I think we can unanimously agree that no matter what structure you try to build, it’ll never stand on its own without a solid foundation. One of the most famous examples of this, is the Leaning Tower of Pisa. Constructed in the 12th century, the tower was constructed using a too-thin foundation set upon weak sub-soil. Once builders began adding the second floor, the foundation began to sink, leading to the well-known angle of today.
This is why a proper foundation is so important. And this applies to anything one does in life, not least of which is the martial arts. Every style has its own type of foundation. And for karate, that foundation is form.
In karate, forms are called kata, which literally translates from Japanese as “form”. Katas are a combination of specific movements and techniques that are combined in order to develop them. Although katas are meant to be used as a means of training alone, they can be performed in unison in a class setting as well. Katas mostly refer to Japanese and Okinawan martial arts, such as karate, judo and aikido.
Katas are often poorly received by students because they are so structured and fixed. Students obviously prefer the more exciting and “fun” aspects of karate, such as sparring and using punching bags. But katas are what allow a student to develop the skills required to properly do all the fun stuff like sparring and using punching bags.
When doing katas, one should perform a minimum of three repetitions of each form. Some systems only have the one form or kata, and add sub-parts to the one. Other styles, such as mine, have almost a dozen different forms and katas and are all necessary to master the techniques and fighting methods used in combat. The three repetitions are as follows:
- First speed: You’re doing the kata at the slowest possible speed. The point to this one is to perform the kata with as much precision as possible. This slower speed allows the student to focus on their stance and proper technique, lending emphasis to form over power. It also allows the student to balance their breathing in time with the striking aspects of whatever kata they may be performing;
- Second speed: This is only slightly faster than the previous one, and the student should begin adding a certain element of power and strength behind all strikes and blocks. Emphasis should still remain on proper breathing, control and stance;
- Third speed: This repetition is basically an unhindered version of your kata. You basically let yourself off the rails and do the kata as fast and as strong as possible while maintaining proper form and stance. This speed is as close as one can come to shadow boxing while still maintaining the pre-arrange format of a kata.
Every workout should include form or kata, without exception. After all, if you don’t maintain your foundation, the entire structure of your training may start leaning like a failed bell tower! The best martial arts workouts often begin and end with form. Either way, depending on what style you train in, remember to maintain your foundation and keep it strong. ☯