Physical Training Mar 2008
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The Benefits of Judo Kata

copyright © 2008 Ed Thibedeau, all rights reserved

Many current day judo coaches who train their players primarily for competition believe that the practice and study of kata is not relevant to competition training. The purpose of this paper is to explore the realm of kata and show its relevance to not only competition training but to all judo training.

Scrimmage: practice play or a minor battle.

Drill: to fix something in the mind or habit pattern by repetitive instruction (practice). A physical or mental exercise aimed at perfecting facility and skill, especially through regular practice

Kata: a method of learning techniques. Kata are a series of techniques linked together in some logical manner and with some relevance to each other. Each kata practitioner knows in advance what techniques are to be used for attack and defense. Most judoka look at kata as only those formal kata approved by the Kodokan. In fact anyone can make their own kata. All it takes to make a kata is a series (two or more) of techniques executed one after the other.

The concept of a minor battle is apropos for martial arts kata. Kata can easily be considered scrimmage. To learn a kata you usually first learn each individual move/technique of the kata. In order to do that it is most practical to break each technique into its important elements in order to learn and understand what is the most effective/efficient way to execute the technique (moves). The way to learn is by numerous repetitions of each element or technique, contrary to the thinking that all actions must be terminal. This is performing drills to develop skills. Once each technique of a kata is understood the various techniques are strung together to make a whole. Now is the time to execute terminal techniques and ultimately a terminal kata. This is the old standard way, which readily correlates to current day ideas of building a foundation, transference of skill sets, and specificity relative to the desired outcome.

There are several reasons for, and benefits of, learning and doing kata;

to be able to practice certain techniques that in a less controlled manner might be too dangerous to perform

to preserve techniques over time

to be able to repeatedly perform repetitions in a controlled manner in a non-competitive arena in order to develop gross and fine motor skills such as; tai sabaki, maai, ashi sabaki, kamai, kuzushi, tsukuri, kake, mushin, zanshin ….

to learn techniques that otherwise might be limited due to sport competition rules

to allow an instructor to watch for elements of execution that degrade the quality and effectiveness of the technique

as a way to practice judo for those unable to partake in competition or randori due to injury, etc. (cross transference)

as a warm up exercise

as an easy way to teach left and right sided techniques, as is the case with nage no kata.

cross training using a relevant and efficient method of judo

appreciation of the aesthetic qualities of judo as exemplified in formal kata

It is safe to say that most judoka learn their first and only kata, usually Nage No Kata, as a requirement for their shodan test. They stumble along learning the formalities of the kata in order to meet their promotion needs. Once they pass the test they no longer explore the kata. This leads to the misconception that kata have to always be performed in an overly formalized fashion as might be done for a demonstration or for judging purposes. Kata proficiency has suffered in recent years as the emphasis on sport judo increased.

The ultimate goal of kata is not for contest purposes, formal demonstrations, or to see how fast a kata can be completed. Just as techniques cannot be easily learned in the heat of randori or shiai, kata is better learned in a relatively relaxed and informal environment. It is not necessary to perform any kata in its entirety. Individual sets or techniques can be done. There is no reason that any kata has to always be performed formally, it can easily be performed in the same relative manner that throws would be done in regular practice or randori.

Kata should be learned and then explored for their bunkai or practical and varied application of technique. Once a kata is learned to an acceptable degree it can once again be broken into individual or series of techniques for practice purposes. Once techniques are understood, experimentation (situational drills) should be done to vary the techniques and observe the efficiency and effectiveness of the results. This is no different from learning any judo or jujitsu technique: first you learn the technique in its technically perfect and correct form (Drills and scrimmage / uchikomi and kata) and then you execute the technique under practical situations of self defense, public demonstrations, or competition (randori, shiai).

While all kata may not be applicable to competition training many of them are. Only by thoroughly studying a kata can anyone appreciate the relationship to real world situations of competitive sport or self defense judo or jujitsu. Unfortunately most “coaches” look at kata from an esoteric rather than an eclectic exoteric point of view. They don’t appreciate what’s within the kata, waiting to be discovered, and therefore they don’t appreciate the underlying principles that would benefit their players. Kata are not meant to be learned simply as a string of movements or techniques.

While the use of kata in a competition training setting might only be utilized as a warm up exercise, in the complete spectrum of judo it plays a much more significant role. Coaches must realize there are many more students of judo then there are competitors at any level. While specificity skill training may be considered more appropriate for elite level competitive judo, the majority of judoka are not competitors and deserve to be exposed to the wholeness of judo (randori, kata, and shiai). Too much emphasis on competition judo is most likely a major contributing factor to the high turnover and short retention rate of judoka. This situation could be overcome if more students had the opportunity to see and practice kata in an informal way. Fortunately there is an increasing number of judo instructors once again advocating the study and use of kata. This will serve to expose more judoka to the realities of kata and thus increase the number of kata practitioners.

Most competitive judo coaches teach a limited set of throws and other techniques. They may have their students learn a particular throw left and right sided. They may have their students learn to attack in four major directions. As competitors gain experience they will most likely learn to execute combination techniques. The game plan might go something like this; O uchi gari to Ko uchi gari to Harai goshi. A modern day coach might have his students practice this series as a drill, attempting to perform the first throw and transitioning smoothly and directly into the subsequent throws when uke steps away. In fact this is a kata. Yes, kata, whether formal or improvised, can and should be practiced as skill development drills. In fact any skill development drill that is comprised of two or more techniques is a kata. So it seems that modern day coaches are actually doing kata whether they realize it or not.

The playbooks of football, basketball, or any “sport” coach are really no more than formalized kata – predetermined paths of execution or movement. Each team has its own prearranged movements or kata which they hope will defeat the other team. The playbook is kata, playing the game is shiai. While modern day sports physiology has developed an entirely new lexicon for purported proper training methods a simple comparison of these modern terms can most often find an equivalent term defined many years ago and readily apparent within the old martial art principles.


  1. Cross Transference – Dr. Gabe Mirkin
  2. Bunkai. (accessed: 1-8-08).
  3. SPECIFICITY OF TRAINING Coaching Science Vol. 1(2): January, 1996
  4. USJA Coach Certification Level I Coaching Manual by G. Weers and Terry Kelly 1999
  5. Coach Education Program Level II by Dr. Chris Dewey © 2005
  6. Judo Formal Techniques by T. Otaki and D. Draeger © 1983
  7. Basic Physical Principles of Martial Arts and Ways – Ed Thibedeau © 2007 Electronic Journal of Martial Arts and Sciences – Physical Training May 2007

The author of this paper is a certified judo instructor, national referee, national kata judge and instructor. He is the chief instructor at Arkansas Goshinkan

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Physical Training Mar 2008