Karate = mc^2

Karate by itself is not a science.

It’s really not.

Even though people sometimes say it is, I don’t believe in that.

Karate is far too ambiguous to be.

However, what I do believe is that scientific principles can be succesfully applied to Karate, in various ways. In other words – though Karate is no science per se – a scientific approach can (and preferably should) be used when exploring it.

And believe me, that has been done.

But, strangely enough, many people don’t know that.

Or maybe they just don’t care?

So, to light that scientific bulb of Karate that we all have hidden somewhere in ourselves, I’ve decided to show you two interesting studies I’ve found that have been made about Karate.

Scientific studies, that is.

Let’s take a look:

“Load Analysis of Karate Kata Situational Training”

Presented at the 14th Annual Congress of the European College of Sport Science, in Oslo, Norveška, 24-27.07. 2009., this studie was conducted by a team of researchers (Bok, Daniel; Jukic, Igor; Vucetic, Vlatko) to look more closely at how the body reacts to performing kata.

Yes, kata!

Amazingly enough, a bunch of scientists deemed our “silly war-dances” worthy of research. And when you want to see the quick result of research, you simply look for the term “Abstract”.

So here’s the abstract of the study in question (edited slightly by me):

INTRODUCTION: Kata is a karate discipline comprised of basic karate techniques presenting offensive and the defensive actions. As kata is performed identically on training and competition, it is relatively easy to assess actual competition load measuring performances during situational training.

The goal of the research was to establish the level of intensity of 5 consecutive kata (Jion, KD [Kanku Dai], KS [Kanku Sho], GSS [Gojushih-sho], Unsu) performances with 5 min rest periods.

METHODS: A member of Croatian national kata team (29 yrs ; 179 cm ; 91 kg) performed incremental treadmill test (0, 5 km/h speed increase per minute, 1, 5% grade) for determination of VO2max and HRmax (50.8 mlO2/kg/min ; 191 bpm) and anaerobic threshold (AnT -46.4 mlO2/kg/min ; 186 bpm).

The level of intensity of 5 consecutive kata was measured through: heart rate (HR), blood lactate (LA ; Lactate Scout, USA) and oxygen uptake (VO2 ; COSMED, Quark K4, Italy).

RESULTS: The duration of each kata was 102s in average. HR before each 5 performance was 137, 150, 150, 124 and 137 bpm (73.1% HRmax, 75.1% HRAnT in avr) and after the kata performance 196, 197, 188, 193 and 189 bpm (100.1% HRmax, 103.6% HRAnT in avr). VO2 before each kata was 14.7, 13.4, 19.9, 12.5 and 9.3 mlO2/kg/min (27.5% VO2max, 30.1% VO2AnT in avr) and after the performance 39.1, 41.6, 33.7, 29.5 and 28.2 mlO2/kg/min (67.7% VO2max, 73.8 VO2AnT in avr). LA before each kata was 1.2, 12.6, 14.2, 14.3 and 16.8 mmol/l ; after kata 5.7, 13.2, 14.4, 14.4 and 13.0 mmol/l and 3 min after kata 11.3, 13.4, 14.0, 13.9 and 13.9 mmol/l.

DISCUSSION: HR after the kata performance indicates extremely high intensity of activity which goes even above the HRmax estimated on the treadmill test.

The HRpeak was lower in the last 3 katas, which can be attributed to the more economical performances and accumulated fatigue. Analysing the VO2 after each performance, which is always lower than after the previous one, it can be concluded that anaerobic metabolism is increasing with each performance.

It also indicates that 5 min break is not enough for complete recovery. This has also been supported by values of LA. Each consecutive kata has been performed with higher LA which also indicates insufficient recovery period and glicolitic character of the activity.

CONCLUSION: In comparison to already reported results, this case study presents higher physiological demands of kata performance. It is likely due to the highly trained subject examined and higher level of kata performances.

Kata performance can be considered as high intensity anaerobic activity with high lactate tolerance demands of an athlete. Situational training (5 katas with 5 min recovery) can be considered as extremely demanding system in which the anaerobic metabolism is increasing with each consecutive kata and the rest period is insufficient for full recovery.

Interesting, right?!


Highly interesting!

At least to me. But then again, I’m a Karate nerd.

Anyhow, let’s leave that one, and move on to the next study which happens to focus on the relationship and comparison between kumite and kata:

“Energetics of karate (kata and kumite techniques) in top-level athletes”

Published in the European Journal of Applied Physiology, 27th of August 2009, by Doria, Veicsteinas, Limonta, Maggioni, Aschieri, Eusebi, Fano and Pietrangelo, this study gives us a lot of interesting data, like strength measurements, vertical jump measurements etc. for six world champions in kata and kumite.

That is, if you buy it for 45$.

As a pdf.

No thank you.

However, luckily, the abstract is free.

Here it is.

INTRODUCTION: Breath-by-breath O(2) uptake (VO2, L min(-1)) and blood lactate concentration were measured before, during exercise, and during recovery in six kata and six kumite karate World Champions performing a simulated competition.

VO2max, maximal anaerobic alactic, and lactic power were also assessed. The total energy cost (VO2TOT mL kg(-1) above resting) of each simulated competition was calculated and subdivided into aerobic, lactic, and alactic fractions.

RESULTS: Results showed that

(a) no differences between kata and kumite groups in VO2max, height of vertical jump, and Wingate test were found;

(b) VO2TOT were 87.8 +/- 6.6 and 82.3 +/- 12.3 mL kg(-1) in kata male and female with a performance time of 138 +/- 4 and 158 +/- 14 s, respectively; 189.0 +/- 14.6 mL kg(-1) in kumite male and 155.8 +/- 38.4 mL kg(-1) in kumite female with a predetermined performance time of 240 +/- 0 and 180 +/- 0 s, respectively;

(c) the metabolic power was significantly higher in kumite than in kata athletes (p < or = 0.05 in both gender);

(d) aerobic and anaerobic alactic sources, in percentage of the total, were significantly different between gender and disciplines (p < 0.05), while the lactic source was similar;

(e) HR ranged between 174 and 187 b min(-1) during simulated competition. In conclusion, kumite appears to require a much higher metabolic power than kata, being the energy source with the aerobic contribution predominant.

Also, a very interesting read.

Especially if you compare the test results to other martial arts (like MMA), or maybe your own!

(Hint: More interesting would be if somebody could perhaps “donate” this to me [in the name of science and Karate of course] so I could read the whole thing!)

Oh, and for those of you that don’t read scientific literature that much (no, I’m not talking about science fiction), “VO2” is the capacity of an individual’s body to transport and utilize oxygen.

“HR” means heart rate, and the “Wingate test” can be found here.

And if you don’t know the difference between aerobic and anaerobic exercise, then you’ve really got much to learn.

So, basically, this was what I wanted to share today!

I’ve got some other philosophical and socio-cultural studies done on Karate too, with very interesting results…

But that’s for the future.

Now, look at the two above abstracts that you just read and see if you can draw your own conclusions.

Maybe you need to step your game up?


  • Diego Romero
    interesting read. btw, someone should do this with sanchin and tensho :p
    • Diego Romero
      commenting again cause i forgot to subscribe
  • Igor
    Something like this was done years ago, by master dr Ilija (I think that's the name) Jorga, (from Serbia, the Jorga brothers were something like pioners of karate in Ex Yugoslavia), he compared karate (I'm not sure is it kata) with long or middle distance running I'm not 100% sure... After that he funded his style, which wikipedia on my language refers to as ,,scientific shotokan'' together with his brother dr Vladimir Jorga and Taiji Kase.
    • That's cool! Will look it up!
  • TSD_Student
    TSD_Student ("TSDS") on: "IS KARATE A SCIENCE?" It's easy to get lost in semantics here. Let TSDS say that karate is a martial art that is based on the science of developing the abilities inherent in the human being. The skills attained from developing these abilities can then be applied to a fighting situation. The application by the individual is what takes the scientfic principles underlying karate and makes it an art in practice, i.e., a "martial art." TSDS agrees, in general, with many of the articles written here. TSDS is not as creative a writer; I am more factual in my thinking. Allow TSDS to present a little of that thinking, which will touch on a number of the issues presented on this blog, such as what is kata?, kata critics?, etc. At my current TSD school, sparring and competition are highly valued, and a big part of the class time. Personally, I don't like to do sparring as a general rule. I prefer the other parts of the curicculum, especially kata (hyung in TSD). So, I try to get out of sparring whenever I can. The instructors frown on this and the head instructor in particular, tried to get me to quit the school. I decided to make my point with one of the assistant instructors one day, one I had been working a lot with but who also doubted my position on avoiding sparring. This instructor thought TSDS lacked 'confidence.' When the assistant instructor signaled the class for sparring, I spoke up an said I didn't want too. The assistant instructor gave a derisive look and a couple of the other student's snickered. I said I would give a demonstration that would prove my point on how I wanted to train in karate. I told the assistant instructor it would involve a simulation using kata and breaking (TSD people are big on breaking boards). The assistant instructor thought to play along ... what could a 'beginner' possibly show the class? Most other students continued to be amused. I went to my duffle bag and pulled out 2 child-level breaking boards. I told the class that I was going to do the first two steps of Hyung Il Bu, the 1st beginner form. I asked the instructor to hold one of the boards at a low level to my left; and I had a large green belt hold the second board at waist level further to my left. The board-holders were spaced approximately where I would step for the first 'leg' of Hyung Il Bu. Once the board-holders were positioned, I came to attention, then 'ready stance.' Next, I turned and quickly stepped left into a front stance and struck the assistant instructor-held board with a left low block, snapping it cleaning. Next, I quickly stepped forward into a right front stance and hit the green belt-held board with a right middle punch, a sharp break. What I didn't tell you was the first board's pieces flew out of the assistant instructor's hand's and bounced along the floor stopping about five or six feet away. The second board also flew out of the green belt's hands and bounced around before laying still several feet away. TSDS didn't stop there. I requested the assistant instructor and large green belt also perform the same test. They agreed. The assistant instructor failed to break either (child-level) board on the first try. On the second try, the instructore succeeded. The large green belt failed to break the first board with his low block; he cracked the second board with his middle punch. At the end of the 'test,' TSDS asked the assistant instuctor if I could practice the pre-arranged sparring techniques at the heavy bag, rather than engage in the free-sparring session. The assistant instructor answered, "Go right ahead."
    • Gerry
      TSDS - that's a great example of how person's training may be optimal for them, even if it appears they are "missing out" by not focusing on another type of training. Since I train alone I very often work kata sequences against either a hanging or standing heavy bag. It's a great way to get feedback on my technique, similar to what you've done using the breaking boards.
  • Nathan
    Jesse-san, I have the second article you mention; contact me if you are still interested.

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