Several years ago one of my green belt students came up to me and said ‘sensei, i know Heian yondan, I’ve got it! I’ve done all the brown belt kata, so could I start working on unsu now?
Now he’s a nice lad, just didn’t fully understand the learning and understanding process of a kata.
It’s not just our green belt friend, a lot of people think they know and understand a kata if they know the pattern of a kata and they can make the shapes of the techniques, along with sort of roughly knowing what each move means, eg I’m blocking a punch coming from the front, or i’m blocking a punch from the side.

But that is just the beginning of understanding and knowing a kata

When you first learn a kata, you learn the pattern, so you learn what each movie is and where it goes and in what order from the start of the kata to completion. This is stage 1 of learning a kata.

After knowing the order of the moves and what each move is, you then start to look at the bunkai of each move, what each move is and the meaning. Now start working through the kata slowly and lightly. Get a basic understanding of the timing and rhythm. Try to also understand the embusen for the kata

Once you’ve got the kata slowly and you know the order of the karate moves, the basic rhythm and timing, along with the embusen (kata performance line) of the kata, then it’s time to start applying some speed and intent to the kata moves

Start to look at the bunkai for each move, understand what each move is and what it’s application could be.

Now it’s time to start drilling the kata. After hundreds of repetitions, the moves will become more natural and start to flow.

Your kata then takes on a life of it’s own you will find your own rhythm and timing.

So don’t be like our green belt friend because he’s completely got wrong idea about karate, you’ve got to work at these karate kata, you have got to understand each move thoroughly, you’ve got to take a deep dive into each kata.

Linden Huckle

About the author

Linden Huckle has been practicing and teaching karate for over 50 years and believes first and foremost, karateka should enjoy their karate. He says 'there is nothing better than seeing a person develop into a great person through their karate practice, while at the same time enjoying karate.'

Linden Huckle