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..