The Kata Critic (Ep. 1) — Jesse Enkamp


– Welcome to the very first
episode of The Kata Critic. A brand new show where I
have a look at your kata, and then provide constructive
criticism, aka feedback, to help you improve your karate skills. Let’s get started. Okay, before we start, disclaimer.
(clapping) I’m not a kata expert! I’ve done way more bad
kata than good kata. But, I’ve been a member of
two different national teams, I’ve trained with some
of the best coaches, experts, athletes, and
grandmasters around the world. So I know what to look for when it comes to improving your own kata, ’cause I’ve tried to improve
my own kata for decades now. So, in this show, you have sent me tons of your kata videos, that
I will have a look at, not to roast them, or to tell
you what you’re doing bad, but to see if I can find
some kind of ideas for you to improve your karate skills
through looking at your kata. And even if you don’t
practice this specific kata, let’s say you’re from a different style, or even if you do a different martial art, then hopefully there’s
something you can learn by looking at these
katas together with me, and analyzing them when it
comes to the biomechanics. However, make sure that
you take whatever I say with a big grain of salt because different styles have
different ways of doing kata, and I don’t know every style in the world, although I don’t try to limit
myself to one specific style ’cause I love learning all styles. But I’m not a specialist,
I’m a generalist. So what I will be looking at is the general biomechanical principles that all karate styles have in common as long as you have two arms and two legs. So, with that being said,
let’s have a look at the very first kata that you sent me. In this case, it is Unsu. And actually, the video is titled, “A horrible Unsu attempt by
a 16-year-old orange belt.” And already right now, I sense that this is gonna be very juicy. Let’s have a look. So what I would say
already right now is that the weight distribution in the cat stance is a little bit off. You want to have the
majority of your weight at the back leg, and you can see that it’s a little wobblier right now because there’s a lack of core
stability and knee strength and probably ankle mobility, too because the stance is very high. So before you attempt an
advanced kata like Unsu, in this case, make sure that you have your basic stances in order. This is why, in general,
if you’re an orange belt, in this case, maybe try to
stick to the more simple kata, so that you don’t develop bad habits that then can basically
ruin your whole career because once a habit sticks,
it’s hard to change it, okay? Let’s keep watching. Okay seems like he forgot
a couple of moves there that’s fine, as long as you keep going. Whenever you forget
something just keep going and pretend like it didn’t happen. Especially if you’re competing. Okay again, we got the stances, right? You saw that kiba dachi, which looked more like a shiko dachi. So if you combine them
it becomes like a “shiba dachi”, which doesn’t even exist. So make sure that the
stances are on point. I can’t really tell
what stance you’re doing if you’re combining different stances. So again, stances is the very first thing that we learn in karate
for a very good reason because you can’t shoot a
cannon from a canoe… or a canoe? How do you pronounce that? English is my third language, okay? But the basic idea is that
you need a stable foundation. Imagine a pyramid, right? You want the base to be super strong so it can support the whole structure. And that’s why a lot of the movements here are a little bit wobbly, because the stance is not really on point. So the center of gravity is not low enough to make sure that there is
a good surface of support. – Kiai! – Okay so listen, just
take a quick pause here. It is pretty evident that the
person performing the kata has problems remembering the kata, and that’s the very first step if you’re gonna perform it, to actually first train it, so that your body knows
what movement is coming next without you having to stop,
pause and think about it. And it’s easy to see when somebody’s eyes are going in different directions that they’re trying to
recall what the next move is. So number one is you
have to repeat movements over and over again
until they get ingrained in your neuromuscular
circuits that determine which way to move, and how to move, so that you don’t have to
consciously think about it. You want to make it
subconscious, or unconscious, so that it’s in your muscle memory, okay? So make sure you repeat,
but don’t just repeat for the sake of repeating,
but for trying to improve. So each repetition gets better, otherwise, like I said before, you’re
just ingraining old patterns, old habits, that might not be the best. In this case, for example, the stances. – Kiai! – That’s always tricky. Okay. So, of course there are tons of things that you can always say when
it comes to giving feedback, ’cause kata has layers
and layers and layers. But I’m gonna try to point
out the most obvious one when it comes to each
kata, and in this case, I believe that the most
important thing is the stances. And that’s what we call kihon in Japanese. The basic techniques, it’s
one of the first things that you learn, and in this case, if you’re an orange belt,
you probably just learned the different basic stances of karate. So make sure that you
try to improve those, and master those in isolation, before you try to integrate
it, meaning doing a kata. So start with the kihon, and
then move on to the kata. And your kata will automatically be better when your kihon is better. The basics are not easy or simple just because they’re called the basics. They’re actually the most
important thing there is because a kata is just
kihon over and over again for two to three minutes,
and then the kata is over. And all you’ve been doing
is different stances, punches, kicks and blocks
in different directions. It’s all kihon. So in this case, my number
one piece of advice is try to improve your basics,
especially the stances, before you attempt advanced kata like Unsu that might give you bad habits
because we don’t want that. Moving on, next kata is Chinto, also known as Gankaku
in the Shotokan style. But in this case, the file name is “Chinto by Sensei Pennell”. And listen, I don’t know who’s performing these videos you sent me. I lost track of who’s who, so
it’s just gonna be anonymous. I’m not here to bash specific people, but just have a general
look at the performances you’ve sent me, and then see what all of us can learn from that, okay? So don’t take any of this personally. It’s just a learning
experience for all of us. Okay, so already right
now, since this person is moving in a 45 degree angle, I can tell it’s the older
Okinawan version of the kata. – Kiai! – Okay, so what I’m
noticing already right now, is a little bit of this timing issue when it comes to the lower body, and the upper half of the body. See, when people do kata, what they generally tend
to do is that they move their lower body into a
stance, and then they use their upper body for a punch or whatever. But what you want to do is you want to connect your whole body. So let’s say I’m moving from one stance, I’m taking a step and then I’m punching. I don’t wanna step and then punch. I wanna actually start the punch already before the step has started. So my whole body is
moving in one compact unit all the way until the moment of impact so that I’m using what’s
called “Zentai Ryoku” in Japanese, which means full body power. So what I’m seeing now in this kata is the lower body is moving, and then the upper body is
moving in different ways. So there’s that little
bit of this disconnect when it comes to the core. And since this is an Okinawan kata, this concept in Okinawa
is known as “Gamaku”, which refers to the whole center area, your hips, waist, core,
lower back, your abs, and how to basically
organize your trunk optimally so that everything is
connected in one motion, instead of having first, one
motion with the lower body, and then another motion
with the upper body, ’cause that lag is what
is gonna have you killed if it comes to a real, you
know, real life street fighting or self defense application
of these techniques. ‘Cause you don’t have time to
move and then do something. You gotta move and do
something all in one motion. So, already right now my
number one piece of advice when it comes to this
specific performance, is to try to connect your whole body. Let’s keep watching. – Kiai! – Another thing that comes to
mind when I’m watching this, is how the posture is not
really solid and stable. The structure seems to
have a little bit of imbalances when it
comes to the tensegrity. It’s a little bit wobbly
here and there, up and down, and that might be fine if you’re punching and kicking in thin air, but when you’re actually,
you know using these moves, in self defense or against an attacker, then you gotta be able to withstand the same amount of power that you generate and deliver into the opponent. And if there’s too much
slack in the system, you’re not going to be able to do that. So a little bit of more
stability wouldn’t hurt this particular performance. Especially in the upper body. – Kiaii! – And if we’re gonna be, you know, looking at all of the
details then, of course, that cat stance might be
a little bit wide as well, but that’s just a smaller detail. To me, it’s more about the
functionality of your movements, how you’re actually using your body, rather than having everything
at the perfect angle. We’re looking at the big picture here. So again, for this kata,
my main piece of advice would be to try to connect the whole body a little bit more, so that there’s no lag between the lower body and the upper body. But the power generation
is right, it’s good, it’s supposed to start in the lower body, and then transfer through the arms into the target or the opponent. But there needs to be a
quicker connection between that transfer when it
comes to your lower body and your upper body. And plus, a little bit
of more core stability will help with that because there’s always a little bit of energy
lost when you’re wobbling. For example, through your shoulders or through your elbow when
there is not enough stability in the system so there is
no economy of movement. But then again, in an Okinawan style kata, sometimes there’s supposed to be, um, perform more in this
way, which is known as “Muchimi”, in the Okinawan language. This sort of soft and snappy movements, and if that’s the case, then that’s fine. But these are just general
points to think about. All right, let’s move on! Next kata. This is kata Seienchin. And again, I have not seen any of these performances before now,
so let’s have a look. I can already tell that it’s a person wearing a
t-shirt rather than a gi, which is fine especially in the hotter, more, you know, humid climates. I actually tend to practice
a t-shirt and shorts myself. So, let’s have a look. First of all, minus point
for the wobbly camera. Anyway. Snappy, snappy. I think the timing is pretty okay. Seems a little bit stiff
in the shoulders though. Could use more lower body
hip power for the moves, rather than the shoulders. Again, mostly just arms being used in that specific sequence. It would be a good idea
to move the feeling down into the body, and sink your shoulders, relax your whole chest area, and then try to use more of your center to produce and generate
force in these movements. By the way, this kata is
one of those kata that’s way harder than it actually looks, and it doesn’t have a single kick. But it has a lot of the shiko dachi. – Kiai! – Okay, I’m getting dizzy
by the camera movements. Guys, you need a tripod if I’m gonna have to look at your videos. So, already now it’s pretty obvious that a lot of the shiko dachi, stepping back and forth in this kata, is not in a straight line, and that’s really important in a kata where you repeat the same
sequence over and over again. And there are many of these
instances in a lot of kata where you need to have the
exact same kind of motion over and over again. And unless you can reproduce the same perfect kind of motion, then there’s not going
to be enough consistency for your kata to be good. So make sure that when you
step back in a straight line, it’s actually a straight line. And a great way to
practice this is let’s say, okay give me one second I’m
just gonna get something. Okay I’m back, so the idea is you want something straight on
the floor when you practice. It could be a rope, it could be your belt, or it could be a staff. So I’m just gonna put this here, and then as I practice, I
will try to align my stances with whatever tool or thing
that I have on the ground to help me move in a
perfectly straight line. And this can be used for any
kind of stances in any kata. So let’s say I’m moving in a front stance, then I don’t wanna move
over here as I step. I wanna make sure that
it’s perfectly aligned with this straight tool that I’m using whether it’s a staff, your belt, a rope, or even putting tape on the floor. This is what a lot of the best athletes in the sport karate world do because they want to make sure that each stance in a
perfectly straight line. Okay, moving on. – Kiai! – Yeah, and again, this
is something that tends to happen in a kata that
is so physically exhausting for your lower body, like Seienchin is, your center of gravity starts rising. So look at this cat stance. It’s supposed to be twice as low. So when you do a stance in
the beginning of a kata, and you do the same stance
at the end of a kata, you want to make sure
that they’re consistent. Again, the main theme in
this specific performance, is to improve the consistency, so that all of the moves
and stances look identical no matter where in the kata
they’re being performed. And when you bow make sure
to have a straight back. And that’s it for the very first
episode of The Kata Critic. I hope you like this idea. And if you want me to have a look at your kata in the next episode, just drop a link in the comments section. So you have to upload your kata, and make sure you’re using a tripod because I don’t want those
shaky videos, it makes me dizzy. And if you’re lucky, I might
have a look at your kata in the next episode. Train hard, good luck, and have fun.

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