Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Kata "Flow" Drill

Thankfully, I've been fortunate enough to have trained with some truly amazing martial artists and instructors. One of the third dans I train with on occasion will soon represent the U.S. in a tournament in Portugal where she'll be doing both bo and empty-hand kata. In fine-tuning her presentation, she's been working with others who have been helping her smooth out her footwork, transitions, cadence and timing. In turn, she's passed the drills she's gotten from them onto us.

One of the drills that I like working is the kata "flow" drill. To smooth out transitions from, say, hard to soft, she was instructed to go through her kata at one speed a minimum of 10 times a day. All the movements were relatively soft and without dynamic tension or cadence changes. She got to pick the speed, but it had to be consistent throughout - no speeding up or slowing down allowed. Although she said she hated it at first and had a hard time erasing the speed an ferocity of Seipai as she'd learned it, eventually she forgot to think about what move came next and how hard or soft it had to be. And when her brain shut off and her body just moved, she had an easier time working the subtleties like foot placement in shiko dachi (horse stance) and hand positions.

In other words, when she stopped thinking and started doing, her kata began to flow.

As I have a tournament of my own coming up in November, I thought I'd give working it for the long haul a try as she's doing in preparation for competition. For the past two weeks, I've been flowing Senchin - Peter Urban's USA Goju version of Seiyuchin - every morning. What I've found is that without the abrupt changes in tempo the kata calls for, I've had cerebral epiphanies regarding my angles, head movement, stances and the efficiency of my hand positions. In other words, the rush to get from here to there is gone and instead I find myself thinking of the best ways to move so there's no wasted motion. For example, I've always had difficulties lining up my rear foot correctly when doing a neko ashi dachi (cat stance), but suddenly I'm nailing all of the three done in this kata - including the one the form ends with - without a lot of "oh no - here it comes!" thought and effort. It was a full month before the third dan who taught me this drill was allowed to do her kata full-speed - and like her, I haven't done my kata full speed yet, either. I'm excited to see what it will become when I put the cadence back together!

It's really an very cool tool that can also be used to iron out problem spots in a kata. To do that, you'd flow the part of the form that gives you grief. Vary the speed so that a few times it's done relatively quickly and a few more super slowly. Even cooler is that it only takes about 15 minutes or so a day.

If you're feeling adventurous, give it a try for a bit and let me know how it works for you.


  1. I like the sound of this method. I'm working on two black belt katas at the moment bassai dai and seienchin so I might give this flow drill method a try - thank you!

  2. Oooooo - Bassai Dai! Such a beautiful kata, Sue...

    The third dan I learned this from, my son and a few other folks absolutely hated this drill at first, although a couple of my training partners and I enjoyed it from the start. Don't give up on it if you find it uncomfortable. Good luck with it :-)