3 Tricks To Quickly Learn A New Karate Kata


And awkwardness.suparimpei_jesse_enkamp_teaching

Those are the two main things I feel every time I learn a new Karate kata.

Don’t get me wrong, I LOVE learning.

But sometimes…

I wish it could go faster!

Do YOU ever feel the same?

I hope so, because today I will teach you three powerful tricks to quickly learn a new Karate kata, no matter how complex it is.

I frequently use these memory tricks myself, and they work like a charm.

Sounds good?

Let’s go!

1. Lights, Camera, Action! (Film It)

Everyone has a smartphone.

So, why not film your kata?

(If you’re filming your sensei, ask permission!)

Try to film the kata from different angles, at various speeds. Include verbal cues too, for those hard-to-see technical details and important points.

I cannot tell you how many times my smartphone has saved my butt.

I got tons of Karate stuff filmed!

If you’re not allowed to film during training, do it afterwards. You can do it at home too, but do it when the kata is still fresh.

Now, here’s the cool part…

You can watch your filmed kata anywhere!

For example; check the kata when you’re waiting for the bus, while you’re eating lunch, before you go to bed, while you brush your teeth, when you take a poo poo… the possibilities are endless.

Everytime you watch your kata, your memory of it improves.

So, whip your smartphone out and film!

It’s super effective.

2. Pen, Paper & Patience (Take Notes)

If you spend time, money & effort on learning a new kata, the least you can do is take notes.

Respect your hustle!

It’s not even hard. All you need is this modern technology called “pen and paper”.

Jot down the basic moves of the kata.

If you have time, add more elaborate explanations of details too.

Taking notes might seem “obvious”, but believe me – I’ve seen TONS of people who NEVER take any notes when they learn something new. Their memory must be INCREDIBLE!

; -)

The sweet thing about taking notes is this: Even if you don’t read them again, the mere act of writing the kata down will help you remember it better.

Writing takes longer than filming.

But it’s better than nothing!

3. Grease The Groove (Visualize It)


Visualize your new kata.

Too often we get stuck in logical thinking and brute force memorization.

That’s okay for remembering grocery lists.

In this case we want to learn a new kata – so we need something more powerful.

We need visualisation!

In sport psychology, the benefits of visualising (a.k.a mental imagery) have been proven in countless studies.

The effects are almost “magical”.

Every time you visualize your kata, the neuro-muscular pathways associated with that kata’s movements strengthen in your mind and body.

You’re literally “greasing the groove” of the kata in your brain.

Like training without training.

Here are 2 basic ways of visualizing:

  • a) Internal Perspective – This is when you see the kata performed from your own point of view.
    b) External Perspective – This is when you see the kata performed from outside your own body, like a spectator.

Which one works best?

It’s very individual. Try both ways!

(Personally, I mix both approaches.)

Visualization can be hard in the beginning, but it becomes easier with practice.

That’s it!

The final “trick” is…

Practice, practice, practice!

Because nothing worth having comes easy.

Good luck!


  • Nic
    Again a great article (as usual!)! I very often do kata before I fall asleep. In my mind I highlite certain details in zoom. Maybe it sound a little weird but I even add a sound effect. Well, but like Iain Abernethy said in one of his podcasts: "Being weird is ok. We meet, dress up in white pyjamas and punch and kick our friends..." By the way: Performing the Haian/Pinan Katas in your mind gives you that "peacefull mind" to slowly drift into slumber. I wonder what Anko Itosu would say?
    • Nice one Nic-san! Keep it up ;-)
    • OMG !!! this is a breakthrough for me.. I just did it and It feels like when you meditate, that you quickly get to "calm" state... I wonder if people know this!! thanks for that tip!!!!
    • @ Nic - I do this too! Funny thing is, though, I do drift off to sleep even though the Pinan katas are anything but peaceful for me. Evil clowns, big hairy biker dudes, drunkards - all part of the cast of characters for the Pinans I've learned so far :-)
    • Emma
      I do this too! I was raised in a spiritual family learning of the benefits of visualisation and meditation, so when I was having trouble getting the hang of my first kata I started "practicing" as I was falling asleep, and encouraging my daughter to do the same. I find it helps a lot!
    • ajda
      I always do kata before falling asleep, but I am not sure how effective that is, because I believe I'm not specific enough. Do you learn to visualize details with practice, or is there some kind of trick that I keep on missing? Also I read somewhere that it's good to visualize opponents when doing kata to make sure you understand the moves and do it with the right emotions and everything...do you do that? Thanks for your reply, I really love (learning) kata and I want to do them much better than I do now.
  • Bayu Rizky Nugroho
    "Open your mouth!" Says Inoue sensei on one of your article..
  • Szilard
    And after 3 years practicing it every week, suddenly I realize (again) I have misunderstood the entire kata, it is not even close to my original interpretation and the bunkai they teach us. The basic bunkai is just to make it easier to learn it. (therefore trick #3.1: do bunkai right from the start when you learn a new kata.) To emphasize it a bit more let me give you an analogy. When you learn math every bits of new theory comes with problems and exercises that you should do. If you stop and think about the reality value of those exercises you might get the impression the new bits of math you are learning is absolutely useless. However those exercises are not the situations where you will really apply these new bits of theory, they are there to help you learn it well. The real application is not something one can deal with without a much deeper understanding. Unfortunately there is only little room to cut corners here. To understand a kata well, it is important to learn the "stupid" bunkai that comes with it.
  • I have employed the filming and note-taking techniques - I will definitely try the visualization as well. It sounds like a great meditation activity too, or a nice way to take a break in the workday - sitting at your desk in front of your computer with a draft email on the screen, fingers poised over the keyboard... looking like your composing an important message, when in fact you're performing kata in your head. I love it! Thank you again Jesse-san.
  • Ossu! [bow] LOL, just last night my Sensei suggested I film myself (scary thought) for learning kata. I've been doing visualization, and that helps a little. Hadn't thought about pen and paper - thanks! And because I have room for one car in the garage I have room for practicing kata in the garage. Half the year it's cold and dark but if I'm going to be out walking the dog in the cold and dark I'd darn well better learn to fight in winter clothes, right? [bow]
    • I am learning heian kata dai ichi similar to pinan shodan. It is different from goju katas so has been a challenge esp some stances. I haven't filmed it although have with other kata. I use pen and paper and take notes after every class. Visualization I find super useful too esp if I am too tired or don't have space for practice.
  • Great ideas. I draw little stick men at the Kata after class. I know..nerd!
  • Andrew
    I have never thought to visualise from an internal perspective I have always used external. I just tried it with my eyes closed and it was actually a strange feeling. I will put that one in the tool box and try it some more. Thank you for another cool article.
  • Shane
    I am all about the kata's. I have found practicing the last few moves over and over then adding few moves before. Practice that, then add a few more; working backwards to the beginning. This was suggested to me by one of my students and I have to tell you it works great. So my favorite saying is "and how did we get here" and then I add a couple of moves to the beginning. I have to agree with Szilard, learning the bunkia helps.
    • Charles Ercolano
      I never used the recorded or the pen & paper method but used to use the visualisation method each night in bed before sleeping. That was early on in my training. I found it very helpful and effective. I would visualize each kata that I knew and the new kata I was learning just before sleep. The more katas I learned the harder it was to do. Try visualizing each kata in your head without losing concentration. It will improve your katas and your power of concentration.
      • Charles Ercolano
        Didn't mean to reply directly to you, Shane.
    • Sen
      That's it. Going for this way - always worked for me in anything I had to learn in my life. Thanks!!
      • Sen
        I did reply directly to you, Shane : - )
  • Nicole Siaw
    I've never tried jotting down notes before.. but okay I'm always happy to try! Oh and also, I just wanna add to the first tip. If you don't have the time to film yourself then don't worry! Try downloading videos on YouTube and use the second tip and visualize yourself doing the same moves. ( you can do it while watching or after) It helps to learn the kata if you can first see yourself doing it in your mind and then doing it in real life... It works for me especially in harder movements or unusual movements
  • Arjun
    Nice one, i always used to do this. thanks
  • Ben Brown
    Greetings Jessie-San and fellow (ladies too!) nerds . I've found that when learning new katas especially from cd's , that it's useful to pause about every four motions ( practice until it's fluid )then so on and so forth. It has served me well on a few occasions . The visualizing one I think is the best because yes you can literally do it anywhere , anytime ! Thank you again Jessie for another kick butt article!
  • Learning Kata, Forms etc is like learning a song. You can remember the chorus or a few lines here and there,and then.... BOOM! It all falls into place. Good 3 ways though Jesse, 42 years and I still fall asleep going through kata = double nerd... is that at all possible I ask myself??? Your articles are ace and thought provoking, looking through the surface of what we are doing is the only way.
  • Great advice! I write them down and use my phone to record my voice reading the instructions. Then, I slap on the ear phones and listen to myself talking me through the movements. Works like a charm! By the way, I am a Kata Geek. I mean, I flat out love me some kata! I'm also a filmmaker, so I'm marrying my two passions and producing a documentary film about kata called WARRIOR ARTS DEADLY DANCE. Snappy title, eh? Anywho, I would certainly appreciate it if you could spread the word. I've been running a KickStarter campaign that ends in 5 days. Probably will not reach my goal, but I'll still go ahead and finish the film. If you want to help publicize it, and perhaps make a pledge, that would be cool. Or if you want to come visit Hawaii, you can even appear in it! I'm interviewing all sorts of talented martial artists and collecting massive amounts of kata footage so I can make the best dang kata documentary ever. Mahalo for any boost you can give! Aloha! ~Albert Cloutier
  • Ian
    Videotape ... someone else (who is good at it) when learning a new kata. Or watch the kata on Youtube (if available) ... this is how I 'learn' new kata after getting instruction from my Sensei. Follow along, pause the tape, go back, figure out what the guy is actually doing, remember something Sensei said ... all about building that initial broad understanding. Then ... Videotape yourself ... when you actually have a decent initial understanding of the kata, and want to start doing it well. You get all those "hey, I never realised I wasn't doing *this* and was actually doing *that* ... better change". Oh ... PS ... Videotaping yourself works great for kumite too.
  • Talaniel
    Yeah, actually pretty good ideas. I use youtube to get filmed katas (full speed, slow motion, with a commentary) The disadvantage is that sometimes the camera angle is not that good for some finer points :-) Pen and paper method is also fine - I use a book on katas as a basis and I write my own notes right to the respective steps shown in the book. This way I do not need to use my feeble skills of drawing stick figures. And visualising - of course, really helpfull to kill time in queues or in some meaningless meeting :-)
  • Mike
    Nice article as always Doing little study group also useful. Peaceful environment & mind also useful Normally i do meditation first before i do some martial arts training Keep all the good works all the karate nerds outthere from someone that never learn karate ????
  • Jonathon
    Hi there very useful information, having only been training for a short time found kata didnt make sense to me, i found it very difficult to do the kata as i didnt understand what i was tryig to achieve in each movement, up until the day my sensei gave me some videos for kata and bunkai info for each, it was only after watching each of the first three kata that i actually started to understand what i was doing, i now understood what each movement was trying to achieve, i now find that my understanding is growing largely to seeing the techniques daily, i now find my self fascinated about the way thigs are done properly and feel maybe the art side of things than my initial thoughts of being able to look after myself if the need should arise. cheers Jonathon
  • Gareth Rowe
    Great article, I fully endorse the filming concept to see what you are doing. A golf teacher once told me that what you feel you are doing and what you are actually doing can be quite different, hence most golf swing teachers now use video for their students so they can see their swing. Works great for karate technique too. I have a couple of kata books that cover all the Shotokan katas. Whenever I learn a new kata or go on a course with a senior instructor covering one I already 'know', I make notes of the finer details in my book. This allows me to refresh my memory of specific finer points in the kata. My instructor likes to say that for higher grades 'big things make a small difference, small things make a big difference' and that's the stuff I don't want to forget!
  • Oxfordshire tkd
    Mate... I have spent so many years telling my students this and many still dont believe me. its gold. if you think about the alternatives which are: go home, forget, try to work it out, ask the instructor again next lesson. Good for my ego but not for progress. big love c
  • jay
    Completely correct. I remember I recorded all the katas I knew when I first became a black belt. And I find myself needing to go back sometimes, when I do a kata and a move does not fell right. Recording also acts as a check aid for those times when Your mind fails you. Because it will
  • henry brown
    what is the best economical route to qualify for the 2020 olympics in sparring
  • eniola
    the tricks were so helpful and were awesome when i did it because it was my first time starting to learn karate kata
  • Jason
    This is great stuff! As a pretty new beginner (6-kyu) this method is fantastic but I'll also add my 4th point that really accelerated my kata learning; and that is to use time at home to "pre-load" one or more upcoming katas to your brain before you are expected to attempt them in the dojo. For me it's a lot less stressful and hectic (therefore quicker) to learn the basic form when I don't feel the pressure of having to perform well at the dojo, I try to keep ahead of the game and learn/practice all katas that are up to three belts over my current grade and then in the dojo I can focus more on my precision and timing instead of basic movements. Your second point is also great for martial arts in general. Starting out I was overwhelmed by what seemed like hundreds of different blocks/strikes/kicks... When I finally started keeping a list of what had been presented up to my level, not only did I see that there really weren't as many unique technique as I thought, but that it also became easy to remember the Japanese words for those techniques and to see how the grammar hangs together xxx-uke, xxx-tsuki, xxx-geri, xxx-kumite,...

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