Learning a Kata: Layers of a Kata
There is obviously much more to studying a kata that those I’ve mentioned in the brief kata study guide. Those ways were primarily physical methods of studying a kata through body training. Kata is more complex than that. There are other more subtle layers of performing a kata that occur during the evolution of learning a kata and each layer uses the knowledge gained of the previous one in order to be most effective.
The layers start with the simplest, typically for novices or intermediate shotokan karate ranks, and build up to more advanced for more experienced karate-ka. Here are a few:
- Form: the position of your body parts in each movement
- Movement: how your body moves from one position to another, while maintaining form
- Technique: what techniques mean for attack and defense and their application to movement
- Rhythm: how fast or slow the movements and techniques are performed, and the pauses between techniques
- Breathing: how breath is connected to each technique, timing of inhalation and exhalation and how breath and body are synchronized into perfect rhythm
- Contraction-Expansion: when and what muscle groups need to be contracted to generate body expansion and contraction, and how breathing is used in contracting the body
- Saki-Tanden and hips: how to focus all movement from the center of your body, through to the limbs and coordinated with the mind. The hips and hara are the focal point of all expansion and contraction.
- Visualization: seeing opponents and understanding what you are performing and why, as this relates to combat, life, and death
- Ki: to focus your mind, body, breath, and spirit to generate ki, your mental energy which controls your body
- Mushin: to forget layers 1-9 (“the kata performs itself”)
The point of all this is to try to get to the tenth layer, but not because it will make you better than everyone else. No, on the road to reaching the tenth layer, you realize it doesn’t matter if you are better than others, only that you are better than you were.
The point is that even if we achieve [all layers] it’s in practicing the kata that the kata, and our true nature, reveals itself to us. Kata really is “meditation in motion”.
This is not a 6-week program. This is a lifetime program. So don’t expect to attain all these layers in a couple years. After 3 years of practice, I remember only thinking I was just starting to understand layer 2, with some minor insight into layers 3-8. I know people who have studied for 20+ years and are just getting an understanding of layer 6 and 7.