Thursday, May 18, 2017


In no particular order:

Facing Violence by Rory Miller
Meditations on Violence by Rory Miller
Drills by Rory Miller
Infighting by Rory Miller
Joint Locks by Rory Miller
No Nonsense Self Defense (website) by Marc MacYoung
The Way of Kata by Lawrence A Kane and Kris Wilder
Conceptual Physics by Paul G. Hewitt
The Bible of Karate (Bubishi) translated with commentary by Patrick McCarthy
Karate My Art by Motobu Choki with compilation and translation by Patrick and Yuriko McCarthy
The Zen Way to the Martial Arts by Taisen Deshimaru
The Essence of Okinawan Karate-Do by Shoshin Nagamine
Karate-do Kyohan by Gichin Funakoshi
An Introduction to General Systems Thinking by Gerald M. Weinberg

Principles from the Beginning

To understand how a single kata can form the basis of a complete personal martial art, we need to start at the most general level and work our way to the most specific aspects of practice. Before we can talk about the mechanics of kata movement and learning to apply it to varying and changing contexts we need to start at the most basic level; what is a martial art?

The martial arts are not physical objects. There is no concrete thing in reality called a martial art. They are expressed with the body, but they are not the body. The only difference between a martial artist and the layman is that the martial artist can use his body more effectively for violence. We all have a body, and we are all subject to the laws of physics. The body is capable of an astounding variety of movements and positions, but only a finite number of these movements and positions are advantageous for physical violence, so there needs to be a way to transmit and use this information. Martial arts are different ways for organizing and applying these movements. They are merely the ideas of how we achieve the core goal of martial arts.

The central goal of a martial art is to train a person in using their body efficiently and effectively for physical violence. There are many, many side benefits to the practice, but at the very heart, the martial arts is about using your body to cause physiological damage to another person. Historical fencing though a hobby and pastime to many is still about the study of violence in a historical context. It is no longer relevant to the modern day, but it still has its basis in the art of combat. It is the study of how we can break another human being.

How do we damage someone?

We damage someone by using our body to transmit force into our opponent's body. In the case of karate it is almost purely kinetic energy. The energy we create by accelerating our mass. Mass times acceleration equals force after all and the more mass or the more acceleration we have the more force we generate. Efficient use of force is required for all successful applications. This is all techniques: striking, locking, throwing, gouging, chokes and strangles all require force to be applied in some way shape or form. It is impossible to perform any of these techniques without using kinetic or chemical energy. Chemical energy being muscle power, which we produce by burning calories.

How do we apply this force efficiently and effectively?

We do this efficiently by taking advantage of our bone structure, mass and bio-mechanics instead of relying on strength. We then marry it to intent. Action and intent must spring forth at the same time. Think of any mundane task that you've mastered. We don't think about how to tie our shoes, we just tie our shoes. We've mastered the action and we've paired it with the intent, which is secure shoes. It's so hardwired that one might even have trouble explaining to someone else how to tie their shoes. We just do it. We take this type of efficiency and we utilize it effectively by targeting the vulnerabilities in our opponent's structure, mass and bio-mechanics. This means we take advantage of leverage, anatomically weak targets, and the limits of the human body.

The martial arts in a practical sense is training to make functional movement subconscious, so we can instantly recognize vulnerabilities and intuitively exploit them to destroy our opponent. The difference in the martial arts comes from the avenues in which this goal is approached.

Karate like all martial arts is about training towards these same goals but it does so through the practice and application of kata. Kata are the fixed forms that survived violence in Okinawa to be passed down through the years. These kata were subsequently collected by practitioners like Mabuni Kenwa, Gichin Funakoshi and others to make the core practice of what many recognize as karate today. They changed the practice of focusing on a very small number of kata, sometimes only one, to practicing a dozen or more kata. This is what is practiced in most commercial dojo. It is what people are most familiar with, and it is usually practiced in the same style as calligraphy. In calligraphy the emphasis is on the aesthetics of the writing and the very act of putting pen to paper, rather than the transmission of ideas, which is the purpose of written communication. Modern karate is practiced in a similar fashion. The focus is on the aesthetics of kata practice itself, making it a performance, rather than focusing on how the movements are used for doing damage. Because the focus shifted from practical application, to what could be called spiritual development and sport there is a debate over how kata can be best applied for physical violence.

There is a segment of karate practitioners who are looking for the practical applications of karate kata. They are looking for the “missing” pieces, which are more or less absent from most traditional karate practice. It is generally thought that kata movements in some way represent viable fighting techniques. There is no evidence of a verifiable list of interpretations or techniques, which can be definitively attributed to being the meaning of kata movements. Each kata movement has spurred the creation of any number of different techniques. Many based on the same fundamental movements. This has led to the overall principle that there is no one viable interpretation to any kata movement. This means that if I create an offensive technique, which matches the kata movement, it is just as valid as someone else who creates a defensive technique, which matches the same kata movement. There are sometimes hundreds of different interpretations to the same kata movement. This creates a paradox, a self contradictory state, because how can one movement be a hundred different things?  It seems hard to swallow that one could encode so many applications into a single movement. Unless the movement is in fact not a technique or a code.

If the same movement can be a strike, lock, block, throw or gouge, than what is the connecting factor between all of them? It is the movement itself. It is the force vectors, the skeletal structure, the transmission of kinetic energy, which is facilitated in the movement. The only difference between each interpretation is that the same kinetic energy, force vector and skeletal structure is used for different means. They all represent a context where this type of movement is best utilized. It has a particular plane and avenue, which it excels in transmitting kinetic energy. This is how techniques with seemingly counterintuitive or contradictory outcomes can come from the same movement. This means that a kata movement is not representative of technique. We cannot make a universal principle in regards to technique, which will be true for all interpretations. There are just too many. We can however make a universal principle when it applies to movement. A kata movement represents the means to produce kinetic energy, which is the energy used to facilitate technique.

Instead of techniques or drills, each kata represent a complementary set of functional movements used to produce kinetic energy in various general planes of engagement. They are one step removed from technique. If tactics are one step removed from strategy and technique is one step removed from tactics than kata movement is one step removed from technique. It is the motor, the template, which is used to power techniques based on the context of the situation. So instead of having technique, tactics, and strategy, we now have kata movement, technique, tactics and strategy.

So how do we get from movement to technique? How do we organize this into useful information, which we can use to reach the goal of martial arts?

There are generally two ways of organizing this information, there is a predictive technique-based model and there is a preparative principle-based model. These are also sometimes just called predictive and preparative models. Let's start with describing some of the aspects and challenges of a predictive technique-based model.

Whether or not the paradox of multiple interpretations of movement is recognized or not, many people organize the information gained by applying kata in much the same way as other martial arts are taught. They pair a specific action to a specific context, and create a drill around the exchange, which is practiced until memorized. Basically a person comes up with a technique based on kata movement, and designs a drill for that technique. Example: Kata movement A is used as a block counter combination to a high punch. Training partner high punches, and the movement is applied. This is a specific action to a specific context. A block counter to a high punch. Each subsequent technique discovered or invented requires a new drill to be mastered. Unlike other martial arts, such as Judo, there is no list of techniques, which poses a problem, because the list is neverending. Let's put this into a little bit of context.

For a single kata movement there can easily be 10 different technique variations or more. Strikes, locks, take downs, gouges and chokes, not to mention limb clearing, or moving and manipulating a body. These change based on your position and the position of your opponent, and don't cover all the possible actions of the opponent as well. With this many variations being possible for all kata movements this becomes just by sheer mathematics very tricky to practice.

To use my own kata as an example, there are 13 distinct movement patterns. If there are 10 technique variations for each movement pattern, and we want to practice all the different variations with a partner in a flow drill there would be hundreds of billions of different flow drill variations. For just a set of 13 techniques there are over 6 billion ways to put these 13 movements in order.   To put this in another context, it would take well over 100,000 years of continual practice to get through one repetition of each distinct flow drill. Even if I try and simplify the process by narrowing my practice down to how each of these different variations could be a simple attack and counterattack drill, we run into similar problems. Even with 10 variations of each movement taken two at a time there are tens of thousands of permutations. Imagine having to memorize this many flashcards. Each new technique discovered adds to this process and becomes more compounded when we find different and more creative ways to apply the kata. This is not a practical mode of study when it comes to kata. Some would argue that each kata is merely a memory-aide list of simple defensive techniques, so this is our list. The problem with this theory is that there are so many viable technique variations within each kata. Keep in mind that this amount of variation is just one kata. Many traditional dojo practice up to 20 different distinct kata. In effect an infinity of different techniques. It is rather difficult to get to muscle memory when the repetition count is infinity.

When you practice in this way you are essentially guessing what your opponent might do. Even if the drills are set up realistically, they cannot even begin to encompass the huge amount of variation, which can take place in a violent situation. Because it is so cumbersome to practice this many different techniques one must focus on those he finds most practical. This is a guess that what you have trained will match up exactly or close enough to the violence you encounter. Anything that takes place outside of this list will be completely foreign territory with no framework to fall back on. If you train standing up and get knocked to the floor, the ten thousand stand up counters you have memorized won't do you any good.

This mode of study takes a lifetime to become proficient, just from the sheer number of drills and techniques that need to be memorized.

What are the positives of this mode of training?

It is much easier on the instructors, because it is easier to test a list rather than principles and concepts. It is easier and somewhat safer to use drills for training. It is a more expedient way for the teacher to instruct students. The only thing that needs to be internalized is the stimulus response reward/ punishment setup of the drill. You practice the drill and succeed and the drill gets reinforced, or you fail and get punished, which reinforces that you did it wrong. Of course when you do a drill, you almost always succeed. It also provides a steady revenue stream for instructors, because it takes so very long for their students to become competent. Or is that a negative for the students?

To get it out of the way the idea that a kata can accurately predict what someone will do, is saying that a 100-year-old kata can predict the actions of a living, breathing and thinking human. It is not possible.

Unlike the previous model, the preparative principle-based model focuses on internalizing the abstract properties of each of the kata movements in a single kata, the planes and avenues in which they best generate force, and how this force can be used to exploit the weaknesses in our opponent. This is done by studying the connections between movement, technique, tactics and strategy. Techniques are only taught as concepts, and are the marriage between learning the functional properties of the movement, and learning to read the context of the situation rather than the individual action. The context is your position, your opponent's position and the environment. We read the context, recognize the vulnerabilities of our opponent and act to exploit those opportunities with an appropriate kata movement. The function of the kata movement plus the context gives us the technique. The technique however is just the end result of this internalized process. The technique is not drilled. Applying the function of kata to context to achieve a preferable result is drilled. Instead of being limited merely by the capacity of our memory, We internalize these concepts to bring forth a personal, adaptable, intuitive and creative martial art based around a single kata. For example, we recognize an opening for a strike, and we use a kata movement, which will generate energy in an appropriate direction to power this strike. We see the opening for a lock and we use an appropriate kata movement to power the lock. Instead of trying to run through a list of specific scenarios, we are merely acting on the opportunities that we see and the opportunities we create. See target destroy target. The aim is not how to use a specific technique, but how we can apply kata toward a goal.

The shortcomings of the preparative principle-based method are the strengths of the predictive model. It is harder to test. It takes more work on the instructor's side. Practice is a little more hazardous, but more fun. It takes more work up front for the student to internalize concepts and principles, instead of rote memorization, but it pays dividends and should only take a student a few years to become competent. This means a temporary income stream for the instructor, but is more beneficial to the student.

This is a very abstract idea, so let me compare two other similar systems that you will be familiar with; an alphabet and an iconography, which is pictograph in nature, a single symbol represents a single word or concept. They are both taught in a similar way as the predictive and preparative methods. An iconography is pure rote memorization. The more symbols you know the more words you know. It is efficient to teach and is concrete in nature. The downside is that it takes a long time to learn a large enough amount of symbols to be able to communicate in writing. Each new concept needs a new symbol, and if you don't know the meaning of a symbol you have no way to figure it out on your own, or even communicate it on your own. It is highly specific. These types of languages usually only spread among the wealthy, because so much time and energy had to be invested into mastering enough symbols.

The alphabet on the other hand is highly abstract. None of the individual letters actually mean anything. They are merely representative of sound. The sounds we make when we talk. The letters are combined to make words, which are combined to communicate the transmission of ideas. It is very general and highly adaptable. The English language at the time of this writing has about a million words, but the English language is completely and effectively communicated through 26 letters. Twenty six little squiggles. A word can be spelled phonetically with a fair amount of accuracy, and be understood by someone else. New words do not require new letters, because the same letters are used. Each new concept is just a different individual combination of letters. The letters along with the rules of applying the language, sentence structure, and syntax etc. are all you need. Unlike the iconography, an alphabet is compact enough and adaptable enough that it could be mastered relatively easily among the poor. Remember that even in the American South, slave taught themselves how to read.  

The same is true of a single kata practice. The kata is the alphabet sort of speak. We will apply rules to it, so that we can use it effectively and efficiently for physical violence. Kata movement like the sounds of the alphabet are mere representative of a plane of producing kinetic energy. It is energy. As we know the martial arts are about transmitting kinetic energy into another person, and studying kata is studying how to use that kata to break someone.

As we’ve concluded before a martial art is about training someone in efficiently and effectively transmitting kinetic energy into another person to cause physiological damage. A kata teaches us how to produce energy efficiently with our body, which is used to exploit the weaknesses of another person. This energy can be used to power an almost infinite number of varying techniques. The practice of a single kata is therefore a martial art, and since karate is the practice and application of kata, we are also practicing karate. Solo kata practice is therefore a way for a person to easily take up the practice of a martial art.

We now understand that a single kata can represent a complete martial art in the way that the English alphabet can represent the foundation of a complete language. It is essentially a primer for violent action. To understand how this is specifically accomplished we need to look at breaking down the mechanical aspects of a kata movement and how they are used functionally.

Layering Concepts

The practice of a single kata requires layering concepts. This means that once one level of meaning is internalized, we layer another level of meaning on top of it. The functional aspects of kata must be internalized, before we can understand how context affects function and vice versa. We need to understand function and context before we can understand application. Once we understand application we can move on to tactics and strategy. We go from the most general to the most specific. A kata however is the map and the key to karate practice. This means that a kata is like a puzzle. We put the pieces together and we can’t make out the picture until you put that one just in the right place and the entire scene becomes clear. All of these concepts are puzzle pieces and we need to be trying to put them together all of the time, until it finally clicks inside your head. This will happen through dedicated practice, but you need to know what you’re looking for, before you can find it. If you don’t know that you need to pay attention to certain aspect you will ignore them. These are the building blocks of a kata.

Building blocks

I’ve stated before that we will not be memorizing techniques. We will be learning how to apply movement. We do this in general terms by matching an appropriate movement to an appropriate context in order to maximize on our opponent’s weakness. The movement remains the same, but the context always changes. We can think of this as a little equation to break it down. Function plus context equals application. This isn’t a flow chart. This does not lead us to a list of techniques. It instantly creates a technique. The fact that it is something called a technique is really only an afterthought. It is better suited to the word application. So function plus context equals application.

What is function?

Function is the understanding of how the fundamentals of a movement work together in that plane of space. The complementary movements of a kata provide you with a way to apply kinetic energy in almost any direction. Each kata movement delivers energy in a particular plane of space. Up, down, left, right and back and forth. The sphere of our control, the main avenues from which we can be assaulted and in which we can assault.

What do I mean when I say kata movement?

They are the individual gross motor movements, which take place between a single step. One step equals one movement to put it very simply. Our limbs move between this step towards a predesignated fixed position. The most important part of the movement is the path that the limbs take on their way to the ending position, not the ending position itself. It is the space inbetween the staccato rhythm of a kata, which are important. All of the movement is used, not just the ending posture. In Motobu Choki’s book, Karate My Art, he talks about how the “postures” the movements are merely templates for action. It is not a static position, it is how the body moves.

To really understand a kata, you need to understand the fundamental aspects of each movement. These fundamentals are what make up the foundation on which everything else is built. If you have weak foundations everything else is going to be weak. It doesn’t matter how good your theory is or how strong you might be if you don’t have these imbedded into your very bones than you cannot apply kata efficiently or effectively. They need to be unconscious acts, which can be directed indiscriminately. The movement may remain the same, but the context is always changing.

What are the fundamentals of kata movement?

Kinetic energy
force vectors

These are the fundamental elements of a kata movement.

Kinetic Energy 1 is energy of motion. The kinetic energy is produced by the movement of our mass, our weight basically. The more of our mass we can deliver into a target the more energy we can produce. We accelerate our mass creating kinetic energy, which get’s used to do work. The work in this case is used to damage another person. In the case of karate we will let gravity be the force, which accelerates our mass. The steps we take in kata are the engines for these movements. They allow us to basically fall violently towards a certain direction. This direction is the force vector of the movement.

The force vector 1 is the accumulative direction in which you are delivering force. It is the general direction of movement. Each of your limbs is doing their own job. Covering, blocking, feeling, and delivering energy through skeletal structure. Everything however is still moving towards the same direction.

Structure is how we deliver this force. The postures and movements provide us with a template for violent action in a particular direction. The kinetic energy needs a stable platform, which will transmit as much energy into the other person without acting as a shock absorber, with the least amount of effort required. It is one of the most important aspects of movement, which you need to be paying attention to while practicing your kata. Structure and power generation are what a kata represents. We want to use as little muscle power as possible when applying kata. Our structure and moving our mass does the majority of the work. A simple example of how we use structure efficiently is merely standing. The bones in our legs are mostly aligned, so our mass is merely balanced on our skeleton. We’re exerting very little energy, compared to squatting where we use almost no skeletal structure, but raw muscle. The large bones of our arms and legs can withstand and deliver much more energy than the small bones in our hands and feet, and gravity acting on our mass can deliver a significant amount of near effortless power. Imagine dropping a bowling ball on your foot from waist height. It sounds really painful and maybe crippling. But your body weight is much much more than your average bowling ball and can deliver much more force. We don’t want this energy to bleed off because our structure is bad. If we don’t have the proper structure our own body will act as a shock absorber. Structure is therefore key to all of karate.

The energy, force vector and structure combined make a kata movement a utilitarian tool. The use of force and structure is indiscriminate. It is limited merely by one’s imagination. We will therefore mentally categorize each movement by force vector. It is the individual element of a movement because each uses kinetic energy and many share the same types of structure. The direction is unique. This narrows the possibilities down from as many as you can think up, to various cardinal directions. We don’t have to label them because we will mentally associate the direction with the movement. The same way we associate a letter with a sound. A movement with a direction. If we know where we need to direct energy we’ll have a movement waiting to pounce. Once these are sufficiently ingrained you’ll no longer be thinking in terms of direction, but just moving. The complementary aspects of each movement make it easy to move from one to another even outside the linear presentation of the kata. This gives us a set of movement, which we can apply in a huge variety of situations.

The Context

The other part of the equation is the context. It is your position, your opponent’s position and the environment. Your position has an impact on what you can do, your opponent’s position has a huge impact on what you can do and the environment has an impact on what you can do. (Rory Miller Facing Violence). Your current snapshot position gives you a limited set of functional options. The position of your opponent gives you a limited number of options, and the environment gives you another set of limiting actions. These are things that we need to learn to see automatically. We always want to be aware of our environment, we want to be able to move effectively from any position and understand how that can be done, and we need to know which movements will have the biggest impact on our opponent. Essentially what we are looking for is vulnerabilities. Open targets for strikes, the opponent’s balance, joints we can lock. Whatever we see or feel, we attack ruthlessly with an appropriate movement. The movement we use is completely dependent on the position of you and the opponent. We can’t know our opponent’s position, so we focus on our own and learn to observe for openings. We can know our own position, because the kata is our template. The complementary nature means we can flow from one movement to another moving freely and independently within the set. We study how we can move from one advantageous position to another through the kata. The limiting functional aspects mean we have a small set of contexts for ourselves to become familiar with and study.

They are the general contexts in which we will be engaged by an opponent. Front, back, left, right, up, down, inside and outside. These can be adapted to meet all the variations in between, but practically speaking these are the avenues we have to worry about and focus on.

There is also the general context of violence, which we must be aware of if not actively prepare for.

Physical violence is dangerous and unpredictable. The samurai saw a survival rate of about ⅓ in a one on one due. You live and he dies. You die and he lives, or you both die. This is risky business and should be avoided at all times. Because it is dangerous and unpredictable, if violence is unavoidable it needs to be ended as quickly as possible. A kata movement needs the ability to drop an opponent instantly, and needs to be performed in such a way that at least unbalanced the opponent. Marc MacYoung has the golden move. A move that advantages you, disadvantages them and ends the fight immediately.

The high risk involved means that you will need to rely on gross motor skill rather than small subtle movements. Fine motor control decays significantly during an adrenal response and gross motor skill needs to be ingrained on a subconscious level.

For the violence to end quickly you need to impact the opponenet as fast, hard and overwhelmingly as possible. The OODA loop is an example of how we process information. We observe, orient, decide and act. If our senses are overloaded we are stuck in merely observing and orienting we can freeze. This also means we can use this to disrupt someone else’s thinking processes.
This also means that a kata movement needs to be proactive. We cannot wait and hope that the opponent will do the one thing that we have the unstoppable counter for Every second that goes by might mean we’re taking damage.


This is putting function to context. We see an opening, we know how we can efficiently impact that opening, and we perform the movement as hard and as fast as possible. This boils down to see target, destroy target, but first we have to absorb the mental machinery, which is involved in this kind of process. We need an efficient and appropriate movement and we need the circumstances for that movement to succeed. This is how function and context come together to form application, but thankfully this is not how we learn to apply this. It is not a flow chart. It is understanding what is necessary for a technique to work. Instead of memorizing the technique, we memorize the principles necessary for the technique and use the kata to fulfill those necessities. You need energy for techniques, kata movements provide energy and the structure to transmit that energy, and if it’s used in the proper context it will be devastating.

It is important to understand a few attributes of kata application. Generally these movements are best applied at very short range. Chest to chest fighting. Because the range is so close, we rely on touch and being aware of our own position through proprioception. Outside of this range the kata movements have limited use.
The Goal of Application

The goal of application is the goal of the martial arts. It is to efficiently end the fight as quickly as possible no matter how that happens. This covers a complete range from walking/ running away to great bodily harm. It doesn’t matter how we get to that goal as long as we get there. In kata, the outcome is far more important than how you got there.

There are two types of application. There is a general and a specific application. The general is a default violent action. It is efficient flailing when you have no idea what to do. You use the kata movement as a grinder and you use the different directional aspects of that kata to navigate the grinder where it needs to go. The specific application is taking advantage of a observed opening. If there is an opening to strike, I’ll use a particular kata movement, it’s energy or part of its structure to power a focused technique. See neck exposed, send forearm into exposed neck with my weight behind it. It’s a little more tricky because a situation will be fluid, so openings will come and go, but you’ll fall back on your SOP until you create an opening or you are presented with one.

“Your arms and legs are like swords.” Funakoshi teacher Ankoh someone.

Imagine that your arms and legs are giant blades. Everything they touch will be cut. You could grind someone up piece by piece if this were the case. This is how we must think of kata in the general sense. Everything we touch along are arms and legs should take damage. A hard and fast kata movement can hit a person on multiple levels at once creating the potential for multiple points of damage. This is not thinking, planning or preparing. This is the base animal response with the structure and energy delivery of the kata. It is a devastating preplanned and pre-practiced flail. It is a flurry attack, which hits hard, fast, on multiple levels, which can cause sensory overload in another person. It is the absolute default position of kata application, which involves no thinking besides the most basic general directions.

The general barebones meta strategy of a kata is move, recognize, exploit. We move violently, we observe for openings as best we can, and we exploit them ruthlessly. If we don’t see any openings or don’t know what to do than we move violently. If a movement stops working we will abandon it just as ruthlessly and switch to another movement until another one works.

Move, Recognize, Exploit

How could this possibly work? Luck favors the prepared, violence of action trumps technique, and some other stuff.....

General Movement


Because the goal is to expeditiously dispatch another person, Martial arts is less about what we do, but how we do it. It is very easy to know that what we need to do is damage our opponent, it is entirely different knowing how to damage an opponent. We may know that we need to drive a car, but if we don't know how, knowing that we need to is not very helpful. In the same way we may know that we need to punch, but don't know how to punch. We know that we need to damage our opponent, but the how is what we need to know.

Burning Down the Dojo

The modern tradition of karate practice is that one goes to a dojo three times a week and practices kata. Every few months the karateka learns a new kata, and once they have reached a certain level of black belt they might learn the most advanced kata in their system. Along the way, they may engage in prearranged sparring, visit seminars, run scripted drills and possibly do a little bit of limited sparring. This is the mode of most legitimate traditional schools. The conventional wisdom is that one doesn't truly start to learn karate until they have learned the basics. This means reaching black belt, which if it is a “good” school will take a number of years to show that you have the ability and determination to study karate. Along the way one pays dojo fees, pays for seminars, pays for equipment, pays for weapons, sparring gear and testing. We are told that karate is a continuous life long practice, so this amounts to a monthly car payment extending out infinitely into the future.

The hope of many of the students is that once they work hard enough they will reach that coveted level where their instructor will finally start to reveal the secrets of karate to them. They will learn the secret techniques, the applications to all of the kata, they will become fighters, the master karateka of their dreams. The reason many people start practicing karate is to learn an unarmed fighting art. The sad fact is that there is no such thing as secret techniques, official applications to kata, karate will not make you a fighter and no sensei, teacher, coach or guru can make you into a master karateka. The reason is that karate is almost completely theoretical.

The only concrete aspect of a karate dojo is karate kata. Everything else is purely opinion. There are no secret documents outlining the applications of all the kata. There are no specific karate techniques and no one in the karate community can agree on any theory, which explains kata. The karate community exists in an uneasy truce involving the idea that all ideas are legitimate, while they all secretly know in their hearts that what they practice is the true karate. The only problem is that there is no true karate.

Everything we have ever learned about karate comes from word of mouth. They are merely stories shrouded in myth, bias and political agendas. Many of the karate pioneers, such as Gichin Funakoshi, Itosu Anko, Kenwa Mabuni and others openly admit to modifying karate in order to bring it into the modern era. They actively and purposefully changed karate into a cultural sporting recreational activity. This is what we currently know as the Three K approach to karate, which is kata, kihon, and kumite. Whatever karate was and whatever karate meant in the past is completely lost to the sands of time.

This is not a secret in the karate world. This is only a secret to the new practitioner of karate. The new student assumes that the instructor knows what he is doing and is not merely handing down what is the equivalent of the illiterate monk blindly copying down letters, which he does not understand. The conventional wisdom is that one does not truly start to learn karate until they reach black belt. This means that one wastes years studying empty kata until the student knows whether or not their teacher has anything of substance to pass on. This phrase may be used to talk about the depth of karate, but to the layman it is a reason not to question their teachers until it is much too late. After years of following orders, bowing, and adhering to ritual a person has a psychological and financial investment in their instructors not being completely full of shit. They have literally spent thousands of dollars and built an ego out of practicing karate. If the dojo is wrong than they are a fool, so they will fight tooth and nail to protect their self image that they are not a fool, no matter what the evidence may suggest.

The few karate instructors who know how to effectively apply it as a fighting art, or even begin to apply it as a fighting art did so through their own study. They talked to experts in violence, did research, practiced and expanded their knowledge base to become better karateka. They did all of this to better understand an art, which they supposedly teach. How can you teach something if the lessons you pass on are from other martial arts? Why didn't you learn these lessons from karate itself? What exactly did you learn to become an instructor? These few people are a representation of the survivor bias. They are the few people who have managed to go through all of the empty karate hierarchy and come out on the other end and not be completely mentally compromised. The vast millions of people, who practice karate are no closer to understanding their karate than anyone else, because they assume that their teachers have the answers. Karate teachers have no answers that you cannot find on your own. In fact some of the most reputable karate teachers will withhold lessons, because they believe it is best if you learn them on your own. A Yogi Bera quote comes to mind “You have to be careful if you don't know where you're going, because you might not get there.” I wonder how many promising karateka have abandoned the art, because of lack of guidance or just lack of information.

Here's the question. If a good reputable karate teacher just lets you learn on your own, and no karate teacher can tell you the meaning of kata, and no one knows the true meaning of kata than why should anyone pay for karate lessons?

The vast majority of karate schools practice and teach kata during class time. A person comes to class does warm ups and basics and then practices the kata. They punch and kick air. They practice kata in the air. They might do strength and conditioning exercises through calisthenics or what amounts to lifting weights and they may practice scripted drills. What is the difference between punching and kicking air at home and punching and kicking air in the dojo? What is the difference between practicing kata at home and practicing kata in the dojo? Absolutely nothing. A karate teacher may correct posture and kata position, but if the student doesn't practice, concentrate and pay attention to this on their own than no amount of correction will do any good.

All the work, practice and study is still squarely the responsibility of the student. The instructors only real capacity in teaching is being a repository for the patterns of kata, which they dole out little by little once you've reached the required time markers or familiarity with other kata patterns. This at first blush would seem like a legitimate reason to stay at a karate school. This however is not the only way to practice karate. Historically for most of karate's history at least until before the reformation. A person only studied one kata at a time and was expected to study it for three to five years before moving on to another kata. A person might only know five kata at the most. Two or three was more common. It was expected that you would have a very deep understanding of a single kata, because a single kata is the basis for an entire fighting system. It is a primer for unarmed fighting, which are the essential body mechanics used to create efficient and brutal kinetic energy. A fancy way of saying breaking a person.

Kata were guarded secrets. A single kata was a treasure that was only taught to people who you trusted, and aspects may have been changed if you had to reveal it to those who you didn't trust. This was a single kata, where as in today's tradition one can learn up to 20 kata in a single system. One can learn ten kata in the first year of study and spend the rest of their time practicing kata in rank and file up and down the dojo floor until they get their black belt. Kata are no longer a guarded secret. They are open to everyone, but the classical style of a single kata practice has fallen out of favor, mostly because by the time you are interested enough in karate to learn that others practiced in a different way you are fully indoctrinated into the conventional paradigm of training. We might also ask ourselves that if it historically took three to five years to competently learn a single kata, not to master one, wouldn't that mean it is only possible to become only competent in karate after nearly 60 or more years of study? Even if it only took ten years to become competent, its a terrible system of teaching. It takes less time to become a medical doctor.

One might be asking themselves about the role of self defense. Self defense is an often espoused perk of learning karate. There is a difference however between self defense and martial arts. According to Rory Miller, an expert in the subject, self defense is more about teaching people not to be singled out as prey than teaching people how to fight. To use my own analogy, it is the same idea behind a bicycle lock. There is no bicycle lock, which is thief proof. Cyclists in big cities know this very well, so the strategy behind not getting your bike stolen is to make it harder to steal than the bike next to yours. Criminals will go for the easier prey. If your bike looks like more trouble to get than the bike next to it than they'll choose the bike next to it. Predatory violence is much the same. It's about being a harder target than the person next to you. This has more to do with being aware of your surroundings, body language, avoiding venues where people get their mind altered and not being an idiot. Fighting has very little to do with it. Besides this there is a threshold where people are able to access their skills. Rory Miller puts this at close to 20 or more unarmed incidents. Considering that one is not supposed to engage in violent conflict if they are a good karateka than this is beyond the scope of the hobbyist, and unless you are a force professional you are a hobbyist.

This essentially means that to be a fighter and have the access to your skills you need to get into a bunch of stupid and dangerous situations. You need to have the luck and instinct to survive these encounters. You also need to have sufficient skills to access when you finally cross this threshold. This is a bad idea, and is the exact opposite of good self defense skills.

Karate is a martial art, or as some phrase it a civil defense art, because it was not meant for war. It is essentially studying the combative tradition of 19th century Okinawa and the Old Ryukyu kingdom.

A good karate instructor is practically an anomaly. Many who teach karate are unethical, immoral, ignorant and closed minded. They are happy to take your money and design their teaching to be over complicated and cloudy, so you have to keep coming back. They tailor training to meet the expectations of the consumer, the students, so that it resembles their ideas of combat. Ideas learned from television, movies and professional sporting matches. It has more to do with the aesthetics of a foreign culture than internalizing and studying a fighting art.

There is an alternative to the modern tradition of karate training. This is the individual study of a single kata. Kata are freely available. People film them on social media, they are handed out like candy in dojo and there are books filled with pages and pages of kata in local libraries. The study of a single kata requires no money, no dojo fees, no uniform, and no testing. It is built completely on your willingness to learn and study. One will have to put in the work themselves anyway if they go to a dojo, except they will pay for the privilege. A karate teacher cannot tell you anymore about kata than what you can learn on your own from a few books and constant and dedicated practice.

The only difference between the independent study of a single kata and dojo practice is a belt. The independent practitioner does not have one, but since belts are supposed to be unimportant, this does not matter. The practice of a single kata gives a person all the advantages of practicing traditional karate, but without monetary cost, or searching for a legitimate dojo.

Studying karate is a physically and mentally fulfilling study. Practicing a single kata makes karate a personal journey to the heart of a individualized understanding of karate. It is a democratic study, which is open freely to everyone, and it won't take you decades to become competent. Just a few years.

The Paradox

The nature of a single kata practice requires that it be structured differently for training. One would think that there wouldn't be that much difference between practicing one kata and practicing many. The very core of the practice is the study of kata, but by changing the number of kata studied at one time one drastically changes the type of training one can do. One cannot engage in the traditionally taught technique-based training method. This is where we practice the kata and after a sufficient amount of time we begin to extract specific techniques and technique variations from the kata to practice in scripted or semi-scripted drills. Unlike other martial arts, which contain a fixed list of techniques, karate kata do not have a verifiable list of techniques from which to draw. Some would argue that each kata is merely a memory-aide list of simple defensive techniques, so this is our list. The problem with this theory is that there are so many viable technique variations within each kata. I have never once seen two people with exactly the same application of a kata movement, unless they practiced at the same dojo. This becomes a paradox. The widely held and correct belief that “there is no one viable interpretation of each kata movement” is a contradiction for technique-based training. If a kata movement can be multiple techniques, it is not one technique. If it is one technique, it can't be multiple techniques. This logically means that a kata movement is not a technique at all. This can be shown in two ways: the practicality of trying to extrapolate technique and the practicality of practicing individual technique variations from kata.

Technique is not the smallest component of karate kata. It is the smallest part of the theoretical side, which includes technique, tactics and strategy, but it is not part of the nuts and bolts of kata. These are context driven considerations, which are dynamic and change from situation to situation. The humble punch for example is a single type of technique. It is a strike. Simple, yes? But, the straight, the hook and the upper cut each use different body mechanics to produce force. The straight uses gravity and a step, the hook is the rotational torque of the body, and the uppercut uses the upward driving force of the legs. One of these punches does not show the body mechanics of the other. They only share a striking surface. When you can use the straight, hook or uppercut are also different considerations, which change due to situation. It is hard to extrapolate technique, but it is easy to extrapolate body mechanics. The body mechanics of a straight, a hook and an uppercut can also be used to lever someone off their feet. This is also dependent on body position and context, but the same movements are used. If I put a foot behind someone's leg and push them over it, that's a straight. If I grab onto someone's chin and hair and twist that's rotational torque,a hook. If I drive upward at someone's shoulders and push them over a curb, I'm driving with my legs, an uppercut. None of these examples involve striking, but the body mechanics are the same. Mechanics can be applied to produce an infinity of technique.

The practicality of trying to pull out individual technique variations, or rather the impracticality of trying to practice each technique variation even of a single kata, is that there are so many different technique variations for each movement. For a single kata movement there can easily be 10 different technique variations or more. Strikes, locks, take downs, gouges and chokes, not to mention limb clearing, or moving and manipulating a body. These change based on position of yourself and the position of your opponent. This doesn't cover all the possible actions of the opponent as well. To use my own kata as an example, there are 13 distinct movement patterns. If there are 10 technique variations for each movement, and I want to practice all the different permutations in a flow drill or even in my head there are hundreds of billions of permutations. For a set of 13 there are over 6 billion ways to put these 13 movements in order. Even if I try and simplify the process by narrowing my practice down to how each of these different variations could be a simple attack and counter attack drill, I run into similar problems. Even with 10 variations of each movement taken two at a time there are tens of thousands of permutations. Imagine having to memorize this many flashcards. Keep in mind this is only one kata. Once we get into the billions of permutations it would take well over one hundred thousand years of continual practice to get through one repetition of each distinct flow drill. Each new technique discovered adds to this process. This is not a practical mode of study when it comes to kata. This problem also becomes more compounded when the more we practice. We find different and more creative ways to apply the kata, which mean more scenarios and continually adding to the list of techniques.

We can see that technique cannot be extrapolated and that memorizing techniques from an increasingly variable amount of applications is impractical. This means that kata is not technique. Kata has to be something smaller and more fundamental, which can be used to make an infinity of possibilities. This is something we see in nature all of the time. Protons, neutrons and electrons compose all of matter. Base pairs of DNA produce all life. We have followed this pattern artificially. Binary is the fundamental language of computers and it is merely 1's and 0's. Our alphabet is 26 letters, which is capable of spelling any phonetically spoken word. Kata is Japanese, but we don't use kanji we use our own alphabetic script. Every word that has been spoken and every word that will be spoken can be spelled in phonetic script. This is because the alphabet is a primer. It is the most fundamental component of our English language, which are phonemes used to create syllables. It is the foundation, which is built an ever more complex system of language. If we treated our alphabet like we treat many kata, as flow drills and scripted exercises to be memorized there would be over 403,291,461,126,605,635,584,000,000 permutations of these 26 letters. There are only a couple million English words in use today. We do not interpret the alphabet however, we apply it. It is a tool for the transmission of ideas from one person to another. Each individual letter is meaningless on it's own. It's the combined relationships between these letters and rules for application, which give a relatively small set of fixed sounds and squiggles their versatility and adaptability. Kata is the same.

Kata is a primer for an individual martial art. They are the fundamental body mechanics and movements, which take advantage of physics, anatomy and physiology, to have the greatest effect on an opponent possible with the smallest amount of effort. Instead of transmitting ideas, we are transmitting kinetic energy to do damage. It is not a list of techniques, but effective and efficient movement, which can be extrapolated and applied to produce a near infinity of techniques. It is a system and a system is greater than the sum total of its parts, because it's the connections between the parts, which are important, not the individual parts themselves.

The Nature of Kata

Our English alphabet gives a very convenient parallel to using kata as a primer. It is highly abstract and requires cognition (thought), but once it is learned is fast, frugal, efficient and highly versatile. It works by ingraining a series of cognitive processes to the point that they are instantaneous and effortless. If you are reading this now, you are using a host of mental machinery that is operating below the conscious level which is not directly observable. Letters are associated with one another based on sound, meaning and syntax to produce syllables, syllables are combined to produce words, words are interpreted based on their context and placement in a sentence and sentences transmit larger ideas and concepts. This is done below the conscious mental level after some practice, but it is all built on the bedrock foundation of 26 letters. The letters do not change only the context changes. We do not memorize all the words and then pull from a mental list, we employ a rule, which we use to make associations. A single kata practice is built on this same type of mental process.

Physics, anatomy and physiology lead to body mechanics, body mechanics lead to movement, movement leads to function, function leads to application, application leads to technique, technique leads to tactics and tactics leads to strategy. Each level effects all the rest and misunderstanding one level leads to a misunderstanding of all the levels that come afterwards. None of the levels are exclusive to one another because they all work together and effect each other. The type of situation will effect your strategy. Strategy effects tactics, tactics effects techniques and techniques effect movement. This is the same as how expanding your vocabulary and language skills changes the way you write and communicate. The most base element of this entire process is your kata. The fundamental movements, which need to be ingrained first and hard to allow us to build a strong starting structure, which can support the rest of the process.

This means we will not be memorizing a list of techniques and specific scenarios for their use. As shown above there are too many different ways to apply a movement as a specific technique to memorize them all. The only things we will be memorizing and internalizing are the body mechanics of our kata, their functions and the rules for applying these functions. This is a principle based training method. It also means that what is important is not the individual isolated movements, techniques, tactics or strategies, but the connections between them. Understanding the connections between these is what's important. If we understand that a letter is a letter, but don't understand how it becomes a word than knowing the letters means little. It's the connections between shape, structure, function and the abstract meanings they represent, which are important. This means internalizing and studying the connection between these different principles.

Individual and Creative Nature

The abstract nature of a single kata practice puts the focus on the mental processes as well as the physical. They go hand and hand. The physical without the mental is dance and the mental without the physical is just thought. We want both of them combined. Regardless of the physical skill learned there is always some cognition in the beginning. Aspects, which must be mentally attended to in the beginning, which are no longer attended to past their internalization. Repetition and scripted drills can work for things that have a one to one ratio of meaning, but kata movements do not have a one to one ratio of application. The meaning changes with the context of the situation.

I am not you, you are not me. Body type, size, temperament and personality can have as much impact on the application of a kata as an opponent. The meaning of each movement is individual because of these factors. They are individual to you and only to you. This requires more mental work than is usually expected of in other martial paths. It requires not only that we build our bodies, but that we build our minds. We must think and be creative to unlock the secrets of kata for ourselves, because they will be different for each and every person. This makes kata a wonderful tool if you're up for the challenge. It is something that will be internally personalized beyond traditional style markers. We may practice the same kata, but my kata is mine and yours is yours. They will be different, because we are different.

The Goals of Study

The goal of this style of practice like other styles of martial arts practice is to make intent and action spring forth intuitively, instantly and effortlessly. We want to ingrain a set of martial movements, rules for application, techniques, tactics and strategies, which we can use in an emergency. We will do this by slowly and diligently attending to each aspect of the training process until all the required skills become second nature. A skilled fighter will know their own position, available weapons and techniques that can be performed from that position, the position of the opponent, open targets, the environment, appropriate tactics and strategies for the individual type of situation and survival goals. They will be acting on, adapting and responding to the opponent in a continuous and dynamic fashion, and almost all of this will be done below the conscious level in less than a second. It is a none observable process built on applying principles, knowledge, experience and conditioned responses. On the inside this entire process is taking place, but on the outside it merely looks like someone kicked the legs out from under a person and knelt on their neck. It will look like a predicted outcome, when the situation was actually instantly read like a book and acted on.

Mental Tools for Study

The physical and cognitive tools for violence require cognitive tools for study. Most of what is contained in this book are thought experiments and guided thinking problems and ideas for creative practice. We want to flex our problem solving muscles as much as our physical muscles. It is easy however to get trapped by certain modes of thinking. I will cover these again as they are relevant in each subsequent section, but I want to go over them now, so you can be thinking about them.

Ideas as Possessions

We should not think of ideas as possessions. The point of practicing a single kata in the manner that follows is so that we can change our minds if needed. We will grow, adapt and change over time, but this cannot happen if we get locked into certain ideas when it comes to practice. Our only concern should be improvement and getting better, and this involves acknowledging when we've made a mistake or a wrong turn. Does this mean don't think or have ideas? Not at all. The whole point of this mode of practice is training our brains as much as our bodies. It is important to have as many ideas and theories as possible, but it also means not getting attached to them. We want to put all of these ideas to the test, and this requires sacrificing our ego. We need to allow ourselves the room and opportunity to grow and this means allowing ourselves to be wrong. A single kata practice is not about your ego. It's not about your ideas. It's about getting better. Getting better means growth and growth can't be done in the dark.

The Confirmation Bias

The confirmation bias is our tendency to test and interpret things in such a way to prove our preconceived ideas about a subject. This means that we ignore proofs or signs that point in the opposite direction. This is an easy trap to fall into as a martial artist because we are mostly concerned with what “works.” We want to prove that our thoughts on application are correct, or prove that our chosen martial art is effective, so we look for all the instances where our ideas are shown to be correct, while ignoring any evidence, which might prove it to be false.

This is an easy trap to fall into when one starts to apply their kata movements. We look for applications that work and we find them, but we find too many applications that work. This is like having a math problem where you find five answers when you were supposed to find one. These confirmatory results soon become noise.

Negative Results

In scientific research, one designs an experiment in such a way that it will prove the hypothesis wrong. This is the same type of thinking that we need to adopt when examining and studying each aspect of our kata, from movement to strategy. There are no definite right and wrong answers when it comes to kata, there are only what works and what doesn't work. There are so many ways that a kata movement can be applied that it does us more good to discover how a movement consistently doesn't work. This usually has to do with the function of body mechanics and force vectors rather than specific contextual scenarios. An example is that certain movements will work if they follow a certain force vector, but will fall apart along any other force vector. For ease of the example imagine a compass. North, south, east and west. A particular kata movement may work wonderfully for all applications in the northern direction, but will fall apart in any other direction. This is an important result, because knowing how not to use a movement is a shorter list than all the ways a movement can work. Another example would be if we were testing the penetrating power of a bullet. If we only test a bullet's performance by shooting through different types of tissue paper than it will appear that the bullet can go through anything. Conversely if we only shoot at thick plates of tempered steel than it might not penetrate at all and we'd have learned just as little. We want to find the very edge of its capabilities, so we should fire through an ever increasing range of materials from tissue paper to steel to find that edge. Kata movements are the same. A movement may have a million different successful applications in one avenue, but fail in all others. The function of the movement will be that avenue, not the millions of applications. Search for the negative results. There is a strength and weakness to everything in kata. Find the edges.

Attention to Detail

This is a critical skill, but the details you will attend to across your lifetime of practice will change. This is a continual mental examination of everything you are doing during practice. At the beginning this is body mechanics, how you are moving. At the end you will be examining strategy and everything else will be automatic. This is a continual process without any set destination.

Delayed Gratification

This type of training requires an ability to delay gratification. You will “not get it” until you “get it.” It's a yes or no question until you reach the higher concepts of technique, tactics, and strategy. This is very, very similar to the process in which you learned to read and write. You can either read or you can't. You can sometimes get by with guessing, where you have the outer appearance of reading, but looking at squiggles and guessing correctly that it represents a word is very different from looking at a group of letters and reading them. Even someone who technically can read, who can't put it into practice in the different contexts in which we encounter them on a day to day basis is considered illiterate. Reading is not merely recognizing a list of words. It is receiving a transmission of ideas. A single kata practice involves applying principles in a dynamic situation. It is not regurgitating memorized scenarios.

Direct Action

This is an important concept for a single kata practice and for life. It is the idea or strategy of only looking for how we can directly effect a situation or environment. In the case of karate, we will develop our skills in such a way that they do not require a specific response from the opponent. What they want shouldn't factor into the equation, they're the bad guy. They don't get what they want. They definitely don't get a “turn.”

Environment for Creative Play

Repetitive drills are boring. Drilling for the sake of drilling is not only a waste of time, but it puts practice in the wrong context. Training should be fun. All aspects of training should be fun. There is a certain amount of training that needs to be done to internalize the pattern of a kata, to free up the mental working space to move on to other aspects of the kata, but this is a very small part of your lifetime of study. You should strive to create a training environment for yourself that encourages experimentation, creativity and play. This is an internal process as much as an external one and we are not playing a matching game. This is not a memory game, paint by numbers or Rock Paper Scissors. This is art, and your art, so there needs to be a fair degree of freedom involved in the practice. Your kata should fundamentally stay the same, but how you choose to practice and the ways in which you study it can vary greatly. The kata is only worth as much as your understanding of its application, so anything that has the potential to increase this understanding and doesn't damage you or others is beneficial. Even if you just learn that certain exercises or training routines are wastes of time. Part of this involves “increasing exposure to opportunity.” The individual nature of karate kata means that I can't hand you a list to check off and by the end you will understand your kata. It doesn't work that way. Every aspect of our entire lives has changed our judgment and perceptions. What's clear to me may not be clear to you, so it's important that you experiment, play and study as much as possible to form your own ideas. You never know what will make things click in your head. Carpentry, personal finance and a love of letters has probably done more to influence my understanding of my own kata than anything else. Don't limit yourself.

Philosophy of Training

Practicing a single kata is not like practicing at a conventional dojo. In the traditional dojo, one is not expected to start examining the nature of their karate until after decades of dedicated study. This process starts immediately after memorizing the pattern with a single kata practice. There is no destination with a single kata practice. There is only the process of study. No belts, no ranks, no hierarchy, no ultimate techniques, no seminars. It is almost a purely internal journey with none of the external markers, which we associate with a successful martial arts practice. Your kata will look wonderful, but it will hide a dense network of conditioning, knowledge and applied principles, which cannot be seen. While this type of study is directed toward the practical application of skill, it will have more in common with zazen, or sitting meditation. It will be Zen in motion first, not because this is the goal, but because they share a common practice. Constant wholehearted attention to the present moment. There is no halfway in this type of karate practice. You are focused and training, or you are daydreaming and dancing. This doesn't mean that you are being serious, rigid and/ or strict. It only means that your brain is where it should be. It shouldn't be checking the clock, thinking about dinner, or wondering what new shows are on Netflix. This is not training. The process of study is the point and this process is never ending. It is a lifelong practice. This changes the tone of training. It is mushotoku, practice without the thought of gain or profit. If you are thinking about what you will get from practice, the perks, the techniques, the skill than you are not focused on your training. You are focused on illusions. The external and superficial aspects of training.

“You can eat whatever you want because you're healthy.”
“No, I'm healthy because I don't eat whatever I want.”

The same is true of our karate practice.

A Note on Kata

A single kata practice is the application of principles. It is building a tool out of our bodies and then studying the application of this tool. It is not a list, a scenario and it is not predictive. It is a preparative model of training meaning that we will not assume to predict what a living breathing and thinking person might do, so we will train ourselves to act accordingly to a situation by learning to read the situation and developing appropriate and adaptable tools. Kata cannot predict what a person will do. It makes a nice little story to demonstrate to people, but this is impossible. We are not automatons. Stating that a kata plans for the failure of your technique and responds to a specific counter attack of the opponent is putting forth the idea that a fixed set of movements can accurately and consistently predict what a thinking human being will do. It also means that a mindless pattern will be thinking for you. A kata does not have a brain. It's what you're there for, your brain. It's your most powerful weapon. Use it.

Kata is very much like a stone, which we cut and polish, until it becomes a beautiful jewel. The jewel however is only the outward and superficial representation of the skill, which produced it. What is important is the skill we learn along the way, not the rock.

Beginning and End

There is a dichotomy in the practice of a single kata in that it can represent both the beginning and the end of training, the purpose and the goal. Karate is for physical violence, a set of brutally efficient body mechanics for defense of one's person. Building this skill is the purpose of training, but it does not mean it will be used in this fashion. The best case scenario is you'll never have to defend yourself in a serious conflict. What we are then left with is practice, and it is a continual practice without destination. The thought of mastery is an absurd notion. Not because we cannot master kata, but because doing so is a meaningless goal. It is like mastering how to breath. Will you stop breathing because you have mastered it? Kata is a continual process of study, practice and refinement of skill. It is the beginning and the end.

To paraphrase Taisen Deshimaru:

For how many years must one practice kata?
Until you die.

What is Movement?

Movement is not the wiggling of our toe, or the minute details of how you hold your fingers. Movements are the larger pattern sequences of the kata, which are either divided into repetitive sets, or divided into longer chained sequences. For example, Naihanchi is a chained sequence. Movements are demonstrated in reference to how they relate to each other, but not themselves. My own kata Seisan has repetitive sets, which demonstrates how a movement relates to itself, but not the other movements. A movement is not the complete set, but the individual pattern of motion, which is repeated. From here on out, when I use the word movement, this is what I mean.


The movements in kata are our foundation. They will comprise the very basis for everything that will come after. The kata is our primer for physical conflict. Each movement is not a technique, it is a means to apply a technique. They represent how to efficiently produce kinetic energy using body mechanics. It is an expression of human capability. This gives us a greater tool than just specific technique. It gives us the fundamental basics for fighting without the need for memorizing specific scenario based techniques, variations, or specific responses of the opponent. It allows a way to make fighting as quick, intuitive and instinctual as speaking or writing. Remember writing is an effective and efficient means for delivering ideas and it all comes from 26 letters. Because of this we need a very firm and intimate knowledge of our kata. How familiar we are with it will effect our ability to apply kata, learn new techniques, internalize principles, and all other aspects of our practice.

Learn to Move

In a very simple sense, we are merely learning how to move when we practice kata. In the beginning, we conform ourselves to the kata. The kata is this thing. Awkward shapes and steps. Strange seemingly convoluted limb movements and confusion. It feels as if we are shaping the kata, perfecting the kata, but we are not, we are shaping ourselves. We tell our body and brain this is important by giving our full attention to the process. Our muscles and tendons adapt to the movement and our brain encodes the pattern. We practice the kata to ingrain the kata, but after a certain point we are no longer practicing a form, we are practicing something else. The kata is at first a script, then a model for action, and finally merely movement.

The first step in study is to become as familiar with your kata as possible. This means practicing outside the pattern of performance. Life does not happen according to a script. The kata is not a script. It is linear only because time moves forward. One movement must come after the other. Application will not follow this pattern. The pattern is only a means for transmission. Only practicing the pattern of kata will mean you only know the kata as a fixed list. You must move beyond this to build the required fundamental skills.

Recognition and speed of transition between movements are the key skills that need to be developed to successfully apply the movements. This is not speed of limb, but speed of cognition. Knowing the position of your body and what weapons you can immediately use from that position is the goal. This means knowing each movement and how to transition between any of the movements, fast, efficiently and without mental effort. It also means becoming continually aware of your entire body. It's very easy to recognize how adjacent sections relate to one another, but it's much harder to perceive how one movement at the beginning of the kata can relate to a movement at the end of a kata. The brief span of time between the two movements acts as a barrier to studying their relationship. Too much happens in between for our mind to make the connection. Studying the kata in this manner makes us aware of how different movements can work together or in conjunction with each other to the benefit of the whole. Intimate knowledge of each movement will also be crucial in recognizing possible applications later on in our study.

This means practice. Weapon arts teach a person to become familiar with their tools. The weapon must be a part of themselves. In the unarmed fighting arts, our body is our weapon, built from kata. We move every day. We use our body casually for the mundane and the stressful alike, and we have learned not to attend to it. We must relearn how to attend to it. Learning to become familiar with our kata means learning to become familiar with ourselves.


What follows is a guideline for your kata practice. We have spoken about why it is important, but this is how you go about practicing to get results. It is not fixed or concrete, and one is allowed to be creative and add any exercise or practice that they feel is beneficial.

Kata is Yes or No

The meaning of a movement is abstract. It does not exist in physical form. It is an idea. A principle for application. The movements on the other hand are concrete. They are not conceptual, and they are either known or they are not. The ability to apply the movements in the kata rests firmly on the ability to execute any kata movement in any order at will without conscious thought. The body mechanics must be the most fiercely absorbed aspect of your karate. This is something you can do, or you cannot do. Kind of, sort of, when no one is looking, know the kata is not acceptable. It is about as useful as kind of, sort of, when no one is looking, knowing the alphabet. It is the same principle. If you do not know the movements down to your bones than the rest of the process will be a confusing guessing game, which you will not win. Luckily, the practice of one kata gives us a limited number of highly versatile and functional actions, which we can concentrate on.

The Pattern

Learning the initial pattern sequence of the kata is one of the only things you will do by rote memorization. The rest of this book promotes active, associative and meaningful learning. One cannot study a kata if they don't at least know the pattern of a kata. It will be boring. This cannot really be avoided. There's not much fun in trying to memorize convoluted and confusing limb movements, which are coordinated with parts of the body you didn't realize could move together. One must be diligent and practice. Once you have become comfortable with the pattern and can perform it on command, without pausing to think about what will come next, the real practice begins.

Slow is Smooth, Smooth is Fast

During the initial practice and beyond, it is important to go slow. As slow as you can without tensing or losing your balance. You must stay relaxed and move slowly coordinating action with breath. Breath normally and move to the rhythm of your respirations. You will speed up in time as you become more comfortable with your karate and speed can have pitfalls. Speed makes you sloppy, makes it hard to pay attention and gives a false sense of strength. We want to move correctly and moving correctly means moving deliberately. Become aware of how your feet, knees, hips, torso, shoulders, arms and hands work together and work in concert to facilitate a movement. Focus on each tiny aspect of a movement at a time and strive for slow steady perfection. The more work we spend on this portion the better we will know our kata, the better we will know ourselves. Like any learned skill, we will eventually not need to think about the moves, we will just move.


The goal at this level is to become as comfortable and acquainted with all the movements in all their configurations as possible. The pattern by itself is mostly worthless. This is not exercise where one can mindlessly churn out push ups and see results. It is having confidence in your body and attention to detail. Any type of practice that isn't destructive to yourself or others that helps you toward this goal is good practice. Be creative. Practice needs to be fun. If it isn't fun, you won't do it. Every master of anything has been a master because they enjoyed the activity. It was fun.

Practice the kata in as many places as you can. In your kitchen, in your bathroom, in your hallway, outside, on hills, on uneven terrain, in the dark. This will change your stances, but the function of stances is not always in their exact depth or width. There is room for adaptability.

Practice your kata stationary. Shifting your weight back and forth changing your orientation with each movement can allow you to do this. Practice it in zigzags, or while negotiating furniture.

It is important that we know each movement outside of the pattern of the kata. Time must be taken during each practice session to spend a little time honing each movement. When we practice a kata in its entirety we only spend a few moments performing each movement and then we are onto the next and our attention shifts. This is not enough time to really know a movement. We keep our attention to detail, and our slow, smooth, steady movement, but the repetition will allow us to disassociate from the process a little bit if we concentrate. This will allow us to focus on the larger mechanics of the movement as we become comfortable with the finer details. The larger mechanics are more important. Where our weight is going, where our center of gravity is during any moment, how to shift slightly as we move over uneven ground or terrain and how our body works together.


Learning to shift between each movement at will is something else we must practice. It can help to pick two or three movements to link, which are not adjacent to each other in the pattern. It may not follow the same lines of performance as the kata, but we will need to learn to move with the winds of change and adapt. We will move how we need to move, so we must learn how each movement can feed into the another. Practice moving between two movements. Keep the same pace. Go slow, stay smooth, pay attention. Do not reset, prepare or get ready. You must know how to move immediately and efficiently from one movement to the other. Practice how you can achieve this.


You may notice that basics or kihon is not included. This is because with the practice of a single kata they are not needed. There can be benefit in practicing the individual stances in a static fashion to increase your comfort with them, but this is of limited value. Application involves movement, continually shifting from one position of strength to another and this doesn't involve taking a stance and sitting in it for an extended period of time. Your stances will get better as you practice the kata.


Studying the kata is really about playing with the kata. One needs to experiment with it creatively and discover.

Spontaneous Movement

Fighting is about making decisions. Some of these should be below the conscious level and others should not. How you need to move should be below the conscious level. Knowing how to do this still takes active thought in the beginning, but it needs to be quick and get quicker with time. Pick a movement to work on and then transition to another when it seems appropriate then switch back to the first then switch to another, and keep moving. Change direction, change orientation and move freely through each part of the kata at random and repeat portions at random. Transition to the first movement that pops into your head. Move as quickly as feels natural, but don't get sloppy. Your actions must be deliberate if not precise. Music can help. This seems to be taboo in the traditional karate world, and it can be distracting, but it can also be distracting just enough to keep you from thinking about what's for dinner, work, or what's on television and keep you focused on practice.

Imaginary Fighting

We've not gone over any type of application, technique, tactics or strategy, but you should take a little bit of time out during each practice session to fight an imaginary opponent. You are close enough to hug, chest to chest. You can smell what they had for lunch and you need to take them out. Move like a whirlwind. Your arms, legs, feet and hands are swords, lasers, hammers, destroying anything they touch. Don't worry about precision, don't worry about perfection, don't worry about strict adherence to the movements. Move, fight, play. What you do and how you think of fighting, application and technique will probably be wrong, very wrong, but this is okay. This is to work the cognitive part of your brain that will apply the kata. Similar to inventive spelling in elementary school. Sure, the words are spelled wrong, but that's not the point. The point is to start drawing your attention to the movements and what they might be able to do. Put yourself in bad situations where you are losing. Fight your way out, escape. Have fun.

Note on safety

Practice should have a positive influence on your life. Too many times have I seen or heard someone brag of their intense and harsh training only to see another person lament the destruction of their body through same said training. Practice should never be detrimental to your health. There's not much point trying to learn a martial art if you're going to destroy your body on your own. Keep in mind that many training practices of the traditional martial arts were created when we did not have as much intimate and detailed knowledge of human anatomy and physiology. Shortened life expectancy may have also hidden any crippling effects of harsh training. People may just not have lived long enough to see the harmful consequences. Train diligently, but be safe, smart and cautious.


Kata practice becomes a zen exercise before it becomes a vehicle for fighting skill. It is a side effect of training. Kata is meant to ingrain in you and then preserve the fundamental mechanics of a fighting art. If it were strictly for Zen, we could as easily practice zazen, or seated meditation and save ourselves the sweating. It however has the same flavor as zazen, because it is a simple repetitive act, which requires our full and undivided attention. This starts when we learn the pattern and continues on through practice. Seated meditation is merely giving your full attention to your breathing and your posture. With kata, we must give our full attention to it in the same way from the first practice to the last practice. Posture, movement, breathing, flow and balance. The kata is the moon eternal casting its reflection on the water of a river. We, in the present practicing, are the reflection on the water. The water, time, slipping by moment by moment. Different water, different time, different understanding, but the kata remains the same.


Ease of recognition and transition between movements is the goal of early training. We must recognize a movement by feel as well as sight, and we must know how to move freely between all parts of the kata. This is our foundation, but all parts of the process are important. They are not exclusive from one another. They must be studied independently and together, because each level effects all the other levels.

Concrete and Abstract

This is the first abstract and the last completely concrete level of practice. The other levels are completely dynamic and based on the context of the situation. This level has a definite concrete aspect to it because it is about examining the strengths and weaknesses of our movements, but it is a very abstract idea because it is not how we are used to thinking of kata movements. We are used to thinking of them as being responses and actions to deal with specific attacks. In a single kata as stated before, we cannot conform or reasonably use this type of limited thinking. A kata movement is a tool from the start to the very end. A fluid weapon made from our body. Just as arbitrary letters embody a sound, a kata movement embodies a principle of movement, which is only defined by what it can and can't do, not what it is supposed to do. We must divorce ourselves from the thinking that any movement is more or less than what it is. It is movement. There are no attached definitions to it. There is only the skill of application, which is divorced from function. Each movement is meant to achieve an end, that end is the application of kinetic energy. Your position, the other person's position and the environment will dictate how you use a movement more than anything you memorize. The application is continually dynamic and changing from moment to moment. The actual movement or the principle of the movement does not change. A simple example: punching someone in the stomach, and punching someone in the kidney from behind. The movement is exactly the same. It is only the context, which is different. Knowing that you can punch someone and where is a better tool than memorizing a scenario of when to punch someone. It is applied movement, not memorized script. We must think of each isolated kata movement as a tool, a part of a greater weapon for hand to hand fighting.

There are no fixed applications in a single kata practice. One uses their creativity, their brain and their study to apply the kata. It is merely a tool we make with our bodies. Art is made with simple brushes and paints. Beautiful furniture made by simple hammers, saws and skill. It is the hand that wields them that makes the difference not the tools themselves. Function is the tool use of each movement and every good craftsman and artist knows their tools as well as they know their own art. Practicing and studying the function is building, shaping and sharpening those tools and getting to know them intimately, so one may apply them with merely the will of spirit.

Function is the heart of kata. It is what kata is all about. Teaching and training your body and your mind to be aware of itself and its functional capacity. Kata cannot teach you tactics, strategy or technique. These are things, which we learn from other sources. It's why I believe books like the Bubishi were cherished by many because it was a tactical and strategical manual for applying kata. Kata is just movement and movement does not have a brain. How we apply our kata will be different for everyone based on our size, temperament, our opponent and the environment. For lack of a better word, function is the next level of thinking in kata practice. It is the last concrete level, which is not contextual. Your body has fixed strengths and weaknesses. There are the vital points, which we all hear so much about, but there are strengths and weaknesses to every movement and every action inside the kata. The strength of one movement is the weakness of another and these overlap and compliment each other so they become strengths only. Function therefore is being aware of these strengths and weaknesses.

The body has a set amount of capacity. We have our mass and we have our skeletal structure and these two things are our two biggest weapons when it comes to functional movement. Our mass no matter how small we are is a reservoir for potential energy. It is weight we can put into motion to do damage. Imagine a bowling ball. In respect to a human body, it is very light, but dropping it on someone's foot would be very painful if not damaging. Our bodies are much heavier than a bowling ball. Force is created by the acceleration of mass. The smaller the mass the more you need to accelerate it to do the same amount of force as something larger. We can move our bodies much slower, because of our mass and achieve the same damage as dropping a bowling ball on someone. We use gravity and our body mechanics to increase the acceleration and deliver as much force into a person as possible. We use this force or kinetic energy to do work. This is moving a body, striking, locking, gouging, throwing and all the other applications of kinetic energy, which are used to power technique.

The efficiency of this energy is very much dependent on our structure, which is also a fixed amount. Our skeletal system is our structure. Like a suspension bridge, we must use our skeleton correctly to absorb, redirect or transmit as much energy as possible. Suspension bridges work through geometry and triangulation to focus the mass to its strongest points. Kata movement works along the same lines. Poor structure means weak energy transfer, which means weak technique.

This is something wholly apart from muscle or chemical energy. Muscles don't hurt, they can lend mass, which we can use, but relying on muscle means that anyone stronger than you will have the advantage. This means if you rely on muscle you are planning on only applying your karate to people who are weaker than yourself. Chances are if someone wants to attack you they are already stronger than you otherwise, they'd probably leave you alone.

Each movement in a kata has strong and weak points because our bodies only work in a few limited ways. The joints only bend certain ways. Bones align in certain ways to take or give force and we only have so much mass to our disposal. We need a variety of ways to use our mass and structure, which is why there are a variety, but fixed set of movements in each kata. In a simple kata, let's say that we have a forward function, a turning function, a left function and a right function. This means we have ways to generate force in these four avenues. These work as a set. The strength of one is the weakness of another. By knowing the strength and weakness of each function we know when we can or can't use it. It is like a set of hand tools. The hammer can't cut. The saw is used to cut, but it can't hammer. You need a saw and a hammer to build things. You need both and you must know the strengths and weaknesses of each to apply them effectively. The functional aspects of movement in kata are the same.

Force Vectors

The force vector is the direction, which a group of forces head. The nature of many kata movements means that their force is all generated in a similar way, but the way the limbs are used, the path they take and the shape they make cause different directions of force. The limbs transfer the energy. The force vector will the be the place where energy is applied the easiest and this can be anywhere in your sphere of influence. It's why it's important to experiment to find such avenues for each movement.

Natural Movement

The strengths in kata are natural. The movements seem awkward and unnatural at the beginning only because we have not practiced them, but the strengths of the movements are strengths that we encounter every day in our waking world. We have learned not to attend to them, or they are so natural to us that we just don't think about them. We have no real need to examine them, but they are there. When we were small we ran, jumped and climbed on playgrounds. We scrambled up these metal structures in ways that they were not designed by using the natural strong points of our anatomy and physiology. Whatever was the easiest way to get up the slide was how we got up the slide. We do the same thing as adults when we move furniture, walk or negotiate a parking lot full of puddles. We don't move, so that it's hard, we move in a way that's easy.

As adults we have somewhat trained ourselves to move badly through exercise. Many types of exercise especially for aesthetics teaches us how to stress our muscles effectively, but is poor movement. It is the poorest application of strength on purpose to stress our muscles. Look at how a power lifter lifts and a bodybuilder. The strength, which we want to apply with our kata is easy. It will feel easy almost as if we are cheating, because we are taught with exercise that if it feels easy we aren't doing the exercise properly or we need to go harder. This is not the type of strength we are trying to apply. We are making our structure and mass work for us, so we do not need to apply muscle, or very little of it. Proper function of a movement will feel easy.


Finding the function of each movement is about finding the edges. It is a sliding scale between optimal and worthless. There are sweet spots in any movement where there is some play or wiggle room in how strong or weak it is. This goes for stances, the path of your limbs and the position of your limbs. To find the edges you need to stress your movements and postures in some way. Put weights in your hands and feel where you can rest in your posture while holding them. Use elastic bands or a post or wall to test your structure. Use someone else and try and move each other around a room to test your movements, but use your movements, use your patterns.

Tying it together

It's very easy once you begin to start playing around with the functional bits of kata to forget about the kata itself to forget about the movements. One needs to experiment with the movements and try and use them. They might fail or they might succeed, but one needs to use them to find out how this happens. This means active examination and analysis just like the previous level. We are still staying mindful of the movement, but we are not being mindful of the performance, so much as we are being mindful of where we feel strong or compromised, where our center of balance lies.

Pattern and Function

One must have internalized the pattern and the shape of the kata to enough of a degree that they have freed up enough brain space to be able to examine how your body is moving. This is not the how to move your body to conform to the kata, but examining what you are doing. It is difficult if not impossible to both examine how to use a movement and focus on how to perform each movement.

Function vs. Application

Function is not application. This is the difference between how you use a tool and what the tool is itself. This is where the fundamental difference between a single kata and a mulitple kata practice happens. Knowing and internalizing the functional use of body mechanics allows you to apply that movement in any way you chose. The use of movement is only limited by your imagination. There is no right or wrong there is only what works and what doesn't work. There is no wrong way to use a kata movement if it is effective. There can be a million and one different applications for a single kata movement, but that movement doesn't change. It stays the same. The ability for the movement to become so many different applications and techniques resides with its structural strengths. These applications succeed as opposed to those that fail, because the strength of the movement resides in this avenue of application. I wish there were simpler terms to put this in, but there are so many different kata movements and kata that one cannot list them all in any reasonable manner. Let's use a straight punch for example. The strength of it lies in the alignment of the arm bones, horizontal to the body. Its weakness is perpendicular to this alignment. Try holding a weight by extending your arm straight out from you. The natural strength of the arm does not come into play. The only thing keeping the weight up are your back muscles. Now hold the weight straight above your head. The alignment of your arm, your skeleton bears the brunt of the downward force and you use very little muscle. Your skeleton does the work. All kata movements have this same basic set up. A strength and a weakness.

Function and application cannot be completely divorced from one another. Application is all of the defensive, offensive, techniques, multiple level attacks and ballistic grinders that the movements can be, but these are only possible because of the structural and shape aspects of each of the movements. The original meaning or purpose of the kata movements if there ever was one becomes inconsequential because if you understand how you produce kinetic energy and take advantage of your body mechanics in each movement than you can apply it at will in an ever expanding variation of techniques and tactics, but because they are all married to a single movement each repetition of the movement despite its application burns the movement deeper and creates a connection in your head to that application. A pathway for accessing the information. The more you use the movement despite the application the stronger the connections get until you don't even have to think about the function of the movement you just see an opportunity to use the movement, so you move. Application is the different ways to use the movement and there is a system to this as well, but this has nothing to do with the function aspects of the movement. Each movement is a tool and to really know and understand a tool you need to know how you can abuse it in at least three different ways. Knowing how to abuse a tool means testing it to the limits and finding the very borders of its usefulness.

Confirmation Bias and Negative Results

It's important to test your movements in as many ways as you possibly can and test to see how they fail. Only testing in one avenue can leave you susceptible to the confirmation bias. We are looking for the edges of the structural integrity of each movement and how you can apply your mass. The negative results will be more telling than the positive results, because they will be hard. They will be a bear to try and force and these are where a movement is weak. In application, we need to know both the weakness and the strength of a movement in order to know how we can use it effectively or when it isn't working.

Sweet Spots

The kata represents a best cased scenario representation of movement. The best case scenario is something that we will rarely get. Movements have a range of orientation, which they work best. Stances don't need to be perfect. Your toes don't have to be just so, and the positions of your arms can vary. These are sweet spots where a movement can still work, still do something even if your alignment isn't perfect. They are adjustable to the situation. Find the sweet spots in your movements.


Karate is close range and this type of karate is done by touch rather than sight. It is one of the reasons why one must pay attention to the feeling of each movement. Our brain functions have propreoception, the ability to sense the position of one's own body in a space. Tiny hairs in our ears sense momentum and direction and our skin is covered in millions of sense receptors specifically for touch and pressure. We use the largest sense organ we have to our disposal, which is linked directly to our brains and more accurate than sight to fight. One may not be able to see what they're doing. We must be able to rely on touch as well as sight.


Stress the Movements

There is right and wrong way to do this. The whole idea of learning the functionality of a movement is to find where the natural points of strength and weakness are and this means stressing the movements. The strong avenues of use and application are those that feel easy. The weak avenues are those that feel hard or make you strain. You will feel pressure and the weight, but you won't have to contract any muscles that aren't natural stabilizers. Stress the movements to find the edges. As long as it doesn't damage you it's a good way to test each movement. The makiwara or other impact training devices can be very good for this because if you feel yourself collapse into the strike or push than you know it isn't structurally sound. You should not flex on impact. Your skeleton bears the brunt of the force. Weights and elastic bands can help you feel structure. Move between different actions and movements breaking them down bit by bit and seeing how you can apply pressure and force continuously. This goes back to transitions.

Wall Training

This is part of testing structure and stressing the movements, but it's a more specific exercise. You are basically leaning against a wall with the contact points, which you would use to strike or move a person. This is your hands, feet, elbows, forearms, knees and anything that might touch a person in the kata. Remember a person will be close enough to hug. What parts of the kata and at what angles and avenues can you lean up against a wall without using an abundance of muscular strength? Bounce against the wall and see where you collapse and where you're rigid. Collapsing means it will act as a shock absorber and inhibit the transfer of kinetic energy into someone else. You should not have to tense, contract or use muscle to hold these positions. Find this in every little part of your kata. Find where each little part is strong and where its weak. Play with this.

Feel Your Weight

During kata practice, break down the kata by movement and examine the path your limbs take and the direction your weight is going. Feel your inertia and momentum as you go through each movement. As before it is easier to examine each movement if you practice them individually. As before also pracgtice transitioning between movements and engaging in free play movement where you move between each pattern spontaneously and creatively keeping in mind to feel where your weight, momentum and inertia are at any given time. How can you move continuously in ever changing directions without stopping, resetting or prepping?

Kata as Work

The purpose of kata movement is to do work. It is the efficient and effective application of energy. It does not have a preconceived criteria for this. It is just movement, because it is used for work one should try and use the kata for work. This doesn't have to be an entire movement, but parts of a movement. Trying moving groceries, furniture or anything with different parts of a movement and feel if it makes it easier or harder.


The movement of kata is part of our daily lives. The same strengths we use to move around during the day are the same we use in the kata, except in the kata they are put to use for doing damage. Pay attention to how you are moving throughout the day and try and find similarities between it and your kata. The same principles of walking, which is a controlled fall, are the same principles employed in generating power for many kata movements. Pay attention to all of your movement.

Push Hands

This is the first of the partner practice. It is a free play exercise where each person slowly and softly tries to move the other person against their wishes and the other does the same. It is a dynamic way to experiment with using the kata and structure. Each of you is trying to find the structural weak points of the other person by applying your structural strengths and adapting to the others actions. It is not competitive. The more energy you give the more it can fly back in your face if you over commit, so go slow and smooth.

The Mindless Drill

During partner practice pick a movement. Use this movement repetitively without thought of repetition when you are within hugging distance and see what happens. Your partner is free to attack or defend however they like, or they can pick a movement as well. The point of this drill is to see what the movement can do on its own. Many times just going through the movement softly, but firmly will move you to a certain position or orientation naturally. This will not only give you ideas for use, but will also help to show how different movements might be applied.


All the same exercises from the previous section are still important, but one should also add thinking about the function of each movement. Kata should be practiced according to the pattern, outside of the pattern and any way else you may think to practice the kata.

Questions to meditate on while practicing kata.

What am I actually doing?

What is the force vector of my movement?

What feels strong?

What feels weak?


As in the section before play is important. Play is where the learning really takes place. One must practice the kata enough to be able to play with it. As before practice fighting imaginary opponents, practice the kata in unconventional ways and use your creativity.


Function is the meaning behind the movement.