EDITORIAL By John Cheetham.
Welcome to Issue 131(the March 2017 edition). You may have noticed that the official publication dates have changed to be March-June-September-December.This is simply because we now work far in advance, thanks to technology to be honest. So we actually mail-out the magazine at the end of Feb-May-Aug-Nov. Most magazines actually publish a month before the date on the front cover of the magazine. May I take this opportunity to thank everyone (subscribers and dojo’s/clubs) for their continued support.
As you can see we have the very famous, dynamic sensei Mikio Yahara as our featured interview this time. There is something quite special about Yahara sensei and not just his amazing karate ability, (and it is amazing) it’s the obvious karate ‘budo’ spirit that comes across so strongly in his words. Someone said to me that he is the only one single martial artist who could have stepped into the space left by the death of Bruce Lee in the early 1970s, such was his charisma and dynamism and he had the right image and physique as well. Of course that’s if Yahara sensei had wanted to pursue a movie career, which he did not wish to do. He had all the right attributes that is for certain.
However, he chose the karate life along with his bodyguard business, which you will read about. To me, this breed of karateka no longer exists. Even Yahara’s teaching system, as he explains, cannot be anywhere near as severe as the arduous training he endured at the JKA Instructors course and in the JKA dojo with his mentor or was it his torturer! It certainly sounds that way. There are some great photo’s of Yahara sensei to accompany the article which capture completely the truly dynamic style, daring and originality of this unique karate instructor.
We have had interviews in previous editions of SKM with Yahara sensei, this one has been kindly done for SKM by Marc Feldis NPO KWF Paris. This is my favourite so far. This man (Yahara) is in incredible physical condition for his age, and he’s an inspiration to all of us I feel.
Our second interview features Sensei Stan Schmidt who needs no introduction to most Shotokan karateka, especially the older generation. This is a lengthy interview conducted in Australia by Mike Clarke which we’ve presented in two parts in the magazine. The secret to good interviews, are the questions asked and this is a great example of this principle. I have to tell you that for purely personal reasons Mike Clarke is retiring from his writing career, so this will be his last article for SKM. Love him or hate him, Mike is true to the way of karate-do. His ideas and philosophy regarding karate, do not fit easily with the way modern karate is progressing. I think Mike would have preferred karate to be an underground movement for a dedicated few, instead of a worldwide sport and business practised by millions. It’s a ‘safe’ family pastime for many people nowadays, and what is wrong with that you may say. We all have our own philosophy regarding our martial art, everyone is different.
Good health, good training. Editor.
THE ART OF JUDGING KATA An insight into a Traditionalist’s method of evaluating form competition. By Martin B. Katz.
To the general spectators, Kumite is where the action is during competition. But to those in the know, Kata is where it is really at. On any given day, in general, one good fighter could hold his own in the ring against another fighter when it comes to sparring. It is understood the true test of the martial artist is the ability to perform the intricate moves that encompass Kata.
When using the medium of tournament competition to evaluate one’s Kata performance, a fair and unbiased method must exist. When points are earned based on exacting exhibition of intricate movements, the method of assessing those movements must contain predetermined known requirements. Many times an individual receives a starting score of five out of a possible ten points just for being present. After being a competitor, an instructor, and a tournament official and after much analysis of the problem, I have devised a formula to not only familiarize the contestant with Kata scoring but assist the officials as well.
The tournament aspect of judging Kata is based on a top score of ten. I have taken this concept and created a workable system for fair and impartial scoring. Initial experimentation and follow up evaluation has proved it to work extremely well. So well in fact, we use the same formula within the Dojo during belt promotions. The first obstacle removed was the notion that just standing before the judges grants the practitioner a beginning score of five. This was a problem that has existed since I was a competitor during the late 1950’s.
This judging system, still using the ten-point base, has fixed criteria for each point. In essence, the concept is either you perform the criteria correctly or you do not. Based on this system, a Kata performance is divided into ten separate components. It can be utilized for both tournaments and belt promotions. This process gives the judges and practitioner fair warning exactly what is expected and presents a clearer picture of the practitioner’s positive and negative strengths.
The criterion used is based on the ten most important aspects of Kata. If the practitioner executes the measure correctly, one point is given. This would be noted throughout the performance, as each aspect must be present for the duration of the Kata. If an error is observed, or a certain aspect omitted, the point pertaining to that aspect is not given. Thus, it is still a ten point system. In reality, the practitioner enters the competition with no points. Making the arena similar to the arena of life.
A practitioner must prove ability. The judging of a particular individual should not, in actuality, be against the other individuals but against one’s personal ability. Because one may have the ability to jump high or please the crowd with flashy techniques does not mean it is the superior performance. Traditional Kata has certain goals and levels that must be reached. It is through this, the Kata is done correctly, thus the higher score.
The judging of one’s ability begins as the individual sits at the designated area. The practitioner should be ready while waiting to be called. A quick jumping movement from the formal sitting position to a standing posture, then followed by a crisp walk to the contest area is important. This displays a readiness, an eagerness that defines the martial arts attitude. The proper sequence of bowing sends that appropriate message to the judges. Within the bow lies confidence and combative readiness.
The first bow is a deep bow showing respect to the competition area. A quick walk follows this to the centre of the area. Again, a deep bow denoting respect for the judges. The next step should be to simply begin the Kata. Unfortunately, some practitioners give a short speech pertaining to what they are about to be performing. This is unnecessary and in bad taste. The judges know what is about to occur. Any form of school advertising at this juncture is distracting and wasted words. Moreover, as everyone knows, there are no wasted moves in martial arts.
In a loud, positive, and assured voice, the practitioner announces the Kata. To proclaim your style or art is not needed for your Kata will accomplished that. Just prior to performing the Kata, a short bow of readiness and a preparatory breathing exercise is done. Now the stage has been set for your performance and in doing so, has created a specific image in the minds of the judges.
The standards on which judgement is based contain the following elements for proper execution of Kata:
The first aspect has for the most part been addressed. The arts are based on mutual respect. The student respects the teacher for having the knowledge to teach and the teacher respects the student for the desire to learn. Everyone respects the Dojo as a training hall and the area within set aside for the contest. It is within this concepts the art remains alive from generation to generation. Along with this respect is a movement toward a return to traditionalism. Welcome back, the full white Gi.
Balance is the key to every strong technique. Evaluating proper balance is one of the easier tasks of judging. There is a certain body alignment that is evident when a practitioner is balanced. This allows for ease of movement and what appears to be effortless will in fact be proper balance. All the movements will have sureness to them. Each step is exact in its execution for there is one way and only one way to perform each movement. Each stance from the placement of the foot to the alignment of the knee to the position of the hips will be noted. From the moment the practitioner enters the testing area until the final bow, the judges must be attentive in the observation of balance.
Kata is in reality, a battle. The practitioner is defending and attacking many imaginary opponents, while convincing the judges it is really happening. This is why this aspect is so very important. The difference between success and failure in real combat can be traced to this factor. The old saying look before you leap is true here. It is crucial to observe what your opponent is doing before you commit to a defence. To turn with authority, to greet the attacker by looking first, demonstrates an ability to survive. Blind techniques never work. The judges also watch for correct eye movement that will lead the technique.
There is a mindset needed to perform Kata correctly. A confidence based on the belief one is adequately prepared to perform. The individual becomes focused. When all the elements are in sequential order and the practitioner is committed in the mind, the techniques will be focused. You are here to do your very best. The competition is against the opponents of the Kata, not the other practitioners. At the precise instant, the focus will induce the correct Kiai. Knowledge of when to perform the Kiai will be taken into consideration. The judges will observe the practitioner move, defend, and attack. If the techniques are realistic and believable, focus has been achieved. Whether the practitioner is one of hundreds at a tournament or individually testing for rank advancement, the combat is within the Kata alone.
The most important aspect that I look for is the proper use of the hips. The joining of total body power. Harnessing the body’s power and funnelling that power out through correct technique is the objective of this aspect. No matter how beautiful an individual technique looks, if it is lacking the proper hip movement, it will be weak and ineffective. One of the surest ways of calculating proper hip movement is to observe the Obi (belt). A quick snap of the hips will make the belt ends fly. Locking the hips into a technique demonstrates to the judges that the practitioner has a working knowledge of the dynamics of the martial arts.
There are two things impossible to do during a Kata. One, the act of performing a Kata on a single breathe of air and secondly, remaining tense from start to finish. Knowing when and how to breathe during the Kata can be judged by watching the practitioner’s body. Breathing in through the nose and out through the mouth will keep the practitioner from fatiguing. If correct breathing is employed, upon conclusion of the Kata, the practitioner may be tired but not exhausted. In conjunction with breathing comes the ability to relax during an active performance. Too relaxed and it would appear one could be defeated by any opponent; too tense causes much energy to be needlessly spent. Again, it is a balance of relaxation and tension that the judges are looking for. Does the practitioner appear relaxed just prior to execution of the technique? It is a major segment of the overall flow of the Kata.
The practitioner must have a through understanding of the Kata. This includes the ability to properly perform each and every technique correctly not only as an individual technique but also as an integrated part of the complete Kata. There is a certain pattern to each Kata. A particular Kata must be performed in a choreographed manner the same way each time. From start to finish, without hesitation, the practitioner moves through the Kata. Once the practitioner enters the competition arena, there is absolutely no turning back. A mistake means defeat. What about the idea of starting again? Could this be done in a real battle? The answer to being permitted to begin again must always be no. The judges are strict on knowledge of Kata for this the most basic requirement.
Each Kata is unique in its timing or rhythm of movement. There is a flow of technique, pause, followed by the same. The lack of movement is just as critical as the movement itself. Moving too quickly, breaking the rhythm unbalances the ebb of the Kata. Faltering between techniques, displays doubtfulness, lack of commitment, and defeat. A Kata has a certain amount of time required to complete the entire form. With this in mind, one must perform all movements within that framework. The rhythm is constant from start to finish. Sacrificing in one area and rushing in another while ending on time will be noticed and judged accordingly. Remember, one of the reasons for the development of Kata was to hand down from teacher to student the art so that it can be properly passed forward.
Traditional Kata has what is known as perfect finish. This means the Kata will begin and end in the exact same location. Whatever path your Kata takes you, it must lead back to where you began. This can only be accomplished if everything is performed correctly. This alone is an exceptional way of measuring one’s ability. One mistake and there is no perfect finish.
There is feeling one gets upon observing a performance done correctly. It can be described, as the sum of all the parts equal the whole. It is an overall consideration that each aspect interlocked with the others. It is knowing something was done right and is standing there before you. If everything was within the practitioner’s constant ability then the point was well deserved. Either the Kata was done as it was created to be or it was not.
The best is not the highest kicker, the one who shouts the most, or who the crowd applauds loudest for, it is who performs correctly. Sometimes this is an extremely hard decision. During Kata competition or belt promotion, it should be just that, the one who does the Kata as it was meant to be done receives the highest points. It should not be just a demonstration of random techniques or of one’s ability to move to music. It is the preservation of an art. There may be a time and place for music and back flips but not during traditional Kata.
In summary, a point each is given for successfully completing each of the ten different aspects. Upon conclusion of the Kata, each judge reviews the entire performance to ascertain that each standard was met. If throughout the Kata every stance was correct, balance was evident and body positioning was exact, one point is award. Holding the other nine standards to the same criterion, points are subsequently awarded. This ensures the goals of fair and unbiased officiating.
To assist the students at my Dojo, we have broken each aspect further down into its own ten point system. In this way, the end result does not cloud the mind of the student during the learning progress. The intent is one step at a time, one aspect at a time. There will be time later to put all the pieces together. Just as in the art itself, everything is built upon a solid base.
In conclusion, when one steps into my tournament arena or stands before me in the promotional process, there is an understanding of candid judging based solely on traditional performance only. Karate is a test of oneself, from oneself, to oneself.