Its a movement… but thats not all…

I’ve heard it said that there are no defensive actions in kata, and while this seems to be true in the static sense of the word, there are plenty of actions that could be categorised as a defensive action.

So when you think about seeing what the actions in a kata mean, you have to look at all aspects of the sequence your analysing, this includes:

– attacking arm

– chambering arm

– your body position 

– your weight distribution

– the direction of your movement

– the direction of your attacking arm

– the direction of the chambering arm

– the speed and power

– your focus point 

I believe there should be no waisted moves in a kata sequence. The actions in a sequence show conceptually and technically how to incapacitate a person in a fast efficient manner. Your not playing tag, you are essentially playing with the ability to walk away or more drastically live. 

Seems harsh but think of the reasons why kata were developed… As a civilian to protect themselves from attack. The kata is simply the package to remember these moves. If this is the case and you were thinking of a way to remember the important point for self preservation would you add superfluous moves that have little or no meaning on the outcome of an attack? I know I wouldn’t…

This is why when I look at dissecting a kata sequence I look at all movements from a top down view then a bottom up view. Looking top down I look at the larger “concepts” the ways the body movements help take balance and get you closer to the attack point. Bottom up I look at the ways a finishing technique kick, punch grab affects the opponent. Its clinical, its direct, its fast and it needs to work 90% of the time for 90%of the people. Your ultimate goal is to finish your opponent as fast and effectively as possible. 


In the beginning…

The difficulty in kata analysis and interpretation is knowing what the original intention of the movements was. It’s been a long time since the originator stepped out and actually formulated them. So everything is based on past knowledge and experience. As part of my analysis I use balance, leverage, body mechanics and movement, to gain better insight into the concepts the kata is providing. As much as the kata is technique, it is the provision of concepts that make them useable in more than place.

In many kata you will see repetitions of movements and techniques, the repeating of movements and techniques across form offers the performer to associate this move/technique in different situations, enhancing the meaning and showing that given the right situation essentially the same move can be used. Another aspect that is often repeated, usually in a sequence of movements in a kata is the right, left, right, repetition of the same set of moves. This would indicate that it will work as well on either side of the body, depending on you’re preference and the position of the opponent. Its clear that concepts play an important role in kata.

From here I’ll be discussing either the actual technique or movement, or the stylised version we see in our modern versions of the kata. I say stylised because I fell over time some of the meaning has been embellished to make the action fit with the pattern. The fact that some of the kata have been altered to fit into room or hall may have changed some moves, but I think we can safely assume that original intent is there.

In the beginning of any kata there is a set of formalised moves set by the style to indicate that this is the beginning or the preparation of the kata. Depending on the style these differ slightly but I think there is a similarity in the process.

The preparation move at the beginning of many kata. I see having a number of clear meanings.

the move where the hand come together and up to face height and then rotate down to your waist.

I feel this a fairly stylised movement.

– The first half may represent the body flinch reflex and the recovery of this

– An attack come toward your face, either a punch or grab, your flinch reflex brings the hands towards the head to protect your face.

The second part of this movement may have a number of options 3 I’ve listed here

– the rotating of the hands to the lower position then represents the pushing of the opponents body to gauge distance and to have the opponents hands move into a position to perform the next techniques in the kata.

– the alternative for the hands rotating from a high position to a low position is representative of your hands having moved behind their head (after the flinch reflex) and the rotation and push is a disruptive technique, to take the opponents balance and stance from them to give you the opportunity to escape, or regroup.

– your hands at the top of the movement slip over your opponents head and your thumbs find position in the eyes of the opponent. As the movement starts down the thumbs push in a gouge the eyes as you tilt the head forward and incapacitate your opponent.

Why is there an escape here and not a complete finish, again the overriding thought and belief with kata is to provide a way to protect yourself. The most primary way to achieve this is to create distance… Distance for escape or distance to regroup.

…pictures or video to come.

What’s the big secret?

I see this a lot and i’m not sure why. Many many people go on and teach kata and hold back so much in them its incredible. I have a theory that theyhave this big secret they don’t want anyone to know… Whats’s the big secret???.

Then there are the other people that only show their stuff to the people in the know or the loop. What I call the 10% of people that are exceptional or above the normal, can devote their life to mastering the finest points of kata. I maybe wrong, I don’t know.

To me karate and especially kata and knowing what its all about is for everyone. Now I understand that not eveyone is going to want to know or going to get it. So this I why I call it the 90-90. I feel and believe that kata is designed to work for 90% of the people 90% of the time. So with this in mind I look at the techniques and application for each move or sequence of moves in a kata and see how they can work in the 90-90…

I evaluate the kata based on the movements the techniques as they appear in the kata. These movements and techniques are usually in sequences or groupings.

There are difficulties of course, the eventual changes from the pure movements as is was intended over years of slight changes from teacher to student. the adoption of personal preferences as the kata is molded to the performer… We need to make leaps of faith in our interpretation and find ways to identify the stylised movements in each form.

In reality we cannot fully hope to know the true meaning behind any given sequence. We can only make assumptions based on experience and fact. Yes fact! What facts are there in a stylised movement in a kata that has possibly changed over the years.

The fact as I call is the the basis for most of my interpretation. This is the way the body moves and reacts to certain actions placed upon it. Generally people are made the same way, we react in generally the same way when actions are placed upon our body.

So for simplicity I’ll group these facts in the following manner.

1. disruption

A. balance (the taking of)

B. leverage (the use of)

C. focus

2. destruction

A. pain

B. damage

We know that with certain actions people / bodies will react in similar way every time we do some things. This is core to any kata. It makes sense, if an action will not work instantly because the opponent is doing their attack. Then we can and need to employ a distruptive technique to make the destructive technique ever more effective.

From here we can move into the building and understanding of what movements can do. For the purpose of my analysis I base all attack on arms distance. Anything outside of actually touching your opponent indicates a separate set of events that may or may not lead to the use of any techniques.

It they cant reach you your best action is to not be there. If this is not possible then reassess and move to the next level of threat awareness and do what is needed to not be there.

Geoff Thompson has a detailed explanation of the threat escalation process. I have my own version based on my experiences. But this blog is not about that. This blog is about the analysis and interpretation of kata.

One final thing here… the actual performance of a kata when done correctly can be amazing and very articulate to watch.

A fight is messy and brutal. Don’t be confused or lead to believe anything else. I was once in a scuffle where the way I found to get an advantage was to let my blood drip in my opponents eyes. This gave me enough of a distraction to do what I needed to. After hospital and a number of stitches in my head later I cannot remember how it started or why. It was fast erratic and messy. This is how a fight is, to me this is what kata represents at its core.

Of course there’s more but…

There is more to training than just the kata I completely understand that. So let me ask the question. Could you only do kata and would that be enough? In short yes and yes. However there are a few points.

I could easily do kata and have thought it would be enough for me in my training and I feel it would allow me to be a fairly complete martial artist. But of course there’s more to doing kata than going through the moves.

You’ve probably seen the people in training doing that, going through the motions becuase thats whats required. If this is the case, then they just dont get it. If this is you then you just don’t get it.

Ok over time I’ll go though the process for learning, performing, praticing, analysing and using kata in my training.

I have a number of processes for the better undestanding and pratice of kata.

my learning processes are: Learn the…

1. indivdual techniques, if the kata has any “new” or unseen techniques to you.

2. pattern, learning the actual pattern in part and eventually as a complete sequence.

3. what I call cadence, which shows in more detail the elements in the kata that have speed, power, and tension elements among other things

4. meaning, what the sequences actually do. based on the principles of body dynamics, leverage, and the distractive and destructive techniques.

5. visualisations the intergration of the above against a partner as you see it in your mind

6. practice with a partner

7. against an opponent/partner realistic representation of against a partner.


The processes I’ve listed here have evolved over many years of trail and experimentation. Saying this, it is still evolving with time and experience. But this covers much of what I do.

Kata in its basic form a simply a number of body movements joined with attack techniques, fashioned in a way to make it easier to remember the ways and means to overpower an opponent. In my mind there are minimal defensive techniques in kata, its soul purpose is to show how to render your opponent incapacitated, in as few moves as possible.

With this and my thinking that kata should work for 90% of the people 90% of the time there are strategies to employ during the use of the techniques. This strategy is…. If you intend on using a grouping or any technique then use the force required to finish your opponent. Simple…

If the sequence requires you to take the balance then make sure the force you use takes the balance, if the strike, kick, or other technique in part of the sequence then the force you use will finish your opponent.

Kata is a package of information used to remember how to render a non compliant  opponent incapacitated fast…. (it’s not sport)

As you will see from the list of processes most of my training is limited to personal training, with the use of visualisations to help provide a better level of intensity when performing kata alone. The visual elements are important as it will help with actually seeing in your mind what the sequence is doing. This with the use of power, speed and tension elements will increase the effective performance of the kata when done individually.

The last 2 processes being practice and partner drill are for you and your partner to see how the movements and techniques are affected when a body is in the way. The drills during these processes are to practice the sequence as the kata intended with someone for feedback. The feedback loop is essential as it will provide a gauge as to the effectiveness of your actions.

I’ve seen a lot of partner or 2 man drills where they go through a derived sequence from the kata and perfom the moves in a flow from one to another. I believe this sequence is taking away from the essence of the kata and its intension. I do feel there is a symbiotic relationship between the person doing the kata and the opponent, but only in the way that the kata shows how to incapacitate the other person, and not how they can play a person on person tag drill.

To me a flow drill is simply performing the sequence as intended on an opponent and learning how to use your body movements, stances and techniques to finish them strong and fast.

There are times that working in a flow drill may be necessary, but make sure you maintain the conceptual notions of the movements if you are taking them directly from the kata. Taking movements from a kata and saying so is fine then altering them for the purpose of a drill and still saying they are movements from the kata will send conflicting messages to you the people you train and the idea of what the drill what originally intended to achieve.

If you do a drill that removes the concepts and core elements from a kata sequence, then don’t says its from a kata… just call it a movement drill.. 


A long time is no time.


What is a long time in martial arts. I’ve been training now over 24 years… and this may seem like a long time but really it’s not a long time at all.

A lot of this time I have seen read and heard a lot about many things buy lots of people. I don’t have to agree or dissagree with it, but I read listen and hear. So in the time I’ve been training whats my passion. Well the main recurring theme in my training is the enjoyment of Kata or what ever you like to call them in your training. But lets just say, the predetirmined routines that are at the very heart of your style.

To me if your style does not have Kata then it’s predominatly a sport and I’ll leave you with that.

Kata to me is the core and foundation of what a martial art style is. Its a nice package containing pretty much everything you need to become proficient in defence, attack, health and fitness. (when done correctly, with intent and understanding)

There are pleanty of people out there that have and are doing enormous amount of research in the where, how and why kata exist and came from. Some of these would be Billy Manne (, Iain Abernethy (, John Burke, Vince Morris, Patrick MCCarthy, Higaonna, Taira, Clarke, Dilman… well the list is huge and everyone of them have some very specific and amazing writings. The thoughts I have are similar in ways, and extesnions of what they say, but I have them formulated to suit my way of thinking.

My mentor in my martial arts training is Billy Manne, it’s fair to say that he taught me every technique I use or have used, it’s also fair to say he gave me the skills to develop a greater understanding on what he taught. This understanding has taken over 20 years to cultivate, and my knowledge is growing the more I look at it (my training).

In My World…

To many people martial arts is a purely personal endeavour where we are building a better you, following the path of martial arts in what ever form that is for you. The musings I post here are for my benefit and expression. I’ll attempt to be open and unbias as much as possible, though these are ideas and thoughts from my own world. The statement “in my own world” means to me for me by me. If you have an opinion please let me know, I want to hear and learn as much as possible about anything and everything in this area. I don’t think I’m right I don’t think I’m wrong, I’m just thinking.

Let the thinking commence.