Dear kata competitors: what goes through your mind when you do kata?

ThatOneCanadian

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When you compete with kata, what are your emotions like? Are you relaxed/stable? Do you put yourself into a state of anger to augment your techniques? Do you envision yourself being attacked by someone? Do you envision yourself attacking someone that you want to hurt? Is there any emotional ritual that you do to "psych yourself up" before you do that kata? Where exactly is your mind during the kata?

The emotional/spiritual side of martial arts is something I'm interested in and want to dig deeper into, so as to give me an advantage in my own training.
 

_Simon_

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Great thread idea, curious what others say too :).

I was never interested in tournaments in all my years in the dojo, it just never appealed. But it was only after I left my old dojo that something in me was curious about it. Maybe it was just to challenge myself.

Firstly kata competition just seemed so... can't even think of the word. Otherworldly haha. Like the people stepping into the centre of the mat were placing themselves in between worlds, like connecting to the unseen in a very profound, deep and engaged way, and displaying that connection without hesitation.

Some performances I saw the person was clearly just too up in their head, too concerned, and thinking so much about the form and shape.

Then there were others that just.... wowza, absolutely blew me away. There was a depth of understanding there that was visceral and electric. There have been a few performances that I have cried from watching; they had that much of an effect haha. I loved also how different people performed the same kata! All were unique and expressed the individual performing it.

So I decided to compete, and ended up doing kata and kumite. Strangely my mindset and emotional prep was almost polar opposite (on the surface anyway). In a way I'm sure they were actually similar, just honouring the context of what each one entailed.

For kata, in my warmup I would prepare physically all that I needed to, mobility, explosiveness etc. After that was all taken care of I would actually try to become as relaxed and grounded as possible. Really connect with my breath, meditate and definitely not even think about anything I wanted to change or fix for my kata, at that point ruminating over that is really not helpful at all (why I wasn't a fan of people coming over while I'm practicing giving me "tips" or "improvements" before my performance haha).

I tried to really tap into what that kata was trying to convey. Strangely I didn't really visualise or pretend it was on an opponent like others may, but mine was an internal focus, not only how synchronised and connected I felt within myself, but in projecting that feeling out. Displaying what body intelligence the kata aimed to teach. I'd still of course aim to have the correct power, technique, stance etc, but the underlying spirit and feeling to me were more important.

And different kata have a different feel, energy and principle it's trying to communicate, so I would always pick kata that I had a really good connection with and love for.

Kumite was totally different haha, and instead of trying to relax deeply I hyped myself up haha. As I was going to be moving very fast, dealing with attacks and an unpredictable live person, I would make sure I was really switched on to my environment and that my reflexes were sharp. I still however tried to keep relaxed throughout my body haha, but energy-wise I tried to keep active and constantly moving.

That's interesting... so kata for me was very much an internal, deep connected to myself process, but kumite was an external, dynamic and environment-focused process.
 

_Simon_

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And that's great, I'm the same and also interested very much in the emotional and spiritual side too, something I've been exploring last few years very earnestly haha.

I recently bought this book and have almost finished it, it's really good and might be right up your alley. Even though it's from a Goju practitioner (you're Shotokan from what I remember) and talks at times about Goju kata, it's definitely applicable to all karateka.
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FB_IMG_1626523924784.jpg
 

MadMartigan

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I generally divide kata into 2 main sections... practice (to improve technique) and performance.

When strictly practicing, I check each stance and area of body alignment. When performing, it's about executing to the best of my ability without pause. A middle ground between them would be practicing the kata performance.

I find little difference between practicing the performance and actually performing the kata (whether for a test or at a tournament).

At first, I try to calm the mind and just be in the moment. Trying to shut out all outside distractions.

During the performance, I'm not thinking about applications/bunkai or visualizing responses to attacks. I'm trying to be aware of how each movement and transition feels. All my attention is facing inward to try and make every stance, posture, and transition as close to perfect as I can.
 

Gyakuto

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My practise it exclusively kata (swordsmanship). We practise the forms in minute detail until they are completely automatic (encoded in the cerebellum) which will take many years of correct, purposeful repetition. When performing them, we try and let them happen without conscious effort, perhaps being aware of the position of kasso teki. Conscious intervention seems to trip you up and one must avoid this. Have you ever noticed if you think about running down stairs, you trip over your feet however, just letting it happen means a smooth, safe descent. This conscious interference spoiling ones performance is well known in sport and there are some great techniques to prevent them. This book by Lanny Bassham, an Olympic and world shooting champion, explains these techniques and they work!
 

Yokozuna514

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When you compete with kata, what are your emotions like? Are you relaxed/stable? Do you put yourself into a state of anger to augment your techniques? Do you envision yourself being attacked by someone? Do you envision yourself attacking someone that you want to hurt? Is there any emotional ritual that you do to "psych yourself up" before you do that kata? Where exactly is your mind during the kata?

The emotional/spiritual side of martial arts is something I'm interested in and want to dig deeper into, so as to give me an advantage in my own training
Interesting question. In the beginning, I probably tried to keep my feelings in check as the thought of being up in front of hundreds of eyes was nerve wracking. As I spent more and more time practicing and competing I tended to focus on details I wanted to emphasize when I was performing certain katas. The focus on these details allowed me to block out the distractions and focus solely on my movements. Now I tend to want to be in the moment. I do kata for me and the way I think they should be done. I use the judging as feedback for the performance from that day but people judge katas from their perspective and using criteria that they feel are important to focus on. The results are the results but I tend to lend more weight on whether I felt the precision, speed and power of the movements were up how I feel I could have done it on my best day. That's my tournament mindset.

I do practice kata once a week. I dedicate an entire class to working on kata. It's typically on a Sunday morning and I find it allows me to focus on improving details that I continually try and improve. As it is a class and I am the main instructor, I gauge the lessons, mentality and mindset by the people that show up to practice. We may all be at different parts in our journey but the 'how' and 'why' we do our practice the way we do is common to anyone that shows up and it is typically a well attended class, much to my surprise. Practice, feedback and improve the circle is never ending for those that strive for perfection knowing that they may never get there but decide to work towards that goal none the less. That in itself can be very spiritual as we never know what life has in store for us but yet regular practice is something that requires time, effort and dedication regardless of how we feel on any given day.
 

Kung Fu Wang

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And how does combat differ from performance? Are they not inextricably linked?
Let's using a punch as example.

1. Combat - punch out fast, pull back fast.
2. Performance - punch out fast, post in the air, then pull back.
3. Health - punch out slow, pull back fast.

The breathing pattern are also different.

1. Combat - fast inhale, fast exhale.
2. Performance - fast exhale, slow inhale.
3. Health - slow exhale, fast inhale.

The feeling are also different.

1. Combat - your shirt is catching on fire.
2. Performance - show body art.
3. Health - make your body to feel as comfortable as possible.

Combat:


Performance:


Health:

 
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Gyakuto

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Let's using a punch as example.

1. Combat - punch out fast, pull back fast.
2. Performance - punch out fast, post in the air, then pull back.
3. Health - punch out slow, pull back fast.

The breathing pattern are also different.

1. Combat - fast inhale, fast exhale.
2. Performance - fast exhale, slow inhale.
3. Health - slow exhale, fast inhale.

The feeling are also different.

1. Combat - your shirt is catching on fire.
2. Performance - show body art.
3. Health - make your body to feel as comfortable as possible.
This must be a peculiarity to combat sports. Swordsmanship is always about optimal killing (as far as we know)!
 

Gyakuto

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In the true martial arts, those developed and honed in the heat of battle, beauty is found in the utility of the techniques. Holding a fist/sword/pole arm out for a second is purely designed to impress and win points .夷ts sport奸ike figure skating.
 

Argus

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This must be a peculiarity to combat sports. Swordsmanship is always about optimal killing (as far as we know)!

It should be noted that forms serve a very different purpose in Japanese Sword Arts vs Chinese Martial Arts, or, say, Karate.

In Japanese Arts, forms are the art. You practice with a partner to apply the strategies and techniques that the art is communicating, more or less just as they are meant to be applied.

In Chinese Martial Arts, you practice without a partner, and different arts have different approaches, but the forms tend to be more of a "catalogue" of techniques and general concepts, which you might choose to refine in different ways. You might go slowly to work on positions and intent, or you might perform it again while focusing on explosive energy and short power generation, or you might just take pieces out and put them in logical fighting sequences. Forms are essentially meant to catalogue information and build muscle memory and internalize good habits / positions, and proper body mechanics. In this, they are actually very earnest -- beauty is indeed in the utility of the techniques, and the pieces are practiced exactly as they're intended to be used, even if the whole winds up looking different.

In Wing Chun, for example, we never practice forms for performance. They're intended to be a training aid, and are neither flashy nor fun to watch. They're simply utilitarian in nature.

Here's what the second form of Wing Chun, called "Chum Kiu" looks like. As you can see, the body mechanics are there, but it's very conceptual in nature:

Here's what it looks like applied:

All of the forms make up an integral part of the system. You can't really just "use one" without the other.

Now, all of this does vary by art, and other CMAs, and definitely Karate, will have different takes, as they do use forms differently to some extent.
 

Buka

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I dont do Kata as part of my training, as it is not part of our style of Karate (American Karate)

But I do have experience with Kata competition. Kata competition is not the same as doing Kata for your art. It's more like a sport.

I judged Kata, black belt division, in open tournaments for twenty years. I did because I was asked to by the tournament directors. (They asked me because they knew I didnt play politics and trained in a lot of schools that did do kata.) Most times I was the head judge.

I got to know everybody in the Kumite divisions because I competed all the time, got to know everyone in the Kata divisions because I judged. I asked all of them, at one time or another, what was going through their minds while they were performing their Kata. Got a lot of wonderful answers, I learned a lot from them. And a lot of them were national competitors who competed in all regions of the country.

So.a lot of them told me what was going through their minds changed as they gained more experience in the Arts. Some of them said, "at first it was just like doing it in the dojo, same frame of mind. But then as I learned more about competing, I sometimes had a different mind set.

I asked them to explain. Many did. Ron McNair was one of the astronauts killed in the shuttle explosion in 86. He was not your average man. Had a PHD in Physics from M.I.T. Was a sixth or seventh Dan in one of the Korean Systems, TKD maybe, I forget. Helluva fighter, helluva Kata man, too.

In Kata competition, the person doing the Kata approaches the judges, bows in, introduces themselves and states what Kata he/she is about to do. Or at least thats the way it used to be. I have no idea how its done now.

When Ron McNair approached the judges most of them all squirmed a little in their seat. It was neat to see. He had a booming voice, a stance like iron, and did Kata as well as anyone. He told me he approached Kata NOT like he was defending himself against imaginary attack, he told me he approached it as if vanquishing the enemey. And it showed. It was exciting to watch, exciting to judge. Man, he owned that ring.

Many of the competitors told me they knew what certain judges liked, and what, if any, prejudices they had about certain styles and/or particular katas. Sometimes theyd do a different Kata than they had planned depending on the judges that day.

As an aside to this, I found the same thing in kickboxing judges.

I was on a fighting team once with a Canadian Guy, Jean Frernette. He was about to compete in Kata. I nudged him and asked what kata he was going to do. He told me he was going to do a simple kata that would just let him make it to the second round of Kata. This particular tournament eliminated all but the best eight and then had a second round.

Jean was one of those guys who could kick just about straight up. The first round he did a kata with all kicks to the body. Kind of boring. He squeaked by into the second round. This time he nudged me and said, Now Im going to knock their socks off.

And man, did he ever. He won going away. They had never seen him before that day and his kicking kata of that second round was a real wow. And like I said, he could kick almost straight up.

My point in this long winded story is - different people have different mindsets when competing in Kata. And different than it was years before.

I think it best for new Kata competitors to just make sure they know their form. Best way to do this for competition, in my opinion, is dont face the same way in the dojo every time you do your form. Face to all sides of the dodo, face to the corners, do it with your eyes closed, do it after class while having a conversation with a buddy. Make sure you know it down cold.

Then..just go to the tournament and show off. :)
 

isshinryuronin

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During the performance, I'm not thinking about applications/bunkai or visualizing responses to attacks.
I do kata exactly opposite from you. It all depends on your concept of what kata is. My primary focus is based on the origins of traditional kata - a collection of combat techniques where application is everything. Visualizing the attacks is what provides the drive to execute crisply, with speed and power. Kata without application...(see next quote below)
And how does combat differ from performance? Are they not inextricably linked?
In so far as "performance" meaning competition or exhibition, absolutely not. The advent of kata competition (or sport kumite, for that matter) created a subspecies of karate, so to speak. It has evolved over the years so that a whole new species can be said to have developed. "Show" kata has branched way off the combat trunk, in some cases to the point where the techniques have NO relation to kata's combat origins.

Kata without application is exercise, dance or gymnastics. Backflips, splits, holding dramatic poses, or any move that does not directly contribute to injuring the opponent is not karate. When the application/meaning/bunkai of a move is simply to entertain or impress the judges or audience, it is not karate. I'm not just referring to the sequined, multi colored gi-wearing, back-flipping competitors in "extreme" tournaments. Some showmanship has crept into even traditional competitions.

Imagine doing a kenjitsu kata where you balance the tsuka kashira (grip end) on the palm of your hand, flip it up and over, re-catching it. When I was in iaido, such a thing would have you kicked out of all reputable dojos. As karate turned to sport and became popularized, it was perhaps natural that some of the true meaning of kata was lost and underwent change as form became more important than function.


Form can be done in 3 different ways.
- combat,
- health,
- performance,
Not that it can't be done in different formats and yield certain benefits. I practice in slo-mo, relaxed with little tension, with high tension, and even blindfolded - But I never fool myself in believing that these are the ways kata were designed to be done.
beauty is indeed in the utility of the techniques
Yes, when well executed.

Everyone is free to do kata any way they want to get whatever they want out of it. Karate can be different things to different people, each following the branch they like. But, I think it would be nice if the trunk and roots were not forgotten.
 

Kung Fu Wang

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Visualizing the attacks
One day I trained the "diagonal strike" solo drill that my teacher taught me. He came toward me and asked me what I was doing. I told him that I was training the solo form that he taught me. He said, "Form is for teaching and learning only. Form is not for training. If you want to train the diagonal strike as knee seizing, your hand should try to catch your opponent's leg. If you want to train the diagonal strike as front cut, your leg should try to hook your opponent's leg. The form may just teach the principle. You have to map that principle into different techniques."

That was the most valuable lesson that I have learned in my life.
 
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Gyakuto

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It should be noted that forms serve a very different purpose in Japanese Sword Arts vs Chinese Martial Arts, or, say, Karate.

In Japanese Arts, forms are the art. You practice with a partner to apply the strategies and techniques that the art is communicating, more or less just as they are meant to be applied.

In Chinese Martial Arts, you practice without a partner, and different arts have different approaches, but the forms tend to be more of a "catalogue" of techniques and general concepts, which you might choose to refine in different ways. You might go slowly to work on positions and intent, or you might perform it again while focusing on explosive energy and short power generation, or you might just take pieces out and put them in logical fighting sequences. Forms are essentially meant to catalogue information and build muscle memory and internalize good habits / positions, and proper body mechanics. In this, they are actually very earnest -- beauty is indeed in the utility of the techniques, and the pieces are practiced exactly as they're intended to be used, even if the whole winds up looking different.

In Wing Chun, for example, we never practice forms for performance. They're intended to be a training aid, and are neither flashy nor fun to watch. They're simply utilitarian in nature.

Here's what the second form of Wing Chun, called "Chum Kiu" looks like. As you can see, the body mechanics are there, but it's very conceptual in nature:

Here's what it looks like applied:

All of the forms make up an integral part of the system. You can't really just "use one" without the other.

Now, all of this does vary by art, and other CMAs, and definitely Karate, will have different takes, as they do use forms differently to some extent.
Youve slightly misrepresented things here since Japanese Kata are exactly the same as your description of Chinese kata PLUS there are some arts that have partner kata in the Japanese tradition.
 

Gyakuto

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I dont do Kata as part of my training, as it is not part of our style of Karate (American Karate)

But I do have experience with Kata competition. Kata competition is not the same as doing Kata for your art. It's more like a sport.

I judged Kata, black belt division, in open tournaments for twenty years. I did because I was asked to by the tournament directors. (They asked me because they knew I didnt play politics and trained in a lot of schools that did do kata.) Most times I was the head judge.

I got to know everybody in the Kumite divisions because I competed all the time, got to know everyone in the Kata divisions because I judged. I asked all of them, at one time or another, what was going through their minds while they were performing their Kata. Got a lot of wonderful answers, I learned a lot from them. And a lot of them were national competitors who competed in all regions of the country.

So.a lot of them told me what was going through their minds changed as they gained more experience in the Arts. Some of them said, "at first it was just like doing it in the dojo, same frame of mind. But then as I learned more about competing, I sometimes had a different mind set.

I asked them to explain. Many did. Ron McNair was one of the astronauts killed in the shuttle explosion in 86. He was not your average man. Had a PHD in Physics from M.I.T. Was a sixth or seventh Dan in one of the Korean Systems, TKD maybe, I forget. Helluva fighter, helluva Kata man, too.

In Kata competition, the person doing the Kata approaches the judges, bows in, introduces themselves and states what Kata he/she is about to do. Or at least thats the way it used to be. I have no idea how its done now.

When Ron McNair approached the judges most of them all squirmed a little in their seat. It was neat to see. He had a booming voice, a stance like iron, and did Kata as well as anyone. He told me he approached Kata NOT like he was defending himself against imaginary attack, he told me he approached it as if vanquishing the enemey. And it showed. It was exciting to watch, exciting to judge. Man, he owned that ring.

Many of the competitors told me they knew what certain judges liked, and what, if any, prejudices they had about certain styles and/or particular katas. Sometimes theyd do a different Kata than they had planned depending on the judges that day.

As an aside to this, I found the same thing in kickboxing judges.

I was on a fighting team once with a Canadian Guy, Jean Frernette. He was about to compete in Kata. I nudged him and asked what kata he was going to do. He told me he was going to do a simple kata that would just let him make it to the second round of Kata. This particular tournament eliminated all but the best eight and then had a second round.

Jean was one of those guys who could kick just about straight up. The first round he did a kata with all kicks to the body. Kind of boring. He squeaked by into the second round. This time he nudged me and said, Now Im going to knock their socks off.

And man, did he ever. He won going away. They had never seen him before that day and his kicking kata of that second round was a real wow. And like I said, he could kick almost straight up.

My point in this long winded story is - different people have different mindsets when competing in Kata. And different than it was years before.

I think it best for new Kata competitors to just make sure they know their form. Best way to do this for competition, in my opinion, is dont face the same way in the dojo every time you do your form. Face to all sides of the dodo, face to the corners, do it with your eyes closed, do it after class while having a conversation with a buddy. Make sure you know it down cold.

Then..just go to the tournament and show off. :)
You do not practise kata but was head judge of kata competition? Thats slightly anomalous. Its rather like asking a gardener to judge ikebana entries to a competition. Yes you will be able judge whats pretty but the actual intracadies of the art will doubtless evade you so judgement is almost meaningless.
 

Dirty Dog

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You do not practise kata but was head judge of kata competition? Thats slightly anomalous. Its rather like asking a gardener to judge ikebana entries to a competition. Yes you will be able judge whats pretty but the actual intracadies of the art will doubtless evade you so judgement is almost meaningless.
He specifically said OPEN competitions. That means the odds of any judge actually knowing the intricacies of ALL the arts represented is pretty close to nill. I've done the same thing, many times. I recall a time when one of my students took home a gold for a form that was done totally wrong. She did incorrect techniques in a lot of places. But the techniques she substituted were really well done, even if incorrect for that form. I have zero doubt that I have given good scores to others students who did the same thing.
Forms in open competition are about balance, flexibility, power, not technical correctness.
 

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