Kata are also used to grade students, a black belt sometimes has to perform every single kata they have learned to illustrate their mastery before being graded. One single misplaced foot or a loss of balance can make the difference between a good kata and a great kata!
Kata isn’t only to help you perfect the physical motions, in fact, many martial artists perform katas not to improve themselves so much physically as to increase their inner awareness of their own person and how to improve their skill with a purity of mind and body.
Now let’s go back to helping you learn your kata. Make sure you don’t look at the kata as a whole as this can become overwhelming - it is essential to break it down into individual movements. After all, a kata is nothing more than connecting all of these individual movements into a single group.
Look at each movement and the reason behind it. Is it a defensive reaction? A form of attack? How does it flow into the next one or the one before it? When you see the overall ebb and flow of a kata it’s easier to remember the movements as you would a popular dance step or top song lyrics.
Group them into smaller sections of three to five movements and practice them over and over in these sets. Then mentally when you complete one set you can begin the next three or four after it. Start at the beginning and make sure that first group is as perfect as you can make it before moving on to the next group and the next. it is much easier to remember when you break it down into easy to remember movements.
Perform in front of a mirror to help you see possible flaws in your movement if no one is available to help you. Check the angles of your feet, arms and back to make sure that you’re in the right position to move to the next form. If it feels wrong, it probably is – remember, these katas have been around for decades and have been performed by millions of artists, so if your foot is twisting unnaturally from one side to the other it’s likely that you’re the one at fault, not the kata. Even the smallest adjustment can make a world of difference and allow a more even flow from section to section.
Breathing is so important and you need to maintain a calm, rhythmic breathing at all times. Huffing and puffing won’t get you through the forms any faster, and will only hinder you in the long run. Take your time, perfect each movement and take a deep breath when needed. You don’t get points for racing through a kata, even if you’ve seen it done faster. Remember that those black belts dancing their way around the floor with swords or a staff in hand once were just where you are – learning the basics and going at a slow pace to perfect their form and movement. Speed may be flashy, but in the long-run, you will be judged on how accurately you follow the kata, not how quickly you go through it.
Learning a kata can be a very rewarding experience, allowing you to grow both mentally and physically. The next time you find yourself faced with a difficult kata take your time, remember some of these tips and see if they can help you master the moves easier and assist you in moving to the next level.