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PART III A Modern View of Kata, a Venerable Training Tool

By Roland Cadiente and Matthew Hemenez

PART 3 of 4

What are the physical benefits of kata?

Kata provides substantial physical benefits. Just by doing kata without any thought, without any expectations, without any goal, provides inherent improvement in health. But of course, nothing we do in karate is without expectations or goals, so it follows, that by doing kata with thought, with expectations and with a goal, one can expect a plethora of extensive benefits.

All karate schools rightly claim that the practice of karate helps with physical fitness. But few go any deeper than that. We ask that any instructors reading this article pay particular attention to this section and consider adding the concepts below to your curricula and ultimately require a mastery of this knowledge for promotion to black belt. In addition to explaining the physical benefits of kata, our passion for physical fitness compels us to include several examples of drills that use kata focusing on physical development. We challenge you to literally schedule time within the next week to conduct these drills.

Kata is an exceptional cardio exercise, especially when done specifically as an aerobic exercise (as opposed to doing kata for technical development). The lateral movement coupled with the dynamic motion of the limbs requires high levels of energy. Executing a kata correctly will necessarily result in an elevated heartrate and rapid breathing (“breathing hard”). If you are not breathing hard when done with a kata, then it is likely that you did not do it correctly. And that is only after one execution. When kata is done discreetly as an exercise (rather than for technical development), the cardio benefits are magnified substantially. See the Kata Cardio Exercise #1 in Part 4's Appendix for more.

Kata develops coordination.

Some call it “walking and chewing gum” we call it “physical multi-tasking,” whatever your preference, kata taxes the mind-body connection by requiring multiple mechanical movements simultaneously. For the average person, this physical multitasking does not come naturally. But with diligent kata practice, it will be developed. The result is improved balance, improved posture and coordination.

Kata develops elasticity of muscle fibers.

Stretching is instrumental to increasing flexibility, range of motion, and potentially reducing the risk of muscle strain. Studies now nearly unanimously show that dynamic stretching is superior to static stretching. Dynamic stretching being stretches that mimic the movements used in the physical activity, static stretching being done “cold” in a stationary position. Dynamic stretching increases blood circulation throughout the muscles, which prepares the muscles to stretch longer and endure more. All this makes kata optimal for maintaining flexibility.

Kata compels movement.

A sedentary lifestyle has been proven to result in deterioration of health. Conversely, it is clearly proven that movement, really of any kind, contributes to long-term wellness. Kata provide a platform of comprehensive movements that concurrently tax the muscles, ligaments (connective tissue which connects two bones), tendons (connective tissue that connects muscle to bone), joints and skeletal structure. The result is improved mechanical and mental balance in a single activity. While kata are not alone in this result, they are certainly unique.

Compare a long bike ride to a kata as it pertains to movement. In a long bike ride, the rider hunches over and pedals. Ankle, knee and to a lesser degree hip joints are utilized. Comparatively, in the gojuryu kata of sanseru, repetitive elbow strikes are taxing the shoulder and elbow joints, deep squats and repetitive kicks exercise the hip and knee joints, turning of the head and torso are moving the spine. If done correctly, virtually every joint and muscle is exercised. See Kata Cardio Exercise #1 in Part 4's Appendix.

Kata is a catalyst for circulating nutrients and lubrication to the joints.

As weight bears down on your joints, water molecules are forced out. As the weight is released, the water molecules return, bringing oxygen and nutrients that the joints require. In the cavities of the joints is “synovial fluid.” Synovial fluid is of an egg-white like consistency that provides much needed lubrication to reduce friction during movement. The constant movement and use of the joints facilitate the production of synovial fluid. A single kata with kicks, hand techniques, and a variety of stances truly is an optimal means of maintaining healthy joints.

Kata with dynamic tension provides muscular development.

Dynamic tension is the concept of applying tension on the muscle throughout the entire repetition of a resistance exercise. In instances where no training equipment is used, as is the case with kata, dynamic tension refers self-resistance, or pitting muscle against muscle. This self-resistance activates more muscle fibers which results in building muscle mass. Kata offers a variety of opportunities to utilize dynamic tension for muscular development. Use dynamic tension with each punch. Holding a deep squat for a period of time is another option. Some kata already incorporate dynamic tension. Use these moves to your full advantage; if done correctly, your muscles should be fatigued at the end of the kata. Also, challenge yourself by converting any kata from standard speed to executing each move with dynamic tension.

Kata provides cardiovascular conditioning.

Cardiovascular exercise, also known as cardio or aerobics, is any exercise that increases your heart rate and breathing rate without necessarily placing resistance on any specific muscle group. Cardio exercises use large muscle movement over a sustained period of time. Cardio exercise also exercises your heart, itself a muscle, while bringing more oxygen to your cells in your muscles.

A special note about Squats

We will close this section by bringing to your direct attention, the importance of squats in kata.

Has your instructor ever demanded “Deep squats! Get deeper into your squat!”? Ever wonder why? It’s because squats, a compound exercise (i.e., works multiple muscles in each repetition), is among the most useful and effective for strengthening your lower body.

We would suggest an “IF THEN” relationship between kata squats and maximizing muscle development. IF exercising larger muscle groups produces more amino acids than smaller muscle groups (which they do). And IF squats exercise the largest muscle groups in our bodies (which they do). THEN doing kata with squats accelerates muscle growth.

Kiba dachi (squat with feet facing forward), exercises the glutes, hamstrings, quadriceps and hip flexors. The 45-degree foot position of shiko dachi incorporates the development of the adductor muscles which are beneficial to more lateral leg flexibility for sidekicks and deeper splits.

Prior to executing a kata with squats, recall these two pictures as a reminder to focus on the squats within the kata. Go deep, upper legs parallel with the ground, hold for a moment. If you aren’t currently able to execute a squat that deeply, then go as deep as you can and no less.

The key is to ensure complete execution of each step in the kata, focusing on proper execution to include full leg extension on kicks and locking back leg in back stance to stretch the muscle as seen in this illustration. Be cognizant of where, within the kata, are opportunities to stretch your muscles. As part of your warmup, choose a kata that focuses on a body part that you want to warm up. For instance, in our dojo, we have keri no kata (kicking kata) which is all kicks. This is a great kata to warm up your legs. As well with arms-only kata and kata with a mix of techniques.

Next Section- Part IV gives the summary of kata and the roles for student and instructor to play, along with the aforementioned appendices.


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