Karate Kata training: Picking your Tripod!
Okay, so you passed your Shodan and you are looking forward to all the stuff you need to learn now…and trust me…Shodan is just the beginning. When I passed my Shodan my instructor sat with me at the camp and asked me what Kata I wanted to study now. I HAD NO IDEA! I knew most of the 26 and really liked a few of them, and not so much for some. But I really did not think about it.
Dingman Sensei sat with me and said you need to have three Kata you practice. By his estimation you should pick three and go over them for life. Not just any three Kata or three you liked but three specific Kata. He also told me it could take a long time to find them….and possibly a life time.
Sensei told me that you need to select your three Kata with specific things in mind. The first Kata you select should play to your strengths. If you are a light fast fighter then you need a Kata that is light and fast like Empi or Gankaku. You should seek out a Kata that will reinforce your strengths and train in it till it becomes natural. This Kata is the easiest to find and stick with. You will probably only suffer from having to many that you feel meet your ability and you will have to narrow it down. Take a year or so and go thru the Katas selecting one from the first 15 Katas that Funakoshi Sensei brought with him to form Shotokan.
Next up is a harder one, work on finding a Kata that represents some aspect of Training that you need help with. For instance, if you are a light and fast Karate person, then you will pick a hard and heavy Kata like Hangetsu or Jion….or if you are a big powerful karate student then you may pick Empi or Gankaku to work on being lighter and fasters. This Kata is a personal work Kata. It will help strengthen your weaknesses and build your body into a more flexible weapon, able to be light when you need to be and able to express power when required. Again, I recommend the first 15 Katas for this selection.
The last Kata that you select is your personal Kata, this is the one that you will do for testing’s, demonstrations and will work the most on. Go to all the 26 Kata and find one that interests you, that you feel a connection with and one that will show case your ability as well as help you to develop. It will be the road map for your advanced training. This Kata is one that you will need to study the most and one that you need to have the most time spent doing.
By way of demonstrating what Dingman Sensei told me and the journey of discovery that he sent me on. I took two years to find my first two Katas. I studied all 15 Kata and came up with two Kata that I liked and fit my needs. I was actually very lucky in that one of my Sempai suggested the first Kata for me. She told me that I should learn Kanku Dai and study it as it occurred to her that it would be a good match for me. She suggested it because it is very detailed and built for people of both smaller and larger sizes but with good hip rotation. I like Kanku dai because it does place a large amount of the focus on hip rotation and counter rotation.
My next Kata was the opposite of Kanku Dai, it was very basic and simple. Its movements were more based on simple movements and power generated in a fundamental way, not many hidden movements or fancy skills being demonstrated. I picked Jion because it was so very basic and did not require the technical concentration and details were very simple. Unlike the powerful vs speedy Katas I picked the cerebral vs the instinctual as my opposing theories in training my two work Kata.
Now Jion has its own difficult techniques so it is not like I stepped back to Heian Shodan, but the fact is comparing the two Kata it is obvious which of the two is more about pure brute strength and which is about technique and finesse.
For my last Kata I actually turned to my instructor and watched him. If felt that I needed a Kata that would represent the Karate that I was learning. He had been doing Empi and Nijushiho. I watched both and right away felt a draw to Nijushiho. I started to study it and found that it was perfect for me. It served the same purposes as Kanku dai with a lot of body work and rotations and use of the hip, but it also had some points that Dingman Sensei was always trying to impart to me when we trained.
Now, you have three Kata that you work…how do you balance them. Well I always say that you should do them 30/30/40 %. So you are still working your personal Kata the most but you need to work the other two to get a well rounded approach. For me that means working Kanku Dai at home the most with Jion and then Nijushiho at the club and home.
More important than selecting three Kata and making them fit into specific cubby holes, you need to work on making Kata your own. You need to focus on not just dancing thru the Kata but learning them as if you are in a fight and taking them apart, dissecting them and pushing yourself to know the kata from different angles with different applications.
Kata can be a treasure of knowelege and training but only if you approach them as challenges and pleasure at the same time and you take them seriously. Enjoy them and the lessons they have to teach!