The kata are vital in the development of anyone participating in the martial art of karate. The kata have many uses that enable the practitioner to develop throughout their karate training. It is essential that anyone entering into the art has the ability to focus, and that they are prepared to be patient, and realise that certain levels of fitness and stability are required.
Movements in all martial arts should be smooth, and they should appear effortless. One of the most beneficial elements of kata is fitness itself. Both the upper and lower body will be worked on during the moves, so the fitness of an individual partaking in the art will increase.
A full kata session will work most of the major muscle groups in the body. The muscles that are used when performing kata include the hamstrings, calves, quadriceps and the gluteus muscles. The arm muscles that are worked are the biceps, triceps and the shoulders. The back and the neck are also worked throughout kata, as the tensing of these areas, and the control needed, enable them to strengthen.
Another area of fitness that will improve over time is the flexibility of the body. The body needs to bend and relax at specific points of the workout and this involves a lot of stretching, which increases the flexibility of the body.
It is vital that people performing kata learn to breathe properly, as this will assist in the performance of anyone partaking in the art. The mental focus needed to breathe properly can also help in the element of discipline, as the body will need to be trained to breathe at the correct times, and this requires a great deal of concentration.
Concentration levels naturally increase when kata is being performed, as the kicks, blocks and punches need to be performed in a certain sequence. For the more complex kata, this requires a great deal of focus and discipline, as there can be up to 70 different moves in a full sequence. The memory will need to be built up and this also requires great discipline.
The moves and their sequence can be helped with the shouting that occurs in certain stages of the kata. The shout only occurs on the final blows throughout the sequences, and the movements can be picked up a little more easily if the person learning knows when the shout is to occur. The rhythm that the kata induces will help with the memory aspect, and as the body begins to move with more ease, so the moves will become more natural.
The speed and the power created with each move should be effortless, and the more experienced kata practitioners will appear almost dance-like in their movements. This is simply down to fitness and discipline. When practicing kata, it is advisable to take things a step at a time, as once each step is mastered, the sequence as a whole will be simpler to complete. Once the hand movements have been perfected, it will be easier to incorporate them into the whole sequence of moves.
Bunkai is the application of the techniques that the kata teaches. This can help with both fitness and discipline, as it is performed in pairs and requires great concentration. Whereas with kata the opponent is imaginary, with bunkai the opponent is real, and this means that new elements to the moves may need to be introduced. The distance between opponents is important, and bunkai can assist with this.
This also helps with the stability of the competitor, as they need to ensure that their starting and finishing positions are kept to. This assists with discipline and the memory aspect of the kata. By following the partners' moves, learning the moves themselves can be easier. Bunkai is required by some martial arts schools to achieve a grading promotion, and it is essential that kata perfection is achieved before bunkai can be attempted.
The kata can be helpful when it comes to the mind. It teaches the body to react to mental visualizations. The reaction that takes place is a physical one, and by repeating processes again and again, as people need to when practicing kata, this increases the conditioning process of the mind. This can also assist with the rhythmic moves that are vital in performing kata correctly.
Practice makes perfect, and the more practice that is put in, the more natural the moves will be to people. Following the rhythm of the kata regularly through practice, helps the mind recall the next move before it needs to occur; this will help with the smoothness of the sequence as a whole.
Kata assists in the overall art of karate greatly, as the movements that are performed help to increase the knowledge of the art in a number of ways. The competitor will learn the importance of the distance needed to effectively block attacks, whilst also being able to predict the distance needed to attack effectively.
Accuracy should be worked on before speed, as if moves are accurate, when the speed is increased, the accuracy will still be present. A karateka who performs the moves accurately will be more relaxed and the relaxation will then enable them to increase speed without even thinking about it.
The techniques used for blocks, punches and kicks are also made more effective with the use of kata, and this will stand a karateka in good stead throughout their training. The use of power and speed are vital in kata and these improve fitness, and discipline. It is important for a student to understand the reason for each move, as this will make them easier to learn and perform.
Kata can be mastered by concentrating on a number of elements. These elements are accuracy, breathing, focus, technique, speed and power. The knowledge of the kata, with all these element intact, will ensure that the kata can be performed naturally, smoothly and effectively.