So what are the benefits of kata?
Kata are vital in the development of anyone participating in karate, one of the most beneficial aspects being the enhancement of personal fitness.
A kata session will work most of the major muscle groups in the body, with both the upper and lower body being exercised during the moves. In the lower body muscles exercised are hamstrings, calves, quadriceps and the gluteus muscles. In the upper body muscles worked include the biceps, triceps and of course the combination of muscles in the shoulders i.e. trapezius and deltoids. The back and the neck are also worked throughout kata, as the tensing of these areas, and the control needed, enable them to strengthen. In addition the fitness of an individual practicing kata will improve as frequent practice with kime and focus will improve not only muscle strength, but also stamina and strengthening of core muscles.
It is vital for karateka to practice and perform kata that they learn to breathe properly - this will assist in their performance in all aspects of karate training.
Concentration and learning will increase when kata is being performed, as the kicks, blocks and punches need to be performed in a defined sequence. For the more complex kata, which can be over 60 different moves in a full sequence, this requires focus, concentration and discipline. Linking these two aspects together, the mental focus needed will also help in the element of discipline, as the body will need to be trained to breathe at the correct times, requiring a great deal of concentration.
The rhythm that the kata produces 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 demonstrate this in their movement which is simply down to practice, fitness and discipline. Practice makes perfect, and the more practice that is put in, the more natural the moves will become. 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 practice of karate enormously, as the movements that are performed help to increase the knowledge of the art in a number of ways:
- Distance: 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: This 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.
- Technique: 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
- Comprehension: It is also 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: accuracy, breathing, focus, technique, speed and power. The knowledge of the kata, with these entire elements intact, will ensure that the kata can be performed naturally, smoothly and effectively.
Kata can also be beneficial for the mind. The reaction that takes place is a physical one, and by repeating processes again and again, as people need to when practicing kata, increases the conditioning process of the mind. This can also assist with the rhythmic moves that are vital in performing kata correctly, teaching the body to react.
Ultimately, the purpose of kata training is to make the defence and attacking skills we learn become natural reactions, to be recalled immediately should the need arise.