Kata, Balance and Coordination
With the Coronavirus restrictions, my martial arts practise over the last six months has mostly involved kata. Fortunately, kata has played a big part in improving my balance and coordination over the last two years.
Kata is a Japanese word, literally meaning shape or form. It is common to many forms of karate, including Shoto Budo. Kata is a specified series of moves with steps, turns, jumps, and strikes. It is not a literal depiction of a fight but could be considered a “guidebook” to moves of the art. It can be practised individually or in groups.
Some forms of karate hold kata competitions, examining the form detail. Others look at “bunkai”, which is the practical application of the moves. There are many different katas, with Shoto Budo currently having 32. Knowing and demonstrating these contributes in part to our grading syllabus.
In turns out kata is also good for measuring your balance and coordination when you experience an MS incident.
In the early days in hospital, my left leg and foot felt very “heavy”, almost as if it had a weight attached. My balance was off, and walking was difficult; I practically had to drag my left leg.
Almost instinctively I started trying to do some kata to see if I could improve this. The QEUH has individual rooms for patients which is handy for practising kata without people wondering why you’re doing a strange looking dance.
I started with the first kata, Taikyoku Shodan. It is short and the moves are quite simple. You can see what it looks like below.
The first couple of moves were fine. The third move, a 180 degree turn I just couldn’t do. The balance wasn’t there, I almost fell over.
The next day, the same thing.
And the next.
This was disheartening to say the least. A few days earlier, I was training as normal and working on higher katas. Now, I couldn’t even do the first one.
Every day I would try the kata and for a week I could not get past the turn. And then one day I did. I let out a cheer of triumph!
Now could I manage the 270-degree turn? No, I couldn’t. At least not on for another week or so.
All in all, it took me almost three weeks to be able to do the entire kata. It’s hard to describe how much of an achievement it felt to do something I had taken for granted for over ten years. It was progress, it felt like an improvement, it was a sign to keep going.
Kata is Good For You
It turns out this was the correct decision. Shortly before returning to the club I had an appointment with an MS specialist physiotherapist. On explaining my martials arts and kata practice, I was advised to keep doing it. Why? Because “I can’t give you any other exercises that will be better than that”.
Those words have stuck with me ever since and I have continued practising kata most days. It feels good and whilst my form might leave something to be desired (no change there!), my balance and movement are improving. I’ve come a long way since those early days in hospital when a 180-degree turn felt out of my reach.
When I returned to my club in the October and asked my instructor about concentrating on kata to continue these improvements. Some katas have jumps, more complex turns or changes in direction. If I could get through these, it would feel like progress.
And generally, I would say it has done. The jumps, in for example, Heian Godan, the 7th kata are still awkward. My left leg still doesn’t have the spring of my right so launching myself doesn’t quite work and landing feels a bit uncertain. Other than that, the balance and coordination doesn’t seem too far off what it was before.
The moves, the posture, the breathing all contribute to improved posture and balance. Kata can be fast or slow meaning it can be an excellent cardiovascular exercise or a cool down stretch. I’ve often thought it a form of exercise that anyone can benefit from, even if they have not interest in the other elements of martial arts.
I will continue my regular kata practise. Kata will continue to help my balance and coordination and maybe one day, I can demonstrate them as part of another grading. Fingers crossed!