If you’ve ever watched the Karate Kid or any of a number of other martial arts in practice, at some point, you will have seen the slow, deliberate moves of a fighter practicing the kata associated with that martial art. But what does this help?
Is kata good exercise? Kata is good exercise because it conditions all muscle groups, helps train the breathing, and develops a sense of focus. Although some maintain that kata is not necessary for martial arts, it is good exercise in its own right.
Let’s have a deeper look at kata and its many benefits.
What Are Kata?
Kata is a Japanese word which means “form” and thus, kata in martial arts are a series of forms that can be practiced by the fighter alone or as part of a group. They are performed in a slow, measured fashion and the objective from a fighting perspective, at least, is to enable the fighter to more easily learn their moves.
Because kata is a Japanese term, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that most martial arts that make use of kata are Japanese (and often specifically originating in Okinawa) though some Korean martial arts with heavy Japanese influences may also claim their own kata practice.
Common arts with kata include karate, kenpo, judo, iaido, kendo, Tang Soo do, and hapkido. Each set of kata is built around the movements of the particular art form. So, a kata designed for karate, for example, would not be expected to be the same as a kata used in judo. The more similar the fighting arts, the more similarities you can identify in the kata used.
The word “kata” has been important enough in the Western understanding of martial arts that “kata” is now an official English word which may be used to describe both forms in martial arts and in various other fields.
A Brief History Of Kata
Iain Abernathy the karate guru, claims that the kata in karate originated with a Chinese sailor called Chinto.
In the 1800s, our man Chinto was shipwrecked and had to hide out in a cave. Unfortunately, rescue wasn’t coming for him and he ended up stealing to feed himself. As you can imagine, the locals were not best pleased at this turn of events. The king dispatched, Sokon Matsumura, his bodyguard and all-around karate master to handle Chinto.
Well, it turns out that Chinto was no slouch in the fighting department either. He fought Matsumura to a standstill and so, in the hot, panting moments after their fight had ground to a draw – Matsumura began to talk to Chinto and ever keen to be a better fighter they agreed on a bargain.
Chinto would teach Matsumura and, in return, Matsumura would pay Chinto’s way and there would be no more stealing. Eventually, however, Chinto wanted to return to China and Matsumura was afraid his knowledge would be lost. So, together they developed a kata which would allow the instruction of Chinto’s fighting style to be passed on more easily.
Do You Need Kata To Be A Good Martial Artist?
So, things are shaping up pretty well for the kata, really, why is there such controversy in the martial arts community surrounding their use? Well, a number of fighters have pointed out, quite correctly, that it is possible to become an excellent fighter in any given discipline without ever practicing a single kata.
Moreover, there are many excellent fighting disciplines which don’t use any form of a kata at all. Think boxing or Muay Thai, for example. So, if kata were essential to learning martial arts, why don’t these disciplines have kata? You’d think that if the practice made a martial artist a better fighter, it would have caught on elsewhere, wouldn’t you?
These are good arguments but they miss the point of kata and their utility to the martial artist. The point is this: kata may not make you a better fighter, directly, but it may make you into a better person, nonetheless.
So, Is Kata Good Exercise?
Yes. Categorically. Kata is an excellent form of exercise and it is the reason that its critics have missed the point. Sure, you can throw yourself into strenuous fighting all day, every day and become fit – nobody’s going to argue with that.
However, that kind of exercise isn’t much use for fine tuning and nor is it much good for ensuring that all of your body gets an even workout. That’s where the kata comes in.
Exercising All Your Muscle groups
Kata are superb not just for making sure that you exercise every muscle group involved in your martial art but also for helping you to isolate and train each muscle group individually. This is about the definition of the perfect exercise for making sure that your muscles are in great shape.
As you move from stance to stance in your kata you will activate one muscle group (say quadriceps), then another (glutes), then another (hamstrings) and so on… each technique gets you to tense and then relax the muscle thoroughly as you move.
At the same time, you are learning to coordinate the flow of movements between muscles. When you’re moving at speed, mistakes happen but in the careful, measured environment of the kata – you can develop a level of precision in your muscle work that you may not have had before.
Finally, the stretching exercises which form part of the kata also help you to develop increased flexibility as a fighter. Only in the kata, will you find yourself practice a stretch over and over again in order to gain the most benefit from it. Our fighting simply doesn’t allow for that much repetition.
The importance of proper breathing shouldn’t be underestimated. It appears that over the last 4,000 years or so, human beings have forgotten how to breathe properly and this inhibits the way that we exercise and the benefits we can reap from cardiovascular training.
The breathing kata exists to help us remedy this issue and to learn to breathe in through the nose, out through the mouth and in the appropriate rhythm. Once, we master the basics – we can start to perform exercise where no weight is effectively moved outside of the body but instead, it is replaced by internal contractions which further hone the muscle groups.
Providing Purpose To The Routine
Our final benefit ought to be one that is readily apparent to anyone who has started an exercise regime with good intentions and then abandoned it a few days later because “real life” got in the way. Of course, that’s not actually what happened – we all recognize the value of exercise but many of us resent the need to exercise when we could be doing other things.
Without motivation to exercise, we simply stop doing it and make excuses for doing so. Fortunately, the kata provides an additional framework to motivate us. It is connected to something else that we love doing – our martial arts practice and while we may not love exercise, most of use want to be better martial artists.
Thus, often kata can provide the motivation to actually exercise when other forms of exercise do not motivate us enough.
Is kata good exercise? Yes, it absolutely is good exercise. While you don’t need to learn kata to be a competent fighter, kata brings additional benefits that just training the martial forms of an art might leave neglected.
A good workout for all your muscle groups is essential to polish your abilities as a fighter, sure, you could swap the kata for specially designed gym routine but why bother? The kata is already there for you! It also helps you learn to breathe more effectively and to find a sense of purpose and most gym routines can’t do that.