How To Do The Perfect Kata

“Kata is the soul of Karate.”

jesse_enkamp_suparimpei_tony_chanThis is a traditional saying in Okinawa, the birthplace of Karate.

Unfortunately, many people don’t get it.

They use kata as mere physical exercise.

That’s fine – but also heartbreaking.

Because there’s so MUCH MORE to kata!

In my opinion, nothing bridges the gap between self-protection & self-perfection better than kata.

Kata is an incredible tool for developing yourself as a human being.

But only if you know how to use it right.

Let me explain…

First of all, you should know that every human being has two realities:

  1. Your inner reality.
  2. Your outer reality.

Your inner reality consists of your thoughts, expectations and feelings. These are the things you have inside your head.

Your outer reality consists of external events, like people, actions and things. This is the stuff that happens around you.

Rarely do these two match perfectly in daily life.

For example:

  • You expect it to be sunny, but it rains.
  • You hope for a salary increase, but you don’t get it.
  • You think someone likes you, but she never calls you back.

The list goes on.

Your inner/outer world is constantly in a state of micro-conflict.

Scientists call it ‘cognitive dissonance’ – when expectations don’t match reality.

The Cognitive Dissonance Model

Here’s the fascinating thing…

The way you react to these conflicts determine your character.

And, as you know, the aim of Karate is to seek perfection of character.

So, maybe there’s a way to harmonize your inner and outer reality through Karate?

Of course there is.

In fact, the answer is found in the very “soul of Karate”.

Kata.

Check this out:

Visualize yourself performing a kata in your mind.

It can be any kata, it doesn’t matter which one. The important thing is that you visualize yourself doing the kata completely. And it must be done perfectly.

You heard me. Imagine yourself doing a perfect kata!

P-E-R-F-E-C-T.

Got it?

Great.

Now, the next step is to perform it.

That’s right.

I want you to physically reproduce EXACTLY what you imagined.

Ready? Go!

“But… Jesse-san, that’s impossible! I can’t do a perfect kata!”

Right.

The kata will NEVER be as perfect as in your head.

So…

Why do you expect everyhing else to be?

Huh?

Life isn’t perfect, amigo.

It will NEVER be.

And practicing kata like this, helps you deal with this fact!

You see, we often create unrealistic expectations and scenarios in our heads, by wishing for a outer reality that rarely matches up with our inner reality.

This is why we judge other people based on their actions, but we judge ourselves based on our intentions.

Think about that.kanku-dai-berach

Kata can bridge the gap between your inner and outer world.

It can help you cope with reality.

By visualizing the perfect kata, and then striving to reach that ideal, you gradually align your expectations with reality, harmonizing your intentions with your actions.

This is how kata goes from a mere physical exercise to a metaphysical exercise.

The more you practice this, the better you become.

One day you might even be able to perform the perfect kata!

But probably not.

And that’s the whole point.

There is no such thing as “the perfect kata”.

Just like life.

Paradoxically enough, the day you understand this is the day you might actually be able to perform a perfect kata.

But at that point, it won’t even matter to you anymore – because perfection is no longer the goal…

…striving for it is.

The journey becomes the destination.

The goal becomes the Way.

35 Comments

  • Geoff Dale
    This could be done with any karate technique though, not just kata and should be in my opinion, also why would visualize or try an do any technique in any other way than absolute perfection?, lets take a kick for example you visualize your self doing it perfectly but in reality it's not, so not only do you repeated it over and over striving for that goal you work your underlying attributes strength and flexibility also whilst learning reality and expectations don't always match, so why is this a concept only found in kata?
    • Correct Geoff-san, the concept of striving for perfection can be manifested in any/all techniques. Thanks for chiming in!
      • James Brodie Lawrence
        That is an interesting way to look at kata performance, but I would add that performance is not the most important thing about kata; using it as a self-defence training template is the most important purpose and goal.
        • Kata is a tool, James-san.
          • then what about kumite sensei..?
          • When I watch my children class training on kata , I can actually SEE their inner struggle and how easy it is for them to understand how to bename this struggle, how openminded they accept this gap between inner and outer self. It makes me so happy because thats what they learn without thinking about it. It happens with Kihon too but not as clearly as with kata . And I do feel the same when I‘m working on my own kata. I am very grateful for your perfect observations Jesse. Hope to meet you some day on a seminar somewhere.
        • Douglas
          Why not both?
  • To understand the concept and the idea behind that philosophy, which is a perfect beginning Jesse-San. The book ( The endless search for Absolute Kime ) on amazon.com will be able to guide Martial Artist in the Physical, Mental and Spiritual aspects. Again Jesse, another good article on your part.
  • Carola
    I do agree that Kata is a tool. It's performance can be improved both by visualusize and analyse via Bunkai. Bunkai itself has the same impact of ones Karate/Life than Kata.
  • Ossu and thank you! I love kata - all aspects of it. I've never thought about this before. Thanks for giving me something new to explore!
  • All going good until I realise the perfect kata virtualisation in my head is wrong!!!...
  • HZs
    1. Become perfect. 2. Relax and perform your favorite kata.
  • Richard Lubkowski
    Thank you for this Jesse-san! I have been a priest for over twenty-five years and a karate-ka for twelve and what you say, for me, has resonance. Over the thirty-eight years I have been a follower of the Way of Jesus Christ my prayer life has been foundational and gradually I have become a contemplative and 'mystic' (whilst being an entirely ordinary guy and ex-rugby player). I find that practising kata is for me (besides the dojo full-on version)also a form of physical meditation/contemplation in which thoughts are stilled and peace found within. I only encountered this when I retired and have time (and a kitchen big enough)to practise. It is not for nothing that Funakoshi Sensei and Kanazawa Sensei (and many others) affirm the importance of the 'spiritual'? My warmest wishes to you and all our fellow karate-ka.
    • Simon
      Osu Richard, I also train karate with more of a spiritual intention, and also am devoted to Truth (study from Jesus and other sages/mystics), so great to see others with a like mind! Would love to chat through email and discuss and share ideas and support on our 'spiritual karate' haha, would be great as it's rare to find. Shoot me email if you feel like it: simon_sk8 (at hotmail.com), cheers :)
  • gurcan
    Thank you Jess San. The method you try to do perform perfect kata is just like mental training. While I was prepairing for the ?stanbul Open I used mental training to maximize my kata. Of course for winning competition. But this mental training also add some good things to my soul. I can say that it really works on adding soul to your katas. So it did to my katas :)). I almost took 1 place. This time I took 3 place. But I was 1 in my mind. Still I am.
  • Bucksmallsy
    Kata is Perfect is unrealistic. However KATA is Functional when one can make it ALL work on the street !Then and ONLY then, is KATA serving its purpose. KATA is NOT for posing Sheeples.Osu !
  • Luca
    Oh my god.oss.
  • Olaf
    a very beautiful and soulful description. It is more than the physical.
  • Iaidoka1981
    Greetings! This is a great blog for all budoka not only karateka. I practice iaido, which as you know, consists entirely of kata. To my mind this article spells out the purpose of iaido training very neatly. Thanks so much!
  • Joanna
    I love kata. It is like a beautiful dance of sorts. But because I feel so desperate to improve,I often fail at being as "perfect" in my head as I think I should be.
    • dwight schrute
      If you think a kata is a dance, you should really look at bunkai (application of the movements). My hypothesis is that the originators of the kata were geniuses demonstrating a series of movements. The meaning is not self evident just by performing the movements. Unfortunately, the meaning of many techniques is hidden unless you spend the time to analyze the form and work with a partner. Even worse, you sometimes get simple (or incorrect) explanations. My view is that understanding what you are doing adds a level of reality and meaning (and force) to your techniques. Just my 2 cents
  • JonT
    Hi Jesse. Yes an interesting article. My sensei says "concentrate on the next movement and nothing else" Feel and put everything into the next move and try to make it perfect before thinking of the next movement. Concentrate on the form and feel what you are doing. Every move is answer to the next, but if we do not concentrate on the first then we cannot be ready for the next. Kata is like golf - the only person you are trying to better is yourself - film yourself performing kata and then critic your movements - do not try to kid yourself that you are the kata "king". I love kata, not when I perform it well but when I perform badly then work to improve. Isn't that why we all practise it?? Oh yeah and I do love it when I nail it!!!
  • Kata is many things or many people, and should be. Striving for the perfection of character, perfection of technique, better health, practical self defense, a way to measure progress (better balance, focus, strength, body and mind "memory") and for many, a way to compete in tournaments.But it was, I believe, created mainly in order to allow the practitioner to practice part of what was learned in one's training, alone, away from the dojo. Then, of course, to be able to apply it, either in the dojo or in a real-life self defense situation. Thanks for the thought-provoking article, Jesse-san. Ganbatte!
  • Mahhn
    Thanks for the reminder. With troubled knees, at times I feel like I feel like it's the end for my training. But, it's not what the best is, it's the best I can do, no matter good or bad knees.
  • godisang
    loved it and i am going to try it when i get home,offcourse am white belt
  • Amakiri
    Interesting. But while this holds in perfecting any technique, perfecting a kata takes it a notch higher. Perfecting a kata is a combination of technique, speed, tension, hip movement, relaxation etc. Combining these elements is somewhat like the story of Beethoven's 9th symphony. While the ochestra struggled to play the perfect symphony, the deaf Maestro took solace in the perfect piece that played in his head.
  • Arbin
    Oss Jesse!I am new to your blog and new on Karate too. Currently I am an orange belt and I have been practising Karate for only 8 months. I am happy on Karate. I started Karate because of the passion I have for it. And that passion keeps growing every single day. My sensei often tells us most of the things you write here on your blog. I like your posts a lot and I agree with all of them. Looking forward to your new articles :)
  • Techminator
    The main reason people do not like kata is because they are not taught about the bunkai ('why' or the explanation of the kata). Without knowing why we do the movements that we do in katas, it just looks like a dance and even to the person doing the kata feels he is dancing. But once he is made aware of the application of all the movements in a kata then it makes so much sense and practicing it is a joy.
  • Shotonoob
    "KATA IS THE SOUL OF KARATE"Oh how the karate masters love to give a true but completely metaphorical truth. I mean, what the heck does that statement or precept mean?Of course critics of traditional karate immediately turn to these statements to point out the hollow & useless traditions & rituals of TMA... Linking in the themes' elsewhere on the author's blog... so many posters keen on MMA cite it's practical benefits like kicking & punching the heavy bag... How to learn to beat people up. We can all see that, they say.The Article author here goes on to propose a theory of the mental benefit, the mental process inherent in kata. WOW. What's MMA's training corollary? \ CASE IN POINT: We just saw Ronda Rousey get shut down & destroyed in a little into 2 rounds of a championship MMA match. Holly Holm, a championship striker (boxer turned kick boxer) was the agent of Rousey's destruction. \ Yet Ronda practiced prodigiously using the much vaunted MMA striking training of hitting focus mitt, shadowboxing, head movement, reciting boxing combos, ETC. through an experienced MMA competitor & train-or. MMA commentators have suggested that Rousey's stiking, despite all this concentrated MMA striking exercise... is middling to awful. So under this presumption... the conclusion that MMA observers have come to, WHAT'S MISSING IN THIS CONVENTIONAL MMA APPROACH? \ Recite the author's mental theory regarding a significant benefit of kata, I'm not going to do that. He's laid it out directly above. OTOH, Kata is largely panned & ridiculed by MMA proponents, coaches, competitors, etc, etc. IN RESPONSE: I am going to underline one of this Article author's opening statements: \ "They use kata as a mere physical exercise." My add on is: Thought Question. MMA critics of traditional karate, Ronda Rousey... Good luck with your Focus mitt / Heavy bag MMA training....
  • In my opinion KATA is a karate dance and we all know if we are sincere to do it then we have a discipline mind of performing it. Just for example hip hop dance can they achieve perfection or mastery of their steps if they don't use it everyday? NO, it big no and in fact no can gains success without striving it hard or doing it properly same in KATA you cannot gain success or perfection of your moves when you don't practice it always.
  • Great article. Even though I do taekwondo and not karate, my approach to poomsae (forms) is the same. It grounds me, and I have found a focus, inner strength, and peacefulness that I've never been able to achieve in nearly 20 years of practicing yoga and meditation.
  • Sandy herman
    Wow...I have just finished my practice session , focusing on SESAN kata, with Bakkies Sensei,s DVD instructional , as my guide , and after breakfast , soaking in the bath , I read this most insightful post.Inspirational , instructive and a reminder that walking this path requires constant searching....and the kicker....seek ...and you will find
  • Rita Masini
    I love this article and reminds me of my Sensei who had many many Sensei-isms. One of my (and our dojo's) favorites is "Kata is perfectly made to make you fail perfectly." It's all about the journey. Thanks for sharing your insights.

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