female karate practitioner punching
Photo by Darren Chesnut

Mackensi Emory, Black Belt's 2019 Competitor of the Year

Make these adjustments now to give the judges what they want at your next tournament!

Whenever a new competition season is about to begin, martial artists who participate in tournaments shift into high gear to fine-tune their forms. Whether they call them kata, poomsae, hyung or something else, their goal is the same: to quickly establish themselves in the point standings of their chosen divisions.

Your plans for 2022 might include making a run for a championship, or maybe you just want to improve on last year’s results. Either way, you still have time to work out the bugs in that new kata or give your old one a tune-up. So throw on your uniform, head to your dojo or dojang, and get busy working on these essentials.

Kata Training: Suggestion No. 1

The first thing to clean up is your line of attack because nothing will spoil a good form as much as erratic up-and-down movement while executing techniques or changing stances. The proper line of attack can be maintained by keeping the top of your head from moving more than 2 inches up or down. Furthermore, keeping your head level is recommended.

It’s appropriate to rise out of the attack line and use your upper torso as a counter-balance while performing certain kicking sequences or when executing movements that demonstrate specific balancing skills. However, the up-and-down movement, as well as tilting your head and leaning your body, should be minimized as you go from stance to stance — especially when doing punching and blocking sequences.

Practice your form until you can maintain these standards. To check your progress, use a large mirror to observe yourself or have someone record your performance with a cellphone.

Kata Training: Suggestion No. 2

Body alignment goes hand-in-hand with line of attack because judges look at these elements in tandem when they evaluate stances, stability, strength and other basic aspects of self-mastery.

As you practice your form, focus on keeping your head, shoulders and trunk centered over your hips. Some instructors say that you should imagine that a steel rod runs from the top of your head straight down through your body and into the ground.

You’ll find that when you keep your body correctly aligned, it will be easier to maintain the proper line of attack.

female karate practitioner in a stanceFor illustrative purposes, Mackensi Emory is shown.Photo by Darren Chesnut

Kata Training: Suggestion No. 3

Another way to avoid getting a low score in competition is to overcome “wandering hand” syndrome, in which your mitts move around as though they have no specific place to be.

From the beginning to the end of your routine, your hands should have something specific to do. For example, if you’re punching or blocking with one hand, the other should be positioned as a guard or held near your hip. You should never let it just hang there or stick out to the side.

When you do spin kicks or aerial techniques, you may have to swing your arms to create or control your momentum. However, once the move is done, your hands should go back to performing a strike or being in the correct position for a block. Your peripheral vision will help you check that your hands are staying where they belong.

Kata Training: Suggestion No. 4

Controlled changes in direction require smooth pivoting. Therefore, it’s beneficial to devise a simple pivoting process to enhance your ability to turn. To make a half turn (180 degrees) or three-quarters turn (270 degrees), do the following:

  1. Begin with a hip rotation.
  2. Follow that with a side-step or cross-step with your non-planted foot.
  3. Pivot on the balls of your feet and stop.
  4. Finish by locking into your stance.

Practice pivoting without doing your hand techniques, then gradually work up to doing moves such as blocks in unison with the second part of the hip-rotation process. This will help you develop “hip torque,” which gives you more powerful yet smooth techniques — and a higher score in competition.

karate instructor standing in front of karate schoolAuthor Floyd Burk in front of his Southern California karate school.Photo by Robert W. Young

Floyd Burk is a San Diego–based 10th-degree black belt with 50 years of experience in the martial arts. To contact him, visit Independent Karate Schools of America.

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