsuo Soke’s instructors from Goju-ryu karate, Shorin-ryu karate, and Kobudo. But the stars can also symbolize the mind, body, and spirit of the karate-ka.

From a kata perspective, the “mind” understands the movements of the kata and how they should be efficiently applied, the “body” performs the techniques correctly and precisely, and the “spirt” is what is developed over time and facilitates the effectiveness of the kata movements. Take note that all three stars within the Megami are the same size. Any one of them cannot be bigger than the other, you must have an equal amount of all three stars for your karate to be balanced and effective.

Here are several tips to help your kata within your training:

  • Record your kata and critique yourself along with your sensei’s feedback. Smartphones make this process easier than ever.
  • Practice your kata against a partner. You’ll quickly realize if those blocks are not fully executed.
  • Make sure you are effectively telling the story that you are trying to demonstrate. For example, the uraken shomen uchi intended for the bridge of the nose should not finish at chest level. This strike should be in line with the bridge of your own nose when facing a mirror.
  • Say the bunkai (oyo) as you practice the kata. This becomes especially beneficial when you actually test for rank and are required to explain the techniques.
  • Take random techniques and combinations out of the kata and practice them repetitively to provide a more intensive focus to those techniques. This is essential for those techniques within the kata that prove difficult for you.
  • Stances are crucial and are the foundation of the kata. Practice your kata without using your upper body and only focus on your stances.

Nearly all martial arts techniques or concepts can be found in our kata – our encyclopedia. Regardless of whether the techniques are kicks, strikes, throws, chokes or if executed on the street, in the dojo, or at a tournament, these techniques can be found within the kata. We may have to tweak the movement a little to find it, but it’s there.

Yours in Isshin-Ryu

Ronnie Cimorosi, kudan

Order of Isshin-Ryu Martial Arts