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Kata mode

Often the way we practice kata in class is different from the way we want to demonstrate it for a rank demo or other demonstration.
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The reason for this is that there is (and should be) a lot of experimentation and stopping and starting and rewinding and repeating and refining involved with day-to-day practice. Everyday kata practice is a laboratory exercise in which we manipulate variables and get the repetition we need to internalize the principles contained in the kata.
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Formal demonstration (embu) is a different thing. Embu is not a time for experimentation or stopping and rewinding. It is intended to be a polished representation of the students' understanding of the principles in the kata. Here are a few hints for performing a good kata embu.
  • Get the attitude right. Embu is a demonstration of principles that are intended to be used in combat. Therefore, the attitude should reflect a life or death seriousness. This doesn't mean that you have to abuse uke any more than usual. This doesn't change the physical execution of the techniques at all, but a difference in attitude should be apparent in your zanshin (awareness).
  • Attain a connection with uke the instant the kata begins (typically the first step uke and tori take toward each other) and maintain that connection throughout the demo. This connection should be obvious through tori's use of metsuke (eye contact), centering, and synchronization (ki musubi) with uke.
  • The formality of the kata is primarily involved with keeping in mind that you are demonstrating the kata to someone (joseki) Therefore, it should be obvious that tori is keeping joseki in mind throughout the demo. Tori should not stand with his back to joseki and the kata should be arranged if possible so that uke is not thrown toward joseki and that tori is always at least somewhat between uke and joseki. Sometimes these demands conflict and tori has to make the best compromise possible at the time.
  • Set up a rhythm appropriate to the kata. You can do this by doing the same thing before and after each techique. Sort of like a bass line in music, the formality between the technique sets up an environment in which the techniques stand out.
  • Purely aesthetically, it helps to make sure that uke is physically larger than tori. Nobody likes to see a big guy beating up a little guy. Uke must have sufficient falling skills and both partners should have sufficient cardiovascular strength that neither of them gets ragged-out looking during the demo. Both partners should look clean and crisp and healthy during a demo. For kata demonstrations it is most appropriate to have uke and tori roughly the same skill level.
It is crucial that tori select the uke he will be using well in advance of the embu so that they can get additional practice together so that they both have the same understanding of kata mode by performance time. This preparation time can take weeks for a in-class rank test up to months for a national-level kata embu. A good method of getting used to this embu formality and staying sharp on it is to always practice the first repetition of each kata in everyday class practice using embu kata mode.
[photo courtesy of Stephanie Booth]

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