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Beginner Kata

One of the problems caused by systematizing a style of Karate is deciding what is beginning, intermediate and advanced. Even these categories present problems in and of themselves. If you look at a sphere spinning in many directions, where is the top, middle and bottom?

But it is common for the kata curriculum of a style to be divided by rank. A 5th kyu might learn a certain kata, a 4th kyu another kata, and so on. The most advanced kata might be reserved for a certain dan level. If a system has 18 kata, these are split up and assigned by rank. The same applies for a system with 60 kata. So the number of kata a student would be expected to learn depends on the system, and the assignments made by the Sensei.

Let me ask you this -- if one system has 18 kata, and another system has 60 kata, when students in both systems learn a total of 18 kata, should they be at equal levels? Of course not! In an 18 kata system, a student might not learn the 18th kata until he is a sandan (3rd degree black belt). In a 60 kata system, a student might learn 18 kata (or even more) while still in the kyu ranks.

So are the kata equivalent? Is the value of each kata the same? It all depends on how you teach them.

One of the things I do not like to hear is when a student refers to a certain kata as being for "beginners." This is probably because the student learned that kata when he was a beginner. But that certainly does not mean that the kata is only for beginners. It is a dismissive comment.

Take Naihanchi Shodan. Students usually learn this kata fairly early in their training. In our dojo, it is the first kata that a student learns. But that does not mean that it is a beginner's kata. Naihanchi is practiced by all students in our dojo, irrespective of their level. It is a kata for all levels.

A beginner should do Naihanchi Shodan like a beginner, an intermediate level student should do the kata like an intermediate level student, and an advanced student should do the kata like an advanced student. How the student does the kata depends on the student's level.

It is kind of like a musical instrument. You could have three people play the same violin and it will probably sound entirely different. It all depends on the level of the musician.

In Karate, it all depends on the level of the student.

With kata, it is important for students to understand that their level when they learn a kata does not mean that the kata is for that level only. The timing is just part of the approach followed in the dojo. There are no beginning, intermediate, and advanced kata -- there are just beginning, intermediate, and advanced students.

It is truly awesome to see someone perform Naihanchi Shodan with strength, speed, focus, timing, power, and composure. A student will never learn to do this if he views the kata as being only for "beginners." He will probably want to move on and perform an "advanced" kata.

In the old days, the emphasis was not on learning many kata. In fact, a student who went around learning many kata was looked down upon -- because he was learning many kata rather than perfecting even one. One good kata is better than a hundred poor ones.

If you can do one kata well, you can easily learn to do 100 kata well. But if you cannot do one kata well, then you are wasting your time with 99 more! You don't learn Karate by learning new kata -- you learn Karate by working on the details of the kata you already know (or already think you knew).

And that is the problem in too many dojo today. As soon as a student learns a kata and can basically "do" it, he is rushed on to the next kata -- probably so that he can test for his next rank. There is no rush. There is no reason to associate kata with rank, except in a general sense. The emphasis should always be on learning each kata properly.

As you improve in one kata, you improve in all the other kata you know. It is a cumulative process. When you finally reach the most advanced kata in your system, it is then that you might begin to appreciate the first kata you learned.


Charles C. Goodin