The True Power of Pauses in Kata Performance

Question: Do you consider yourself a martial artist?

I mean really, a martial artist; somebody who literally expresses his art through martial motions.

Do you?

Well, if you do, and you regularly tell people that you practise a martial art (like Karate), then I sincerely hope you take your art seriously enough to consider the powerful message contained in its stillness.

You see – to make a long story short – there exists a heated debate in Karate about a) whether or not one should have pauses in the performance of a kata, and b) exactly how long, and where, these pauses should be.

In short: Many people have a hard time grasping pauses in kata.

And some people get really angry about this.

Luca Valdesi, multiple-times world kata champion and the subject of many heated debates.

Indeed, a quick look at almost any of my popular YouTube videos of kata will most likely reveal a flaming comment section, with self-proclaimed keyboard warriors arguing back and forth whether some kata performer’s pauses are too long or not.

This, ladies and gentlemen – is absolutely ridiculous.

If you are one of these “kata pause bashers”, I need you to seriously reconsider your approach to Karate in general, and kata in particular.

What am I talking about?

Allow me to explain:

First of all, sure, in a real fight (a ‘balls-to-the-wall’ self-defense situation), there is no need for pausing at all. That’s just insane. Unless you have a godly amount of testicular fortitude, the sensible thing is to always finish your opponent as quickly as possible and then effectively make your escape to safety.


But that’s not what we’re talking about here.

Because the performance of a kata is NOT a fight.

(The bunkai, however, is.)

The performance of kata is a visual manifestation of various solo-applications (sequences of offensive and defensive self-defense techniques) used in a fight, strung together into a geometrical pattern, expressed through, and cultivated by, a performer to such a degree that the whole ultimately becomes greater than the sum total of its individual parts.

And when that’s skillfully done, onlookers get goosebumps.

Just like any art.

But in order to achieve this level of performance yourself, you need to master stillness.

Because pauses speak louder than movements.

“The most precious things in speech are the pauses.”

– Sir Ralph Richardson (1902-1983)


Well, in short, the power of pauses lies in the fact that they make us powerfully aware of what has been suspended.

And as such, they are crucial to the emotional and visual impact of the performance of your kata.

But that’s not all – pauses work in more ways: As a comparison, in printed text for example, punctuation is used to separate words, right? The varying punctuation marks (period, comma, dash etc.) give information about how we should read and comprehend the words. Punctuation arranges the words in parcels, separating one unit from the next, so we can easily unwrap/decode them one at a time. In other words, punctuation allows us to make sequential sense of the material – just like in all forms of artistry: In music there’s many kinds of pauses (fermata, lunga pausa, caesura etc.), and in photography or painting the key to great shots is working with the negative space.

But you’re not stupid.

Akira Kurosawa (1910-1998), legendary Japanese film director, was a true master of effectively utilizing suspension in his numerous movies.

You know that Karate isn’t literature, music, painting or photography… and a kata isn’t a song or an essay.

But it still works in the

  • exact
  • same
  • way.

In stillness, the emotional impact of your movements flower to their full potential.

When you punch and kick, you only seed the techniques. It is in the pause where they actually grow.

In Karate, the skillful use of pauses make all the difference.

And that holds true for life as well.

I mean, we think that when we pause – no matter if it’s a brief break in a kata or a week-long holiday retreat in our ‘regular’ busy life – we are losing time that could be used productively. We think we’re always making progress when we’re in motion, moving forward on our way to our goals… while in reality it’s often when we pause that the most progress is actually made.

It’s common wisdom that discoveries and insights come when we stop working on something and let it go for a moment.

Because in life’s pauses we find the silent background of our being.

(And not too many people are comfortable with this…)

The real power of a wave lies not in the impact itself, but in that surreal moment of stillness and quietness immediately afterwards.

Inspiration and ideas spring from deep within. They can’t be reached through mental focus, thinking or logic. They are accessed when the mind is relaxed and flowing. Hence, pauses refresh and renew, and in that way actually contribute to our productivity, while bringing balance and an enjoyable rhythm to life.

I mean, we can’t live at all without the long pause of sleep or even the tiny pauses of breath, right?

Pauses give life.

In the exact same way, pauses make your kata live too.

In music, it’s the pauses that make the rhythm. It’s in the pauses that the notes truly settle in and have time to reverberate in our hearts.

The same holds true for Karate.

At least if you call yourself a martial artist.

Karate, to me, is a martial art no less sophisticated than other forms of human art (we just happen to be great at self-defense too). In that context, I seriously believe the performance of kata to be the pinnacle of sophistication when it comes to Karate’s various means of artistical output, and I believe one should always strive to embrace a kata wholeheartedly in the martial as well as the artistic sense – complete with pauses and everything.

Silence is a gift.

Use it effectively, and it will speak louder than your actions.

In Karate, as well as life.

And that, my friends, is the true power of pauses.


  • Dan K
    I agree wholeheartedly! The entire composure of a piece of music can be changed by simply altering the holds, pauses, and dynamics of the notes. Great photographs use the background to create the 'mood' the subject is seen in. Pauses in Kata give emphasis and emotion to the surrounding moves, and are also useful in 'defining' bunkai by grouping certain sets of movement together. Without the pauses and changes in tempo, the empty spaces, the 'background' per-se, the entire composure/sequence can have an entirely different meaning.
  • Te'o
    Jesse! I love this article and the topic. This is something we train continually. I strive to teach each one of my students that their kata is truly theirs if they are putting a 100% of themselves into the kata. I really try to help them see that the pauses either lead up to or are the culmination of an explosive technique and concentration of power. A frequent question that my students have is "Why are we setting our hands or stance in this sequence?" I then explain how the power and techniques flow out of that "setting." And I agree with you on how kata and bunkai are so different. I have to teach my students that we're now doing "bunkai" not the kata and that they may have to make adjustments during the execution of the kata bunkai. I stress that they must, at times, "adapt, improvise, and overcome" depending on what their attackers do as far as force, distance, timing, etc. I also like to teach them that the "pause" is the moment for regrouping of mental and physical concentration. Similar to your analogy of the wave..."that moment of stillness and quietness afterwards." Thanks Jesse...Alofas!
  • ... and it was the "Karate Bible", chapter 1. Thanks Jesse, awesome post.
  • NoKnockaknee
    I disagree. Yes, artistic expression, yadda yadda yadda. But at the end of the day, the guy who can do Kanku Sho full bore, full power with perfect technique WITHOUT in better shape than the showman who does pause. No disprespect intended, I just disagree. IMHO Ossu
    • Te'o
      NK...I would say that whoever, and I mean who could ever do this, who can do any kata, bar none, full bore, full power with perfect technique without pauses....IS THE MAN OR WOMAN!!! I don't believe this ideal exists, but you can definitely train to be the very best YOU at YOUR karate; with or without pauses. Train hard and stay strong. 'Ofa atu!
      • I don't agree with the previous 2 comments. Here we are not talking about physical capability or shape. I'm absolutely sure that Valdesi, Diaz, Usami, Maurino, etc... can perform a Kata without pauses 2 times consecutively, without showing the minimum lack in technique and power! But that's not the point! The point is to COMMUNICATE something: and, as in a speech, how can you hope to be clear if you skip the right pauses between the sentences? Missing pauses is the low belts' typical error: I often see yellow-belt kids performing katas and running like hell toward the end! But it is normal, they are totally focused on doing the right techniques in the right order: they don't know anything yet about breathing, rhythm and... pauses.
        • anne
          I very much agree with the concept of "pause" conveyed in this article, as well as your take on it. I am a "green" green belt, and I find myself still working on embracing each pause in my kata... I feel I am on the right path :)
          • ;-) and this path is so long... an entire life! Good luck!!
    • Tashi
      I agree with Alessandro-san. In kata performance (and maybe in kumite) is more important the quickness of a single technique/combination than the ability to perform the whole kata in a short time.
    • Siaw
      really??? have you tried standing still in a full kibadichi/shikodachi/zenkusdachi or any stance without moving? Most times I feel like not moving is actually harder than moving
  • Diego Romero
    pausing can be a good tool if you're training your kata, but complaining about pauses and pause length misses the part where they're done in kata PERFORMANCE. there's nothing wrong with performing kata, but it's not 'training' the kata itself in the original context of kata training (while still, of course, being training specifically as far as kata performance is concerned), and i think this is where the whole shitstorm starts. essentially, IMO, you need to look at WHY you're pausing, and if your pause is appropriate for your specific objective (which need not be combative). if it is, cool. if it isn't, either do it differently or change your goal to suit it.
    • Samir
      Thanks Diego for saying just what I thought so I don't have to write it down!
  • Isaac
    As Takazawa Sensei told me, Slow moments slow, fast moments fast, finish one move before going to the next one. Thanks Jesse your articles are always right on.
  • CPMA
    I almost completely disagree with this post. The only parts I agree with is tempo (and I think that was in a comment, not the post), and pauses, and then ONLY between bunkai sequences, which is interpretive and therefore certainly not required. Kata is a combat system memorialized in form(s). Pauses for artistic effect are perfectly fine if the intent is a performance and/or tournament. But that is sport, not self-defense, which kata was originally intended for, and to say that this view must be held if one calls him/herself a martial artist is extremely short-sighted and incredibly arrogant at best. I usually enjoy these posts but this one is insulting.
    • anne
      before going to feeling insulted, it might be helpful to consider this point of view? Some are into martial arts for fighting, competitive sport or exclusively for some other motive, but there are many of us who are inspired by the beauty of it as well. Great masters performed kata with pauses, accentuating moments, or otherwise... why not try to learn something from them?
      • Greg
        @CPMA, surely by you yourself being insulted by someone else that DARES to express a point of view, surely that makes YOU the arrogant and short-sighted one? Take time before putting down your words my friend ;) @Jesse, Love the post and it is a different point of view and I shall take what I can from it, thank you for taking the time to give us a bit more insight :) Greg
        • CPMA
          (sorry Anne, I meant to reply under your post, not Greg's) Greg - It is you that needs to take time and READ before putting your words down. I never stated that I was insulted by Jesse's POV; that's why he posts, and he obviously supports other POVs by allowing comments on his blog (which I appreciate). If you would take the time to read the reply, you would see that after I gave MY point of view, I said, "to say that this view must be held if one calls him/herself a martial artist is extremely short-sighted and incredibly arrogant at best. I usually enjoy these posts but this one is insulting." I think this is an arrogant statement, and I propose that you were short-sighted in your reply. However, that's JMHO.
      • CPMA
        Anne - I'm not at all insulted by the POV posited in the post, and although I don't partake in the sport side of martial arts, I am very supportive of it. I too agree that kata can be a absolutely beautiful thing to view. Where I became insulted by this post was the position that Jesse took by insinuating/stating that if someone disagrees with this view, he or she can't consider him/herself a martial artist. Please re-read my reply for context.
        • anne
          Thanks for your reply CPMA...
    • ShotoNoob
      @CPMA My feeling is that your comments is the best for this post topic. Largely, I'm preoccupied with learning kata, not debating whether my performance appeals to a spectator's visual or emotional response. And on the latter, my instructors are quite capable, in my experience, in pointing out my divergences from practicing my kata true to form. {Pause} Traditional karate in application is self defense. Kata, proper, is a sophisticated exercise designed to build martial skill. That's it's function. Hence, pauses in kata serve that function. The pause should be evaluated so. {Pause} IMO, it's fair to say that kata and the pauses are expressions of human potential. As such, traditional karate, kata, and it's pauses can be regarded as art forms, with their own beauty & aesthetic value. This artistic expression or value if you will, is very important and satisfying to certain karate practitioners. {pause} Perhaps the intent of the author is to recognize & encourage the artistic expression in kata [pauses] as this is held dear by many karateka. At the same time, the author indicates he recognizes the martial-training significance of same. He makes his case. {pause} I believe that kata / pauses are primarily a martial training tool. the 'art form' is a by-product. I believe that kata can make you that top fighter in actual combat. This is not the popular view at my karate school. Most view kata as an general exercise or art form, sparring is more important. {pause} I mentioned my belief about kata to the senior master at my school (who was too old to actively fight). He said, "You're right." {pause} So I'm not insulted that many, if not most, differ with the senior master's affirmation of my belief.
  • Clmlrx
    Great article. I teach often that to my sempei students. and I often repeat that it is more difficult to stop and to show that they are able to masterise the kata than to go through the kata and showing that the kata is "eating" them.
  • Chuck Blackburn
    As a fellow practitioner who always did pretty well in kata competition "way back when", I'd like to add an observation. My point of view is as a "martial ARTIST", not an "American karate" fighter. If the intent of practicing forms is simply to "make it through the form", it is quite evident in the emptiness in the performance upon completion. If it is to get through the form as quickly as possible, then the "best" forms practitioner would be the one who could do it the fastest. If the "purpose" of practicing forms is to express the power, beauty and grace of the collections of movements as a whole piece, then you will witness (or perform) a truly beautiful thing which leaves you with a certain sense of awe akin to watching a beautiful sunset. I firmly believe that those who do not fully appreciate the vital importance of conscious forms practice have never truly glimpsed the essence of what traditional martial arts is all about. I call what I teach "spiritual martial arts", for we train not to just defend ourselves, though that is certainly one of the benefits; not to "get in shape", though martial arts is one of the best conditioning regimes anyone can ever undertake; and certainly NOT to best a fellow martial artist in competition, though done in the proper respectful attitude can be mutually rewarding. Spiritual Martial Arts is about becoming a better person in every aspect of our being: physically, mentally, intellectually, emotionally, spiritually and socially. We should strive to be OUR BEST at each and every one of these things--not just better than someone else.
  • Ash
    I quite agree. I train out in Okinawa every year and have done for last 6 years. My sensei makes us do kata a move at a time and will correct after each movement to ensure its as strong as effective as it can possibly be. This is how I practice now, and find i enjoy and understand the kata more. It may be too slow for some but its how i want to practice karate. used to be so fast that whilst performing kata the precision and power were lost it was just about remembering the order and getting it done before the others in the class regardless of quality.
  • Thanks for the great comments so far! No matter if we agree or disagree on the topic, let's remember what Aristotle meant when he once wrote "it is the mark of an educated mind to be able to entertain a thought without accepting it." Let's keep learning from each others opinions, I'm looking forward to more people chiming in. At the end of the day; Karate is what you make it - and there are no definitive truths. Thanks again guys, keep keepin' it real ;)
  • A.F. de Prémont
    Well, I do agree about the importance of rhythm, flow and pauses in executing a kata, they are kata. But sometimes in world level competitions pauses ...................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................... are over rated.
    • Most definitely, A.F san. The skillful use of pauses require an ability to not only know where to have pauses, but for how long. Too long pauses can easily ruin a whole kata performance, just as too short ones can. That's why it's such an advanced concept, and hard to grasp for many...
      • Now you are talking! If we can compare kata to any other performing art, then pausing for too long is over-acting. How long is too long? well that's a matter of sensibility isn't it? Keep it flowing!
  • Frank
    Pauses are very "reality-based", they are a precious moment when one can get control of your breathing and regroup. They are a mark of an experienced fighter, thus an experienced kata practitioner. We too often see people rushing through a kata, without pauses, and being totally out of breath. But I must that too lengthy pauses are meaningless, yet they do offer a good "show"
  • Candy
    In the trailer for "Man of Steel" the most powerful scene, in my opinion, is when everything goes still as Superman places his fist on the ice and gathers energy, shoots himself up, and breaks the sound barrier. When I perform a kata, I strive to create this kind of power. One that you yourself feel and powerful enough to transfer and inspire others watching. I haven't achieved it yet but it's what I aim for.
    • Candy
      Oops... I forgot the comma after "Man of Steel".
    • Nice comparison Candy!
      • Candy
        Thank you! :)
  • Andreas Quast
    I think it was considered the ultimate leap when the great sensei themselves recently found out that Karate is not a 1 count but a 2 count thing, lol
  • Toni
    I agree some parts of demonstration display with pauses.. but there are far more advanced explanation for certain rhythm of the kata moves.. That has nothing to do with the artistic display or presentation of kata. Just my 0.02 cent worth.
    • Indeed, Toni-san, the nature of the various defensive sequences are what make up the original foundation of a kata's rhythm - artistics aside.
      • Toni
        True Jesse-san :)
  • Mario
    Just a few words, Karate is a martial art isn't it? An Art, the beauty of the art is in eyes of the observer. And the artist is free to express himself through this art, as he conceives it. So I think all of you are right, nobody is wrong.
  • Ramon
    Hi Jesse, interesting post. My thoughts are however that you say pauses in kata highlight karate from the artistic aside from the martial side. However today very clearly there is a difference between karate as "performance art" versus karate as "martial art". The example of Luca in my opinion falls under "performance art" where pauses are done mostly to look good. Pauses as they are done "correctly" I would say involve making sure that the power is fully transmitted to the target(example, holding the pose to allow the force to travel from say the seiken to the target, the normal force back into the seiken which transmits the force to the ground, and then the ground transferring the force back to the target again), and to highlight correct timing needed in combat. These pauses are never as slow as Luca does them, which is to the point of being totally unrealistic. Coupled with modifying basic techniques so that they merely "look better" (such as changing the form of the basic shuto uke and kokutsu dachi, to even how to do hikite in general, emphasizing quick arm movements but ignoring that they should be propelled by hip movement), such changes can be done to such an extent that a tipping point may be reached where kata is turned from martial art into performance art.
    • Completely agree with Ramon. To the point that I rarely have my students compete in Kata anymore (WKF) because the real Kata, and the "competition" Kata are now very different things, and it strays too far from it (I would have to teach the same kata twice). This coming from someone who competed in Team Kata with the Peruvian Nat. Team (WKF) and I love Kata. But beginning with the "robotic" walk, the looong theatrical bowing, the puffed out gi, the barks (fake kime), etc. It is just too much to take. It is not unusual for the US Open Kata finals to take 5 - 10 minutes of loong boring, barking, and over paused katas. Kata itself is exciting, interesting, and fun to watch. But it is not the competitor who is to blame (or the instructor). Competitors do what the judges want. It is not the athlete's fault, athletes train hard and must find out what the judge is looking for. The advent of unexperienced and under-experienced referees has brought us the "pretty" katas. Too many times the competitor has trained much longer, harder, and knows more than the referee judging him or her. However the determination of worth is too often made by the one with the lesser knowledge. So the athlete must adjust in order to win. Pauses are good if/where properly applied, but you can have too much of a good thing.
      • So true it hurts my brain, Willy-san!
    • ShotoNoob
      @RAMON I adopt your explanation that kata is a karate training exercise. Incidentally, that Luca Valdesi [sp?] looks very good, I mean from a martial side. Notwithstanding, I have zero interest in mimicking LV or kata competition. I HEAVILY train KATA in my personal karate regimen. And, when I wiped out (quickly) one of the school's most intimating fighters @ a formal belt-rank SPARRING Test, the 2nd degree black-belt instructor who was coaching did what? That instructor ran over to me and said, "You LOOKED really good!!!"
  • Barbara Hesselschwerdt
    Great discussion. I like pauses because they force me to finish techniques, 'settle' in my stance, stop all movement and be totally controlled so that I can explode completely into the next attack. Done well they definitely add to the telling of the story of the battle to an audience. More importantly, they demand a high level of precision and control by the 'artist'.
  • goran
    Nice article. However, one question comes to mind. There were fine kata performers in the past. Many of them. We have videos of their kata performance from past years. Tons of them. And no one of them ever discovers true meaning and power of pause in kata, accept for few Italian guys few years ago? OK, karate is live thing, karate goes thru changes as decades goes by, and I am OK with that, in general. But on this point, with all do respect, I must disagree. Keep the good work!
  • Gerry
    In my opinion pauses need to be incorporated for functional reasons, not "performance" reasons. Kata must be part of a MARTIAL art, not a martial ART.
  • Marcílio
    Although I believe there must be pauses in kata, my "taste" is different from those I see in competitions. Between two distinct self-defence techniques, a pause is logical, but I prefer and find more beautiful the simplicity of a short pause, in a kata performed with a steady rhythm.
  • Chuck Johnson
    Pauses in kata are part of the kata rhythm which brings up the question "Who's rhythm is correct?" Chinto/Gankaku is done in Shotokan, Wado ryu and Shito ryu with a few different moves, but with very different rhythm and pauses. It can even vary among different associations doing the same style. Valdesi expresses himself through Gankaku with long, slow moves followed by explosive speed. The rhythm might not be the way other Shoto groups do it, like the first two opening moves being done with a slow twisting feel, but it is his expresion of his art. Of course, you may not like his "modern" art but prefer the impresionist, classical, asian or "Elvis on black velvet" art. For myself, I am inspired by the dynamic athletisism. I do alot of kata for self training and when I get dull and my karate becomes luke-warm, his videos push me to get off my lazy butt and put some effort into my practice. I might not do the stop, pause, "click-take picture" part, but I do try to stand on one leg as long as he does (I can't by the way) I also think for your personal practice you can do all of the above. Perform kata very slow, or very fast with no pauses, or in competition mode. Then practice with the focus clearly on the bunkai you like. This will add a lot to how you can express your art. There is a mental aspect too. I'm a moody guy, so if I am feeling depressed I start out doing depressed gankaku which looks, well, depressing. Slow. No energy. However, the focus and discipline will improve my mood and as my mood improves my kata gets more dynamic. As my kata gets better, my mood improves more. So having various options of speed and rhythm helps me get to the best expresion of Gankaku I can do that day. Chuck St. Louis, MO (USA)
  • Diego Romero
    I'll... just leave this here: :p
  • Leo
    I have trouble matching the concept of pauses with kata. The image of the weave describes the pause in kata perfectly: there is none. Maybe movements too subtle for the eye too see, but never still. So is the body, ever moving. I don't think it is desirable to wait in kata, without movement. Ever.
  • Lee
    I feel pauses are necessary in Kata, but generally speaking, shouldn,t be too long. When does an aesthetic display of a martial art become a "dance" But then, as with a lot of things in the Karate world it depends a lot on what style, or organisation you belong to and who the Sensei is.
  • Toni
    The actual timing of techniques depends mostly on the application itself, the one the "performer" is thinking about during the "presentation". There are no right or wrong, if there is real life bunkai for the movement. Many of the modern kata's are lacking some of the techniques, methods and timings (i don't know the real reason why they where changed). I have seen and learned some high advanced katas - in normal speed they looks like their modern "brothers", as eyes are quite slow, but more carefully looking and studying, they are quite a lot different. Differences between sensei's bunkai's can be partially explained with the physical size of master, his/her experience, knowledge, favorites etc. Ie. Wado-ryu master was small man, and he had to use knifehand 'block' really high - to meet the target for that particular technique. If over 2 metres tall student does same technique exactly similar - it will go way over the head of all living humans (except maybe the tallest man in the worldGrin :)) Just my 0.0001 cent here
    • ShotoNoob
      @tONI: In actual fighting, I could agree. In the training of kata itself, IMO there is an optimum or proper time. When we are either facilitating a transition within a set of techniques, or completing a set of techniques, there is both a brief physical end & definite kime in the mental sense. The successful execution of the physical through mental focus. I believe the broader meanings of "Zanshin" speak to this.
  • Viking
    There are pauses in real fights. One moment in time. To early and too late both cause a problem. Eistien talks of events. An event is a moment in time as well as a location. If you go flat out you get there too early and there is no target as it hasn't arrived. Too late and you missed it. I a real fight there are pauses they seem like forever as you wait but they are probably a micro second. You can not perform techiques regardless of what is happening.
    • Frank
      Totally agree!
      • Viking
        A flock of birds takes off. It looks chaotic, then you realise that most of them have not flown into each other. Fights look chaotic when you look at them as if you where sparring. Perhaps kata helps you to look at them in a different way.
        • Ant colonies look chaotic too. But amidst that chaos lies an incredibly beautiful structure and purpose.
          • Diego Romero
            yup, the deliberate and systematic destruction of all life! ants are EVIL. EVIL, I TELL YOU!
  • Uwe
    Great article, Jesse-San, definitely something I will try to introduce into our Kata training. I've been trying to teach folks to "take their time" doing a kata, 3 seconds pauses after a kiai and so on, but your piece really brings it all together in a sensible and also spiritual manner. All the best, Uwe
  • Diego Romero
    so here's some food for thought
  • Donnatello
    Your writing is so full of great...stuff...and you always make me crack up! At work. While I'm on the phones. Taking calls, ha.
  • Thank you very much Jesse for your wonderful article. Without doubt one of your best ones. Arigato Sensei
  • Perhaps the pauses convey when a string of attacks end, or the pause could be to enjoy the beauty of the kata. Either way both make sense, by the Jesse keep up the good work!
  • It's splitting hairs, but I don't much care for "pauses" if, by a pause, someone is basically taking a break, thinking, catching their breath, etc. However, I am a huge believer is "stillness in kata" because that ability to suddenly hold still, to maintain breath and posture in a pause in a fight, to balance and both practice and demonstrate that balance at a time where one might often be breathless, IS a fighting skill. Fights come with pauses. The pause might be immediately after the defeat of a foe, obviously. A pause might come after a clean shot while the opponent reconsiders his course. A pause might come between opponents. In those moments, maintaining one's poise is critical. Maintaining one's self-control, breath-control, postural control, and maintaining one's restraint are all crucial. To keep attacking when one's opponent is likely done fighting, even if he has not been pounded into a bloody pile of goo, is simply wrong. There is a time to stop, and one method for stopping a fight even before it begins, or at any pause in between, is to remain composed. The still moments in the midst of kata demonstrate and practice that principle, and provide a solid physical metaphor for the mind to remember in the middle of a fight - if the fight pauses - be composed.
  • Rusty Beals
    Hi all! I just wanted to say that I myself have had difficulty with pauses in Kata. It has been suggested to me that I need to work on fluidity. I always wondered, how seamless my kata needs to be before it is considered "well done". I know that my pauses are more a result of having to think before I move than they are about dramatic effect. I think my Sensei knows this as well. That being said, after reading this I would probably agree that pauses can be good. But they can also be a lack of holistic thinking. I believe this distinction should be made. As the art of Karate has evolved over the years, I think it's safe to say that there is room for both views in this debate. Thanks for the post!
  • Just a thought here. Those pauses in the kata could also show intent before the next action. For example, in Iaido, there are sections of the katas where you look at them or point the katana at your attacker to make them stop or at least make them wait and think about if they really want to continue. Again, it depends upon where they are pausing but there could also be some hidden meanings that might not be obvious.
  • Carlos
    I disagree with this article. A kata is a simulated combat. Simply as that. A kata is not a Fight, its a simulated fight with invisible enemies.
  • Jon Crain
    "There is timing in everything " Musashi. Of course there are pauses in fighting. There are times to move frantically and times to slow down. Throw the first punch to solar plexus, then slam second punch into top of skull (terrible idea) as he bends forward. Maybe you pause ever so slightly before delivering the downward elbow to spine? Partner drills teach this (very clearly in Kempo). Professionally I can only strike in critical circumstances, but I do control and restrain. There is much timing and pauses do occur. Thank you for your time.
  • Oliver Ploeg
    Absolutely loved your description on the performance of a kata! Sums it up so well.
  • Craig
    I have a question for you. What is your thoughts on kia in kata. I constantly her from people that a traditional kata can only have no more than 4. I was taught and be leave that it should be used as a release of power in a technique. So sometimes more sometimes less. I could not find any writings to show why there is no more than 4..other than in rules of a tournament. And then people say if more than 4 it is not traditional..what are your views?
  • Byron
    Do you not pause after the Kiai points? Do you not pause when reversing direction? Is there not slight pauses in all the kata; for example in Jion - the slow cross-armed blocks followed by front kicks, is there not a slight pause there? At the first step into Tekki Shodan - Hands over one another, stepping across slowly into that modified cat-stance - there's a pause there. There's another pause when your arm is outstretched just before the elbow strike. All the kata have pauses. Some are short, some are long, but not too long. (Did you see what I did there with the commas? I paused just long enough for it all to make sense . . . :) We're not talking stop, go get a coffee and resume after a long pause (and whoever said three seconds after a kiai - that's way too long (One-one thousand, two-one thousand, three- one thousand . . . too long.) Just like those who do not use commas, your kata must look terribly jumbled together. A comma denotes a separation of thought, a pause in kata denotes a separation in technique. And a technique can be more than one move. I believe some of the pauses in kata are actually where the imaginary opponent is moving into position, or changing position too . . . . Hmmm? Besides, as an art form, it just looks better. I watched a young kid go through Jion in fifteen seconds flat - it just didn't look right. Something was missing - ah yes, the pauses!
  • Byron
    Without pauses it just doesn't make sense: World renowned Chef finds enjoyment in cooking his family and his dog! Pauses help clarify thoughts: World renowned Chef finds enjoyment in cooking, his family, and his dog! So, in karate, then, pauses help to clarify the meaning of the kata; its moves.
  • KJ
    I do agree kata needs a pause but i really don't agree with this: "Because the performance of a kata is NOT a fight." It's a huge fight. I's a mental fight, it's a stamina fight, it's a fight to your perfection. And if you win this battle with yourself, you will find peace! Mushin!
  • Ed Sumner
    Will share some thoughts if I may.... In a real self defense situation, the ideal is, if attacked, ending the attack instantly and fully. The ideal is not always realized however. If it isn't, a protracted period of combat will ensue. In such a situation, it is common that there will be a separation, and a reset. This is like the pause in kata. In that brief reset, the fighter is re-positioning his body to be ready to re-engage successfully. He is also re-positioning his mind. That said, the pauses we see in competitive kata these days are ridiculous... I've seen Superempei kata take over five minutes.... should be under two, pauses included. IMNSHO at least...
  • kata, kumite and basics are inecstricably linked so so if you practice kata to look good then when you come to defend yourself you will suffer the consequence. e.g.; the way you practice is the way you will perform and Karate is the way of defence.
  • u
    I think Kata is all show to most untrained......I'm with the firm belief most people that ever started Karate learn a kata then just quit and move on.....but, if you were to teach them waza it will stick with them a lifetime. In Matsubayashi Ryu I was taught the standard way we do kata.....then learned the dantai version....then miseiba version....all the versions were correct by the opinion of Sensei....because all the waza was the same....Keep up the spirit......B.
  • Ramón Fernandez-Cid
    I agree with you Jesse but I think that are two things important in the pauses : The respiration control and Kimochi. One pause without Yoi Kimochi : Without feeling and visualise the enemy, without Dousatshu Ryoku, and without Magoro, sincerity, is merely one time to take breath. Only theater. And the skilled judge can see this.
  • steelneil
    This very subject came up in our dojo at the weekend. The way we see it is a kata should flow and not plod along. Emphasis should be placed in the correct places. My sensei suggested likening the flow of a kata to the ebb and low of the sea, You never actual stop/pause, you simple slow down when changing direction and then the force comes.

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