51 Awesome Ways to Practice Kata

Do you like kumite?

You’re in luck, my friend!Seishin-1

A quick internet search will give you thousands of ways to practice and improve your sparring skills.

But…

What about kata?

What about the millions of Karate people all over the world, looking for advice on how to improve their kata, only to end up finding – nothing?

Dude.

I used to be one of those desperate people!

Until I decided to take matters into my own hands…

Today I’ve compiled 51 of my personal favorite crazy ways to practice kata into one super killer article for you, applicable to all styles of Karate.

(To learn about self-defense applications of kata, read The Bunkai Blueprint.)

Because kata is much more than what meets the eye!

Now, check this out:

  1. Do the kata mirrored. Research shows that doing something on the ‘opposite’ side improves the ‘regular’ side too, by greasing neurological pathways in your brain associated with the kata’s movement pattern (known as the contralateral training effect). So, flip it over!
  2. Do the kata backwards. Start with the last movement and end with the first movement. This is similar to doing the kata mirrored, but a little bit harder.
  3. Do the kata mirrored and backwards. This is the ultimate brain twister. The goal is to do it with full power and speed, of course. Good luck!
  4. Do the kata with your eyes closed (or blindfolded). Shutting off a sense (in this case, your visual sense) will significantly increase the awareness and focus of your other senses (i.e balance, proprioception, hearing).
  5. Do the fast movements slow. Your body and mind was designed to take the path of least resistance. That’s how humans work. Unfortunately, this often means that you’ll have automated habits of ‘cheating’ through hard parts of kata by using the momentum gained from fast techniques. This could fix that.
  6. Do the slow movements fast. Even the slower movements should have a correct line of power transmission and sequential timing of body movements – which is exactly what doing them fast will teach you.
  7. Do the fast movements slow and the slow movements fast. This is the combination of the above two exercises. The balance and contrast between hard and soft (“go” and “ju” in Japanese) is the key takeaway here. Oh, and did I mention that 3-times kata world champion Luca Valdesi does this exercise almost every time I see him prepare for finals?
  8. Do the kata just using your upper body. Because when you immobilize your lower body, you truly appreciate where power originates.
  9. Do the kata with just your lower body. Anyone can do this exercise. But few can do it well; using kime, speed and power. Pay special attention to your posterior chain.
  10. Do the kata in your head (visualize). Our brains are surprisingly bad at discerning whether something happens in real life or “just” in our imagination. Use this to your advantage to practice your kata on the bus, at the grocery store, in the shower, at work, in bed or wherever. Research shows that first-person perspective works better than third-person perspective though.
  11. Visualize and time the kata. Then do the kata physically. It should take the exact same time. That’s when your mind and body are in complete harmony.
  12. Do the kata in your everyday clothes. Shoes too. Are your movements suddenly becoming impractical? Why? That’s just silly. Make them practical.
  13. Do the kata outside. The woods. The beach. The mountains. The desert. Choose a scenic spot and tap into the cosmic power of Mother Nature. (I totally sounded like a hippie there.)
  14. Do the kata as fast as you can. The whole thing. No cheating. Each technique completely done before the next one. Full speed. This requires a laser-like mental focus and discipline. Don’t worry about power or strength. It’s all about speed now.
  15. Do the kata as slowly as you can. This, on the other hand, is 100% mental torture. You can compete with a friend to make it more motivating. The slowest kata wins. Mental fatigue = you lose.
  16. Have friends surround you with focus pads and kick shields. As you perform the kata; strike, kick, punch and block with full force into the high impac gear, to make sure your techniques are battle ready.
  17. Do the bunkai. Because that’s why the kata was frickin’ m-a-d-e.
  18. Wear a weighted vest. This will add resistance to most of your movements, directional shifts and jumps. Try not to make your stance higher though (you will certainly want to).
  19. Wear ankle/wrist weights. This will add more resistance to your limbs, in all movements. But for your joint health, no fast movements!
  20. Practice smaller sequences of the kata. Narrow it down and just practice specific sequences in order to improve the whole.
  21. Practice single movements from the kata. Narrow it down even further and pinpoint specific techniques, to improve the whole.
  22. Do the kata 100 times in a row. Just for the hell of it.
  23. Roll a dice. Do the kata as many times as the dice shows. Choose another kata. Roll the dice again. Et cetera. Repeat for a set amount of time.
  24. Do the whole kata using just one stance. For example, neko-ashi dachi (cat stance), zenkutsu-dachi or kiba dachi. Same directions and techniques as usual, just changed stance.
  25. Do the whole kata with one arm tied behind your back. You never fully appreciate the importance of “hiki-te” (the withdrawing hand) until you take it away.
  26. Do the kata in water. But not above shoulder height. Water adds a unique kind of resistance, which provides a stimulating challenge for kata practice. Great for physical rehab too, as it eases the stress of your joints.
  27. Do the kata and pretend you’re “angry”. You’ll evetually dip into the limbic system (lizard brain) and actually become angry. That’s when things happen. You might cry. That’s okay. Nobody needs to see. It’s all about learning to ride your emotions, channeling them through the kata, eventually getting into the flow. With practice, you will be able to flip this switch instantly.
  28. Do the kata on ice. When sh*t goes down, balance is your body’s primary priority. And if you can balance on ice, you can balance on anything, bro.
  29. Do the kata while sitting on a friend’s shoulders. He/she performs the lower body movements (steps, stances and kicks), while you do the arm movements (punches, blocks, strikes, salutations etc.) Try to synch with each other. Then switch places. Both positions provide interesting challenges.
  30. Practice kihon. There’s a handful of common techniques found in every kata. By practicing these basic techniques (known as “kihon waza”), you will magically improve every single kata you know. Sounds like a no-brainer to me.
  31. Do the kata in front of an audience. There’s a common pressure associated with doing kata in front of an audience. That stress, or performance anxiety, is interpreted by your body like an actual situation of physical danger (cortisol levels rise, palms start to sweat, muscles tense up, adrenaline is released etc.).
  32. Film your kata. Because a mirror only reveals so much. And your sensei might be subject to repetition blindness. But remember to use various angles.
  33. Do your kata to music. Not because you dig Justin Bieber, but because the rhythm of certain music sparks a primal flame in our brains related to instinct. Try heavy bass drums. Try Japanese taiko. Whatever floats your boat and gets you going.
  34. Watch somebody else do kata. Either in real life or video. Preferably someone better than you. Research tells us that your brain’s mirror neurons will light up as if you were physically performing the kata yourself. The best part? You won’t have to wash your gi afterwards! (But sadly, you won’t really need that post-workout strawberry chocolate protein shake either…)
  35. Do the kata with a snorkel (or high altitude simulation mask). There’s a reason many Olympic champions go to Africa for training. They have a lot of mountains over there. And high altitudes makes it heavier to breathe. When it’s heavy to breathe, your body needs to push harder. Gradually your VO2 max, lung capacity and fatigue treshold (not to mention mental toughness) improves. That’s awesome. Famous MMA fighters do this.
  36. Lift heavy weights explosively, then do the kata. Explosive weight lifting (85% RM >) ignites your fast-twitch muscle fibers, which you should take advantage of by immediately practicing kata afterwards. In the world of sports science, this is known as “complex training”, and is generally done with plyometric exercises.
  37. Have people surround you. Tell them to attack you at random. You can only defend yourself using techniques from the kata. But keep it simple. Basic punches, kicks and blocks. Some grabs. Start slowly and gradually increase power and speed. Feel free to use protective gear.
  38. Do the kata with a partner who tests all your strikes/kicks by blocking them, and tests all your blocks by striking/kicking at them. This is a dynamic form of “kote kitae” (conditioning) and works surprisingly well with kids too.
  39. Do the kata at half speed. Snap each technique lightly. This is the #1 method for warming up, since it prepares your central nervous system for higher speed and power without risking injury. Keep strict technique, focus and kime however – just like at full speed.
  40. Do the kata with extra big movements. When things get serious, we tend to tense up and shrink our techniques’ range of motion (ROM). So practice with extra big movements in order to prevent that. We did this all the time with the female Japanese national team when I lived in Okinawa. Just remember to keep your elbows in, armpits closed and shoulders down.
  41. Do the kata without mirrors. Because sometimes we get caught up in staring at our own handsome faces a bit too much. (Or is that just me?)
  42. Do the kata with one leg fixed in the same spot. You can only move your other (free) leg around. You still need to perform all the correct stances, directions and techniques. Get it? Great for when the dojo is crowded.
  43. Spin around several times really fast, then do the kata while dizzy. Less painful than having somebody get you punch drunk, but gives you the same effect. Kids love this one too.
  44. Do the kata without a gi top. Have a friend check every movement for correct breathing, muscle and joint alignment. This is known as “shime”, and is what Goju-ryu stylists do with Sanchin kata and Shorin-ryu stylists do with Naihanchin kata. But the general concept applies to all kata, of course. Your friend can push you, pull you, pat you or even slap you.
  45. Do the kata while a friend counts (or claps). The crucial, and hard, thing is to never think about the next movement here. Be fully present in each technique. Just relax, and then “bam!”, explode each time you hear a count or clap. Can be done with various rhythm in counts/claps.
  46. Do the kata in extreme weather conditions. Heat, cold, rain, hail, sleet or snow. Not only will this test your spirit, but could effectively serve as a mental anchor for the rest of your life. This was the case with European and world team kata champion Lucio Maurino, when he was instructed by his mentor to perform kata Sochin under the moon in the snowy mountains of Italy, as revealed to me in one of our epic interviews.
  47. Do the kata uphill/downhill. This totally throws off your feeling and balance, since some movements will suddenly become harder and slower (uphill) while other will be easier and faster (downhill). The goal is to act as if the ground is level.
  48. Do the kata while a friend uses gestures or taunts to make you lose focus. Your friend can do anything (verbal or visual), but cannot touch you or hinder your movement. If you laugh/smile or lose focus in any way, you’ve failed.
  49. Do the kata while balancing a hardcover book on your head. The key lies in keeping a straight centerline. Try to gradually increase speed and power.
  50. Do the kata while standing on a balance board/swiss ball (or one leg). Similar to performing the kata on ice, except your lower body is now immobilized (you can’t change stances or move around), yet you are in constant struggle for balance.
  51. Lastly, just do the whole goddamn kata as if your life depended on it. No second thoughts. No looking back. No retreat. No surrender. Take no prisoners. If your gi isn’t totally messed up, and your belt isn’t on the ground next to a pool of vomit and a pool of sweat, then well, old sport, you probably just didn’t try hard enough. Try again. Refocus.

That’s it!

If you LIKE this article, send it to somebody who practices kata.

They’ll thank you.

(And hopefully they’ll read my FREE 7-Day Karate Nerd™ E-Mail Guide too.)

Lastly…

Feel free to add more exercises in the comment section.

Can we make it to 100? ; -)

87 Comments

  • Zach
    Great article. You given me some ideas :)
  • Chris
    do the kata while lying on the floor
  • Luis
    Nice, I've already have done some of this excercises, and actually, on my dojo we don't have mirros (because a little kid broke them) so I have done kata without looking at my handsome face a long time. I do take video of myself, have put on weight, It's been years since I have done a kata backwards, guess I was blue belt or less. I remember a time when I was working on a mining company, and I love to go to the nearest and loneliest hill so I can do kata, working clothes (and security, very heavy shoes on). It was a different feeling, also working as if I was really mad at something (sometimes still do), it is quite relaxing. I guess all this, or maybe the most of it, isn't new stuff, it's just things we forgot to do once on a while, and simply try to do kata like a lifeless excercise. The kata it's alive, and it can take many forms.
  • Tashi
    Great article as always!I remember that in a lesson about Anan with Sakumoto-sensei he used the 49th metod (just using a bottle of water) to demonstrate the correct body movements. He did the first part of Anan with a bottle on the top of his head!
    • Tashi-san, that's just crazy!
  • vic arnold
    method 1no stance normal walking pace take 3 paces in direction stipulated for each technique perform technique on 4th step still no stance accentuate hip movement . method 2 same as method 1 except explode into stance on 4 designated for the kata.Promotes "suddeness explosiveness plyometric principle.BREATH DEEPLY ON 1ST 3 PACES EXPLOSIVE EXHALE ON 4TH USING 6 COUNT don't force it breath naturally.
  • I am an avid reader of your articles and this one was absolutely one of your best, Jesse. It was very helpful to capture so many different teaching and training tools in a single spot. You also provided rationale and further insights on why several of the drills here have worked well, and made explicit what for many is implicit.I have used all but 3 of these ideas you listed and will endeavor to use the last ones. You absolutely listed some of my favorites. A few additional ideas include:1) Kobudo kata without weapons; 2) Empty hand kata with weapons; 3) Start one kata and transition to another kata on command mid-stream on a technique shared by both kata; 4) On basic training kata (such as Taikyoku 1-3), add in kicks as you transition between stances; 5) Do 3 or 5 punches instead of 1; 6) Add Sanchin-type dynamics to kata that is not generally performed with that amount of tension. 7) Perform the kata at 45 degrees or some other angle than you usually perform it 8) Tamashi wari while performing the kata, especially on turns with no prep 9) Bunkai with all punches serving as something other than a punch; all blocks serving as something other than a block, etc. 10) Put the name of each kata you know individually on a tiny piece of paper or something you can draw from a hat. Put them all in the hat and select 1, 2 or 3 kata from the hat. Whatever you draw, that is what you do.And for good luck, just pick your best kata and your worst kata....or your favorite and least favorite. Make the former even better and and the latter not so bad.Thanks again, Jesse. Dan
    • Great suggestions Dan-san! Thanks for your input and kind words.
    • Abdurahman
      Thank you all. So usefull specially for me
  • dave rodway
    And don't forget to practice kata just moving forward.Thanks for the article and remember, one dice is a die. :)Thanks again!d
    • That's what I figured Dave-san, until I read in the Oxford Dictionary that "dice" can be used for both plural and singular :)
  • Joël Larose
    One idea I've played with is doing empty hand kata with weapons. It's great for learning to manipulate the weapon, the extra weight in your hands (esp. with sai) builds your strength, and you become more mindful of the moves your doing in the kata. Try a variety of weapons for each kata. Definitely bring creativity back in the art because you get to decide how the weapons should be handled for particular moves. Pinan Yondan with Bo is wicked! Passai with sai, awesome!Of course, you can do the reverse too, do a weapons kata without the weapon. It demonstrates how the movements are generally the same, strikes and blocks are still applicable with your bare hands.
    • Joël-san, while this holds true in general (human body mechanics rarely differ), the practical applications and strategies governing armed combat contrast from unarmed combat in many ways, hence many traditional Okinawan Kobudo masters frown upon Karate being done with Kobudo weapons in hand. However, as you say, in the form of an exercise aimed at stimulating creativity, dexterity, wrist strength and hand-eye coordination, it's a viable training method for sure!
  • MatsumuroPanda
    Thanks Jesse!I really appreciated it. Let me add some to push for 100.#52 Perform the kata watching or thinking of a specific body part. Starting with your feet, next your ankles, your knees, your hips...#53 Go through the kata and repeat each technique in the kata 50 times, then do the whole kata once all the way through.The last one is actually a combination of your earlier techniques.#54 Perform the kata 6 times. The first time, tense your muscles in every technique with all that you've got. The second time, perform everything relaxed with no focus whatsoever. The third time do every technique fast, even slow techniques. Fourth time, race through the kata at full speed. The fifth time, make your pauses twice as long as usual. The last time perform it to your perfection.
  • Dan K
    Open your hands when they are normally closed. Close your hands when they are normally opened.
    • So simple - so awesome!
  • Nice article-we use methods 1,2,& 3 on a regular basis. My Black Belts learn the katas mirrored so that they can teach students katas without turning their backs to the students. In practicing the katas from finish to start, more applications are revealed and it becomes a real eye opener. Sure, it can be difficult, but it is rewarding nonetheless.
  • Ian
    Get two friends and do the kata as a "team kata". Trying to synch your movements to your partners' really makes you think about them.
  • Thanks, Jesse! All your articles are great and this one came at the perfect time. I feel I have a whole new bucket list to keep me inspired and agile as I keep moving towards second dan :-)
    • Glad you liked it, Claire-san! Keep moving!
  • Andreas
    While standing in Uchi Hachiji-dachi, perform the hand/arm movements of all Kata of your style, in correct order, from the first to the last Kata. Imagine some applications.
  • Stu
    Because we can often get set in recognising visual queues to remind you which direction to turn in kata, try changing direction. Perform the kata facing the shomen, shomen behind you, shomen to the side or at an angle.BTW, great post.Stu
  • Block Strong or Else
    A great article, some of the suggestions really, really challenging.My personal favourites* Working say 10% lower in your stance than usual throughout your Kata training. * Working through every Kata in continuous succession, the last move of the previous Kata followed immediately by the first move of the next. This forms the basis on occasion of the warm up for our competition Kata sessions. * I also like performing a simple Kihon Kata swapping single moves whether they be a block or strike for instance with a triple move, and placing kicks during each step and then building the complexity from there.Lots of your suggestions I have not yet tried so I can wait to give them a go.Keep up the good work, :-}
    • Richard
      I use a similar method, but I start at Gekisai Dai Ichi go to Tensho then back again.Thanks for the tips, I've been doing Karate for over 30 years and there aren't many out there so willing to freely give away their knowledge. Thank you Sensei, you have shown this old dog some new tricks!!
  • Lots of great ideas, some I've tried and some I will be. I also like to train the kata as a reaction to impact. For instance, slam your back against a wall so that you knock the breath out of yourself, then explode right into a kata. You can also throw yourself into a break fall and jump back up starting the kata. There are few more ideas here - http://solokeiko.com/2012/04/18/time-to-get-hit/ But right now I am still thinking about #3, mirrored AND backwards - that is a serious head scratcher!
  • Great post Jesse!We use many of these techniques in our classes. Inspired by your post I specifically honed in on a few of the methods you mentioned culminating with #2. An example of one of our students practicing what you preach is on youtube: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sTwVHDsjemc&feature=share&list=UUjA3ck_DI_OPgl0JcPYivsQ.Thanks again and keep up the great work!lg
  • Sylvie de Québec
    Great article, as always!Here are a few suggestions for numbers 52 to 100...Do you kata with no facial expression at all, then do your kata and exagerate all expressions.Do your kata 4 times, each time facing a different direction.Do your kata in reverse order - from end to start!
  • Sam
    Great article! Got another one; do the katas with hand or leg weights.
  • Alex
    One of my dojo's favorites has been sort of a variation on 35: Doing the kata while holding water in your mouth. This really helps students notice and appreciate their breath, if they've been forgetting it.
    • Sounds like a real "wet gi" contest to me, Alex-san! ;)
  • Igors Kupcis
    All these things are good and useful for improvement of fighting skills however great importance in rising energy and improvement of movements belongs to breathing( think 50%) . Only right breathing together with repeating Kata & Kihon gives student possibility to rise his skills for Kumite. Wrong breathing --> early losing stamina -->....... I think Jesse you must add to your list some points including breathing orders and sequences. Osu!
  • Pablo
    I 've been practising the mirrored kata (we called it ura) and moreover the kata in go, going back in each technique instead of advancing and finally combining both of them in go ura.
  • While in bed and just before I go to sleep, I visualise performing kata and hyung. This helps create a personal connection with the kata. And it also means I practice several kata just one more time before I switch off for the day. Keep practicing folks!
  • Terry Monksfield
    great article,as usual. i often do the kata slowly,need to really because i usually end up doing it too fast,just seem to get in the mood and go for it.the slow movements really test me. my sensei gets us to do it backwards quiet a lot,its a real mind mess up. i will be trying some of the other ideas you mentioned. thanks again
  • Sören
    Kata with Taiko drums... it's a dream, when the drums are really loud, explosive, it's a feeling of just... WOW! I did it when our new Dojo in Berlin was opened and a Taiko group was there "for the Japan-Feeling", too. It can't be described properly, it must be experienced how the body, the heart, the soul, all of it feels during it and afterwards. Not to mention that the Kata I did there (Tomari Bassai) is still the very best Kata in my repertoire no matter how hard I try to reach that level with another Kata. ;)
  • WOW! Thank you so much Jesse. Now I know what to do the whole summer!
  • Shamus
    Well written Jesse-san! One I've used is to have training partners randomly attack you, while you are blind-folded and using ear plugs. It adds a whole new dimension to training! Shamus
  • Fabian
    Jesse you didn't read the hydro-gymnastics text, did you? But, very fair to give the source of you information. Thats the spirit of a real (Karate)-Nerd. Thumbs up for this."(i) No statistically significant differences exist in the cardiovascular and metabolic response between a local muscular endurance exercise performed in water with a device that increased frontal and drag resistance and its counterpart performed on land with elastic band. (ii) The quantification of resistance to the aquatic movement through the identification of a rhythmic sequence for a material and a certain exercise allows the “load” or resistance to be compared with land exercises performed with elastic bands."This does not negate your suggestion of performing Kata in water, because it indeed ads something special to your kata. A different feeling, to put it in an nutshell.What we can get resistance wise from the study is, that could put a elastic band around certain body parts (hip, for example) to get some resistance. At least a well known training methode for Kumite.Genarally we can apply the same methodes from kumite to kata and from kata to kumite. Inspiring Blog Post Jesse, thanks!
    • Hey Fabian-san! I did. That study was merely used as a reference or suggestion of the kind of resistance water offers compared to land (air). Although that study showed improvements in systolic blood pressure, flexibility and reaction time, a Karate-ka will probably get the most benefits from water by practicing under it :)
  • Ideas are flowing here!#41 yep, it's you... and some of your kind...sorry somebody has to tell you.Another idea is having a friend resisting your movement at every technique so you have to push with your whole body to get the movement completed. A little like the water one.can be combined with the book on the head to avoid leaning while pushing.
  • Christian M.
    OSU!Hello Jesse,as alway this is an interesting article with great ideas and concepts. Actually, I have done some of the suggested exercises in the past, but I am missing one that imho is really interesting: Do the entire kata from kumite dachi without changing direction and perform the sequences as if you had an opponent right in front of you all the time. I feel that this is a good transition from the "strict" kata movements to the simulation of a real-life situation. But maybe that's just me... I admit that this does not work for all kata, but try for instance Gekisai dai ichi or ni this way, and it will open up some new views on the involved techniques.Best regards, OSU! Christian
  • Excelente y muy entretenido artículo. Buenas ideas para mejorar la ejecución de un kata, mil gracias! ;)
  • MichaelH
    hi,One I like is to do the kata in natural sequences [most common is all the moves in one direction] then pause. To make it interesting, EXPLODE into each sequence, imagining an attacker, and respond as if it was real. The pausing allows you to prep each time - you want your best possible performance each time. To further refine it, you can only move on to the next sequence if you are satisfied you did your best, if not repeat the sequence. Perfection is impossible, but aim for the best you can do. Customarily I repeat the entire kata [non-sequentially] a few times at the end, and try to "feel" how much better I have done.I also like to perform kata at several different speeds. Very slow taiji speed will quickly reveal if your moves are not the best [esp stances], then some at medium speed, which I like to use to measure how smoothly I transition from one move to another. End it off with some full speed & power performances. You can also mix them up, e.g a few slow ones, lots of medium if you focus on smooth moves, and a few full speed.I liked your list Jesse.MichaelH
    • Sören
      Hi Michael,I'd like to thank you very much for the idea in your first paragraph, I'm gonna try it out. I am sure it'll work as good as it sounds. =) Kind regards Sören
  • ml
    One that my sensei does often is a '3 - 2' type of count, where you go 'forward' in the kata a number of moves and then you go backwards. The easiest way to start is forward two and back one, but once you get into five forwards-three backwards it can get tricky. If you don't give yourself time to think then you really learn how well you know your kata, and I find it best to practice with someone of higher rank than myself for corrections (turns suddenly become so hard you feel like a white belt all over again!).
  • Charles James
    What is the ultimate goal of these fifty ways to do kata? As far as I can tell this may result in a solid knowledge of the moves themselves and help make the outer view of the kata better but what about the essence of kata - fighting and self-defense - how do these things promote knowledge of violence, avoidance and deescalation before the fight and how do these things promote training for violence? Just askin, thanks.
    • Hi Charles-san! Thanks a lot for your insightful comment, and I definitely see where you're going. These fifty kata exercises are just that - exercises. They won't directly correlate with an improvement in your knowledge about violence, avoidance, deescalation, pressure tactics or even self-defense. But, the lessons contained in each exercises can - and should - certainly be applied to any technique you'll find yourself using in a self-defense situation. In this day and age, most people will rarely or never find themselves in situations where they'll have to apply their kata to defend themselves. Hence, many people like to use kata as a means to challenge their physical, mental, analytical as well as spiritual sides instead - through various exercises that stimulate their senses (while at the same time practicing their kata). In this way, kata just acts as a vehicle to deliver these previously mentioned lessons through exercises like the 50+ listed above. That being said, I do think it's unfortunate that the culmination of hundreds of years of martial knowledge, distilled into the geometrical patterns we today call "kata", are not being as explored and utilized by people as they could/should. Personally, I love bunkai and everything it stands for. But for better or worse, this is where evolution has taken modern Karate. Hope this makes sense, Charles-san. Thanks for chiming in and keep keepin' it real! ;)
  • zz
    are you shotokan or shitou ryo? :-(
  • chocolate+bike accident what a combo and now I feel like doing a kata with my injured leg
  • Haley
    This is an awesome post! Thanks, Jesse-my class has testing in a few weeks and this will really come in handy.
  • Patrick
    The exercise I use the most is to simply do the kata facing a different direction. I have seen several students fail that part of the grade exam simply because the instructor told them to face the other way and do the kata. We subconsciously look for land marks within the dojo and when we don't see them it can unbalance someone.
  • I really liked your list i had mostly tried them all and to all begginers it will help i am first dan black belt and my passion is kata and trust me thsi wroks a lot for competitions
  • WillieMaize24
    A few more suggestions: 1, Go through each pinyan/heian and make sure the foot and arm stop at EXACTLY the same time on each move. (Most people can't do it consistently.) 2. Go through each pinyan/heian. After every move stop for 3 breaths before you move onto the next move. Once you have that down try 6 and then 9 breaths, or increase the duration of each breath. Keep the exhale and inhale exactly the same duration. Keep the breath even and quiet, and notice the breath going through the nose hairs. 3. Go through each pinyan/heian holding a small stone in each hand. Notice what it does to the twisting/coiling in the forearm. 4. Any basic kata--notice what the shoulder blades are doing. Are they moving freely across the ribs and are they connected to the arm? If you spend a lot of time in an office or on a computer, chances are that they aren't moving freely unless you're paying attention to them.
  • Sjef
    # 52, the most awesome one: Just do the kata I also love #20: small sequences, full speed, full power, is great to train team kata, but cutting the kata in pieces is also great to teach bunkai: give your students a week te think over the meaning of a sequence and let them present their solution: sometimes it's crap, lot of times they've invented the wheel and now and then it's amazing because yellow and orange belts are not completely stuck in a that block-kick-thrust pattern: they can provide you with new ideas and applications which you can use in teaching advanced students
  • It's kind of funny that when you post something like this there are a few points that I'm like "done, done, done". Glad to see that my sensei is a karate nerd without realizing it. Btw my sensei looks like sensei Miyagi, the one from the movies, and made this kind of things interesting for us when we were younger.
  • Awesome Post! Definitely sparked my thinking and makes me want to change the way I look at Kata training time!Thank you.
  • Elmar
    Thought I'd add one to the list. Do the kata in a small space (1mx1m). Imagine doing the bunkai in a crowded bar wirh tables and chairs all around you or do it between two beds in a hotel room. Try to keep the power in your punches and kicks ans do your stances korrect.
  • ed
    It can never be said enough or too much: practice,practice,practice.
  • Anne
    Hi Sensei, thanks for giving me some ideas that made my last class for the year fun and interesting!I've got a few more to add to the list (I've just made myself up a reference list of all the ideas shared here and it comes to 72 - it would be great to get to 100!).- Bouncing kata - jump into each stance. Kids love this and it is good for helping people learn to land the stance first time without adjusting.- whoosh bang kata - on the blocks shout "whoosh" out loud and on the strikes shout "bang" out loud. Gets lots of energy in a kids class and they magically start landing their strikes and stances together.- back to back kata - 4 people stand back to back and do the kata at the same time. The aim is to finish back to back again. You can also do this is a larger circle with more people - facing in or facing out- Mexican wave kata - in a circle, someone starts with the first move, and that move goes round the group like a mexican wave. As soon as the last person does the technique the first person does the next one. This is heaps of fun, you can work on reaction time - they have to go fast but not ahead of their turn, and also can help when people are learning the kata
  • Chad Tower
    Similar to doing it while dizzy... if you happen to have had a few drinks... do your kata. It does change things.
  • Clay Johnson
    Not sure if this has been suggested or if it would relate to the fast/slow points, but reverse the dynamic tension of a kata. ie do the opening moves in Hangetsu fast and hard yet during the block punch combinations with EXTREME dynamic tension.
  • Steve
    I love suggestion 13. Do kata outside. Last time I did this was on a beach - turning on the balls of my feet meant that I ended up digging little wedge shaped holes in the sand which did some interesting things to May stances. Also I could see my foot worki in the sand. They say the mirror of video camera never lies ... Sand can also be really impolite when it comments on your kata.
  • pratyus khandual
    I wants to know karate from the begin..
  • Hi Jesse, Love this artical and have done most of these! and if anyone is sceptical of whether this works- it REALLLY does! The other thing with kata that can also be used in Kumite is to think about trigger points (ying/yang) for example when doing a Junzuki rather than thinking about the punching hand think about the hikati hand/elbow pulling back as fast as you can. Same can be applied to the straightening of the back leg and so on. Hope this helps :)
  • Alex
    1. Do the kata in some form of body armor I.e. military battle rattle, football pads, kendo armor, etc.2. Do the kata with a pulse rate detector and see if you can keep your heart rate at cold zero.(low and slow)3.Fast for three days and just before your first meal do the kata and imagine you are hunting and fighting for your food.4. Do the kata and aim to make your movements silent while not losing any speed or power.5. In a small crowded dojo have everyone face a random direction and all begin a different kata at the same time.(Have no collisions or breaks in the flow of the kata)6. Do the kata and hold each stance low and for a count of ten or twenty.7. Do the kata just before you go to bed and just after you wake up.8. Do the kata every hour on the hour for one day.(sun up to sun down, not a full 24 hrs)9. Do trigun kata: pistol, rifle, shotgun. (This would really be about angles, intent, and footwork, loose footwork at that)10. Do the kata confined in a wheelchair.11. Do the kata with your hands bound in shackles.12. Do the kata with your feet bound in shackles.13. Run 400 meters then do the kata. Repeat until you have done 1.5 miles.(Try it with Kanku Dai. I dare you.)14. Do the kata on a big trampoline.15. Do the kata on the public bus.(make sure it is mostly empty)16. Take the one-on-one fighting concepts in the kata and apply them in a theoretical large scale military battle.(book of five rings style)17. Do the kata at the beach in the surf in waist high water.(Unsu drop kicks lol)18. Do the kata in every outfit you own: work clothes, dress clothes, play clothes, winter wear, etc.19. Do the kata completely naked and free.(go outside if you can get away with it.)20. For those of us of legal drinking age, do the kata after taking a few shots of your favorite alcoholic beverage.(do not video record it)21. Do the kata interpreting each emotional state.(Sith training)22. Do the kata like a machine, technically sound but void of all emotion.(Jedi training)23. Learn lucid dreaming and do the kata in your sleep.(It is extremely difficult but it is possible)24. Draw the kata out on papaer and costruct a comic completely with dialogue, telling the story of the fight scene.(silly but fun)25. Do the "opposite" side of the kata. You be the imaginary opponent/opponents.26. Do the kata up and down a flight of stairs.(be careful when you try Chinto/Gankaku)27. Do the kata while holding a meditation ball in each hand with the goal of not making a sound and still moving with speed and power.28. Do the kata using dynamic tension.(That is assuming the kata itself is not normally done with dynamic tension.)29. Do the kata while maintaining your resting breathing rate.30. Kiai with every strike and make them all death blows. Put all of your being into each stikes.(no build up, just a bunch of coup de grace)31. Try and do the kata slow and flowing like taichi.32. Do the kata Matrix style. Do it as fast as you can but make every fifth movement or so in super slow motion.33. Do the kata on varying types of terrain to see what ground it is best suited for, rocky, sandy, soft, grassy, tall grass, hard and flat, etc.34. Do the kata on plum flower posts.35. Do the kata in each room of your house or apartment.(closets too)36. Do the kata sitting at your desk or in your car. Try to apply the bunkai in these situation and see what you come up with.37. Do the kata in a box that is only wide enough square for your widest stance. Do not step outside of the box.38. Do the kata while a partner throws tennis balls at you. Dodge, block, or strike the ball and then continue with the form like it never stopped. Try to make the reactions to the ball smooth transitions.39. Do the kata with various weapons in your hand/hands. Traditional weapons as well as modern weapons. Do not stick to Okinawan weapons. Explore.40. Do the kata with obstacles all over the floor.41. Do the kata in a straight line.42. Do the kata from beginning to end without breaking sequence but do it during jyu kumite. Attack and defend only with the next movement of the kata.43. Do the kata while holding hand weights.44. Do the kata and maintain focus while your classmate hits you at random with a shinai.45. Do the kata in ankle deep mud.(Unsu drop kicks lol)46. Do the kata slowly only snapping the last quarter of each technique.47. Taking a cue from the Nerd himself, do the kata and blow out a candle with each strike and kick. If you miss one relight and start over.48. Do the kata with tameshi wari at key points.49. Do the kata in a narrow hallway.50. Do the kata portraying the various personalities of the animal kingdom, lion, snake, tiger, leopard, dragon, bear, mantis, crane, monkey, and ape.51. Do the kata combining an animal personality with an emotional state, angry bear, sad lion, etc.52. Break down the kata into sections and drill each section up and down the dojo floor many times like a sparring drill.53. Do the kata under a waterfall.54. Do the kata surrounded by each of the five elements one at a time and note the differences in the feelings. Flowing water, flexible wood, strong metal, etc.55. Do the kata with the thought in mind that you are not trying to hurt the opponent.(aikido style philosophy)56. Do the kata and try and figure out what pressure points are being struck. See if there are point chains that are devastating.(check your bubishi often)57. Do the kata with the mind of the grappler find all of the locks, holds, strangles, submissions, takedowns, throws, and projections.58. Figure out what weapon the kata is best suited to defend against.59. Ask yourself which hojo undo methods would be most beneficial for the techniques in the kata. Then train only those forr a time and see what happens.60. Do not practice but "DO" the kata twice a day everyday for one year and see if it drives you crazy.61. Try the three years one kata training literally. Train only one kata for three years.62. See how well you "know" the kata by expressing it in words. Write the kata down as vividly as possible and give your work to a non-karateka. If they can read what you have written and can do some crude lookalike of the form then it is a success.
  • Rob
    Even though this article is a couple of years old, I still like to come back and read it occasionally - particularly when I feel like I've been neglecting kata lately. Having read it just a few days ago (again) a lot of it was still fresh in my mind. So, when I got to the dojo early last night and found myself the only one in there, I thought I'd give #4 a try (practicing kata blindfolded).In the first 5 seconds, I learned A LOT:1) I need to work on my stances and balance as I found myself wobbling.2) Since I didn't feel like my balance was completely there, I did the kata slower than I usually do and that, in turn, revealed some minor sloppiness that I need to correct.3) Without sight, kata is done by "feel" and that was a completely new experience! I was happy to find out that I was able to tell when I did something incorrectly by the way it felt.4) Speaking of feeling, even though I felt like I was doing it well (I chose a kata I am quite comfortable with), when I opened my eyes at the end, I was turned 45°... Every. &^$*#. Time.Thanks again, Jesse, for posting these. After experiencing how effective just one of these was, I'll be incorporating a lot more of them!
    • Haha! Love it Rob-san! That makes me happy to hear :-) Keep it up!
  • Alex
    I totally tried kanku dai with boxing gloves, a dive mask, a snorkel, and swim fins on. It was not any of the equipment that really hindered though. Oddly enough moving in the stuff was easy. What was really hard was taking myself seriously. I couldn't stop laughing. I felt so ridiculous and I never feel ridiculous doing kata, nervous maybe but never ridiculous. And that was hard to overcome. I noticed my techniques lacked power and precision. It was as if I did not believe in them. Then I steeled myself and focused solely on the fight. I remembered why I was doing it this way. I gave it purpose in my mind. After that mental switch it was easy.
  • Joe
    practice Kata to a times table great for kids (and some adults) that may be struggling with their times tables, either go through the kata reciting a times table or call out a question and the answer will be the move in the kata e.g. 1x7 and the students perform the first 7 moves of that kata
  • Erik Jessen
    Osu Jesse-SanAs always a great pleasure to read your inspiring articles. To add to the list I suggest: - Do several different kata in a row as if it were one long kata - Do the kata ura (spinning) as we do in Shinkyokushin - Do the kata by changing stances by jumping / staying in the same place.Osu!
  • Anna
    In our dojo we have recently been doing kata with one hand stuck in your belt. Man that's hard! Last year we did kata on the spot - jumping into each new stance and direction. That was pretty good for working on turns and stance changes :)
  • Alain
    Great ideas! Hmm, no ice in Trinidad, but will try as many as possible! Not sure if I can stop myself from looking in the mirror though ;)
  • Shared on fb. Was doing kururunfa with my eyes closed then came acrosd this article. Would advise trying kata with eyes closed. Feel the movements much more :)
  • "Practise two katas in one". This means that you use the patern of one kata and combine with the tekniques of an other. For example in goju ryu you can use the stances and feet movement from korurunfa and at the same time practise the hand-tecniques from seinchin. Ofcourse you can combine katas from different styles as well. Have fun!
  • Love this article and the comments so far!I didn't see one of my favourite ways to do kata though.. I often do them in just ONE direction, basically just doing the kata in one straight line.. Throws me off course when it comes to many turns in the katas, but it's a good way of "re-learning" the kata in my opinion.As I said, I love this article and I look forward to seeing the full list some day ?Stefan
  • I like working empty-handed kata with weapons in my hands. Works well with sai and tonfa, but you have to really think while working bo and nunchaku. Similarly, I'll work kobudo empty-handed. Makes me think about application, not just series of movements.
    • Here is an example. Tekki Shodan and Tekki Nidan combined with sai: https://youtu.be/2wI8LtQsPPE
  • I've done all lower forms strung together at half-speed as a warm-up. Taikyoku Shodan into Taikyoku Nidan, into Taikyoku Sandan, into all five Heians, and ending with Bassai Dai. Yame for each kata is the yoi for the next kata and just given one beat, same as any movement in any kata. Or practice Tekki Shodan right into Tekki Nidan right into Tekki Sandan.
  • Janelle
    #51 + x -- Do the kata with each move (steps/stances AND upper body) performed 3x in a row.
  • Jason
    The Video Game Method: Do the Kata perfect. If you make any mistake, start over. Reapeat until you perform the Kata without any known mistakes. (then do it again)
  • nana
    I'VE WONDERED THAT IF MY GRAND FATHER WHOM AGE IS 93 & HAS A NEVERENDING LIFE TO LIVE, GAVE ME IDEA OF LEARNING KARATE WHEN I WAS IN MY EARLY TEENS, THAN IT WOULD'VE BEEN GOOD CAUSE DURING MY HIGH SCHOOL DAYS, I USED TO GET BULLIED ALOT BY OTHER STUDENTS & MORE ABUSED THAN THE DANEIL CHARACTER IN THE MOVIE CALLED KARATE KID WHICH WAS RELEASED IN 1984 !@#$%.
  • Zechariah
    How about changing the blocks to a random height each time one comes up in the kata. For example: low can be mid height or face level. It can give you a fresh perspective. Or, You can substitute any move you want from other kata or other martial arts styles. Kata are templates. You would be surprised what you can learn if you get creative with the movements.
  • parami
    hello Sensei. I'm a white belt student(shotokan karate) and I want to say this is the best post about kata I ever read.I want to try all the 51 ways.I was looked for a advice like this so many times and I was lucky enough to find this post.Thank you very much.Oh and you are made this post very clearly and nicely. I have a problem too. I need to work hard and practise karate everyday at home.But I don't have any opponent to practise kumite at home.Is there a way to practise alone ?
  • bahduh
    Thanks. Very nice article and great ideas:)
  • MERUB KHAN
    Thank Jesse, your techniques really helped. Tomorrow is my karate tournament, WISH ME LUCK
  • Do all kata movements against a punching bag. I mean, actually hitting the bag with every punch, block and kick where possible, while switching stances since your bag won't move around the dojo... Nice article!

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