Skip to content

Learning a Kata: Layers of a Kata

by on July 7, 2009
mu shin (無心)

mu shin (無心)

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:

  1. Form: the position of your body parts in each movement
  2. Movement: how your body moves from one position to another, while maintaining form
  3. Technique: what techniques mean for attack and defense and their application to movement
  4. Rhythm: how fast or slow the movements and techniques are performed, and the pauses between techniques
  5. Breathing: how breath is connected to each technique, timing of inhalation and exhalation and how breath and body are synchronized into perfect rhythm
  6. 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
  7. 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.
  8. Visualization: seeing opponents and understanding what you are performing and why, as this relates to combat, life, and death
  9. Ki: to focus your mind, body, breath, and spirit to generate ki, your mental energy which controls your body
  10. 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.


From → karate, kata, philosophy

  1. I enjoyed reading your articles about kata. In a previous post, you talk about different ways to practice kata. In our dojo, we practice many of the ways you describe.

    I like how you describe karate as a “lifetime program”.


  2. Thanks Michele. I’m glad to hear you practice these different variations of kata in your club. The key is not to over-do practice or these variations since they take away from the traditional kata. But the advantage with these is the alternative perspectives you get on kata.

    My favourite is to do the reflected order which gives me the chance to practice a technique on both the left and right side (such as the cresent kick in heian godan, which we don’t often get to do by striking our right foot). This is great for symmetry.

Trackbacks & Pingbacks

  1. Yoga for Karate « Karate Daily
  2. Intermediate Shotokan Karate Ranks « Karate Daily
  3. The True Kata Applications...Part 2 |

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: