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The following is a checklist of sorts to guide the development of your kata ready for a tournament or your next grading.
The list has been broken down into four key areas. This not only makes it easy to digest but also isolates different aspects or elements of your kata to focus on.
The best way to use this checklist is to focus on one element for a few weeks before moving on to the next. Each element has several checkpoints, practice your kata several times focusing on and checking that specific point. Pause and take the time to think about how the checkpoint applies to each movement and sequence in your kata.
As you study these four elements you will see that they flow into and support each other:
Good technique leads on to hip movement and posture
Hip movement and posture develops power and purpose which in turn strengthens bunkai and realism
A strong understanding of bunkai and realism leads to a stronger, more dramatic and purposeful performance.
A strong performance develops balance and timing which assists the performance of good technique
And the cycle is complete.
Finishing position – check: stance; angles; dimensions; foot, knee and hip positions; height; body weight and posture. Technique: correct finishing position, i.e. fists seiken; elbows in; correct foot shape in kicks etc.
Preparation – position correct.
Transitioning and execution – techniques are moving in the correct order and sequence as you execute them, i.e. twisting wrists at the end, elbows not drifting out, techniques driving out in a straight line ETC
POSTURE – Ensure shoulders are directly above hips with the spine straight. Roll the hips forwards and underneath yourself by tensing the inner thigh and buttocks. This will engage the lower back and core muscles. Neko ashi dachi is the exception, do not roll your hips up in this stance. Be careful not to hunch.
Maintain height and posture as you transition from stance to stance. Generally, hips lead as you go forward and should lead as you move backward.
Hara – using the centre of gravity where applicable to ground techniques, stance and support techniques. Using shifting body weight to augment the power of techniques.
Hips twists to add acceleration and power. Two primary kinds of hip twist:
Hips finish square – typically with an emphasis on reverse hand technique – Prepare with hips on an angle in some cases sideways then snap to square for the finish.
Hips finish sideways or on an angle – Typically with emphasis on the lead hand technique EG shuto uke in kokutsu dachi or moving straight in shiko dachi. Prepare hips square then snap hips to angle or sideways for the finish.
Note: there isn’t always a hip twists, e.g. there is no hip twisting stepping forward in sanchin dachi or stepping back in Neko Ashi Dachi saifa instead use your hara to generate the strength and momentum in these moves.
The leg closest to the direction of travel pulls – use hands moving to preparation positions to provide momentum to pull hips into preparation position. Usually hold hip movement to the end of the technique to provide maximum snap for the finish of the technique, this final movement is driven by the leg furthest away from the direction of travel at the finish. In some cases, typically when hips are already in preparation position, use the hip movement fractionally first to kick off acceleration of technique.
Bunkai -While some techniques will be done differently in bunkai than how they are performed in the kata keep in mind what you are trying to achieve in kata. EG you are not just stepping back into sumo stance you are using your body weight and leg strength to pull a larger opponent off balance. Often thinking about bunkai in this light will change the way you perform the kata giving it more depth and maturity. Test the bunkai on partners as close to your traditional form as possible and see what you can do within the guidelines of the kata to make it more effective.
Bunkai will also dictate accuracy.
Realism – think probable effectiveness as you perform your kata – have the intent behind your technique and think if this was real would my technique have achieved it’s purpose and goal. Would my strikes and kicks devastate an opponent?
Contrast Timing – fast and slow – slow for detail or slow for strength. Relax, tense, relax for speed, light and fast.
Pausing and sequencing – Sequences to show fluidity, understanding and proficiency. Pauses to punctuate the Kata showing off stances and to demonstrate patience and composure.
Flow – Cut out unnecessary lingering on staging positions. Eliminate jerky finishes, and clunky moves
Focus – kime, intent, facial expression, Kiai, head turns
Breathing – Use your breathing to add power, strength, speed, or sharpness to a technique. Use your breathing to calm you down. Muscles need oxygen to work, so focus on the ‘in’ breath as well as the ‘out’ breath.
Mental game – This starts with the walk on which must become part of your kata. Take a deep breath, chin up, strong core, and in you go. All of the above will demonstrate poise and confidence but you will only feel truly confident if you have worked hard practising your kata so that you know it inside out and back to front. You should be able to visualise every move, every breath, every pause, every technique so that it ‘belongs’ to you.