Kata in the Realm of Physical Fitness
Disclaimer: Please do not read, absorb, or look at the above comic.
Hello, I would like to talk about kata in a serious and mature fashion. Mainly I want to focus on the use of kata as a valuable resource for physical fitness. Through all the discussions about ‘how good kata is for street combat’ and if it ‘instills warrior spirit’ (And other such arguments), we seem to overlook one very important thing – there are few singular workout machines or methods that exercise the body like kata.
Q: What makes one workout machine better than another?
A: How well it can isolate specific muscle groups and how many different muscle groups it can work out. That’s value plus usability. The movements in kata are remarkable because they tend to utilize most of the major muscle groups for extended periods of time, which makes for an extremely effective exercise regiment (for free).
The stances of traditional kata come in many varieties and are often used in combination with one another.
Imagine how going in and out of these stances would work your quadriceps, glutes (that means a**), hamstrings, calves, and other minor muscles groups in the legs.
Furthermore, the tensing and relaxing of arm techniques constantly builds up biceps, triceps, and shoulders.
Just as importantly, in order to teach the body how to move as one cohesive unit, the back, neck, and abdominal region must work to tense, release, and control the body appropriately. This promotes good overall health without cost or dangerous over-exertion.
Strength isn’t the only factor – flexibility improves as well. In order to perform proper stance and technique, students must slowly teach their body how to bend and relax. Stretching is a big part of this process, but kata is where the actual technique is performed time and again.
Ask any trainer and they’ll tell you how important proper breathing is in an exercise program. Breathing during cardiovascular training is obviously critical to success, but the same is true during strength training. Where the breath comes from, the pace, and the in-out technique (through nose, mouth, or both) are all factors to consider. Kata, especially the aptly named “breathing” kata, put extreme focus on this.
By combining breathing with the tensing and untensing of the body, one can effectively perform isometric exercises where no external weight is being pushed or pulled. When watching kata such as sanchin, the real work doesn’t come from the simple steps and hand motions; it comes from focused internal contractions (and that can be a real workout).
One of the hardest parts about exercising is simply doing it. Motivation. A lot of people (myself included) go through self arguments like “why should I even bother? It’s a little late to start…I’m already in my pajamas…I think my back is sore…” and other excuses. Kata provides a very tangible, very motivating purpose for exercise. The combination of mental focus, self defense application, and physical activity makes kata seem like a gift rather than a curse.
Unless you are extremely gifted and focused like MizFit, you (and I) need these little tricks to keep going. It is extremely easy to slide into a kata workout, starting off very soft at walking pace until eventually you can naturally kick it into a higher gear.
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There are a lot of arguments for and against kata…and I’ve heard really good explanations for both sides. But one thing I’m convinced of is the value kata has in physical fitness. All we need to do is look back at the old stylists and remember that their training was based predominantly off of kata, kihon, and hojo undo (combined with good diet). Certainly we can take the hint and benefit too!
P.S. While I AM a cheerleader for kata here, I still see the value in heavy bag work, gym memberships, and the Bowflex. I’m just saying kata should get a wink and a nod for how useful it can be!