Reflections on Kata


Photo credit: Negar Tayyar

Photo credit: Negar Tayyar

Most martial artists have to go through an extensive Kata training (Japanese for form; choreographed patterns). While the minority seems to anticipate it with pure joy, most regard it as a torturous procedure they just want to get over with.

I belonged to the second set of Judokas for a long time. I too was guilty of overlooking this invaluable component of Judo, which made a request by my Sensei Ray to write a piece on Kata even more surprising. I remember times, trying to wiggle and worm myself out of Kata, asking my Sensei critical questions about the meaning of it and its value for my skills improvement.

Like many others I disregarded Kata simply because Randori seemed to me more enjoyable and real. I was a strong believer of Randori, supporting the statement that only in the sparring a person can see the fruits of the hard labor; when after months of practicing a technique, one elegantly throws the opponent through the air, applying one of the key principals of Judo, seiryoku saizen katsuyo (best use of one’s energy).

It was not until I read all of Professor Jigoro Kano’s work in the summer in 2014 that my eyes were opened to the beauty of Kata; as Prof. Kano stated, “Not the least of these [exercising muscles and nerves, mastering movements or winning in competition] is the beauty and delight of performing graceful, meaningful techniques and in seeing others perform them,” which Kata gives the faithful Judoka.

The first and most important lesson I learned from Prof. Kano is that Randori is a Kata! Randori-no-kata is the free practice form, which in turn, meant I was doing Kata for years without even knowing it. Throughout my reading of the old Judo texts I realized that Kata should not be dismissed because it is an important learning tool. Many times we perform actions without knowing their meaning. It starts with the basics such as bowing! All of us bow at least a dozen times every week; we bow before we enter and leave the mat; we bow before matches; we bow at the opening and close of class. Despite this fact, many perform bowing blindly without knowing its meaning. But once you realise that you bow to express gratitude to our opponent for giving you the opportunity to improve on our techniques the act unfolds a certain beauty. This important Judo etiquette is learned in Kata, and is sometimes missed in the hustle and bustle of a Randori class.

So maybe you are thinking, all of this philosophy is well and good, but what does it have to do with my actual game improving. The biggest benefit is that Kata virtually helps you to execute throws, understand certain motions and learn to loose the fear of falling. Also, through regular Kata practice you get to practice main throws, which you may successfully avoid executing during a Randori!

See a beautiful Kata sequence by Kyuzo Mifune (10th Dan), one of the greatest Judokas, here.  

The original blog post was published on the Osagame blog here.