August 31, 2011

Breadth and Depth

Within Shotokan karate, there are twenty-six different kata.  Each one is different and offers us a unique opportunity to learn something about karate.  But it can take many years to perfect the movements and learn all the intricacies, subtleties, applications, and strategy hidden within each kata.  You should realize that it is often a trick question when you are asked if you know a kata.  To truly understand a form can take a lifetime. 

So how can we approach the study of multiple kata?  One approach is to balance breadth and depth of study. 

Through purple belt, you generally work on one kata for each belt level, and each one introduces concepts that are important for your development at that level.  But as you move to the next kata, you never forget the one(s) you learned previously.  Instead, you continuously revisit these kata and learn something new and continue to improve. 

At brown belt, you will work on one kata for quite some time, and you test with this form several times.  For the first time in your training, you are expected to show improvement in a kata from one test to the next, not just in physical performance but also in understanding.  You will also be introduced to other kata at this stage, increasing your breadth of knowledge.  Use these other forms to help develop the depth of understanding in your Tokui kata. 

At black belt, your journey is similar.  Now, any of the twenty-six kata is available for you to study.  To choose a kata, you need a basic understanding of many kata to know which one suits your training needs.  Your Sensei will guide this selection, since he or she knows  what you need in your training and which kata will help you the most.   Typically, you will work on two kata – one that fits you well and one that is complementary to keep balance in your training. 

A breadth of kata knowledge is important throughout our study, particularly in exams and tournaments.  In tournaments, you are expected to be able to perform any kata that you have previously tested with.  At black belt, competitors perform a round of Shitei kata, followed by a round of Sentei kata before they can perform their Tokui kata.  In dan exams, students perform their Tokui kata and then perform one that is selected by the examiners, generally of opposite feeling.

It can’t hurt to learn many new kata to expand your breadth of knowledge.  In fact, through continuous training you will develop an understanding of many kata.  Just be careful that you don’t become a jack of all trades and master of none.  Always balance that breadth of study with depth of knowledge of your kata.   

Submitted by: Kimberly Baran, Nidan