How do we establish the legitimacy of kata and patterns as a combative exercise, a training syllabus, and grading system?
This is an old and oft repeated lesson returning yet again last night as we focused on our basic katas Chon-ji, Dan-gun, Do-san, and then Won-hyo.
There were the few and regular glaring performance errors - not looking before turning into the technique, dubious height of strikes, stances that weren't quite right, and irregular breath patterns. Here are tips to improve patterns as I'd like them performed by traditional taekwondo students.
1. If kata is to be used as combative training, then students need to a) get to the line prepared to perform each technique with close to maximal effort (kime or muscle focus at the end of each technique), b) use good regular breathing synched with techniques (more on this later), and c) relax down to a basal state of optimimum tension after each strike (not totally relaxed - but have the body ready to go).
2. While hard style systems seem to rigidly follow train tracks, transitions between techniques need the core trunk of the body to be relaxed in order to achieve natural movement. Natural movement optimises speed, helps maintain endurance, and increases spatial awareness. One great indicator that natural movement is not present is when there is a) no head turning before the body faces a different direction, b) the folding for blocks don't seem to provide as much coverage to the side of the body because the practitioner is not reaching over during the fold, and c) the body does not lean forward as the practitioner starts his lunge step forward.
3. Kata should be a complement to sparring by helping students practice good breathing habits. The breathing for martial artists regulates flight or fight responses, initiates any move - defensive or offensive, and helps gap close. Large muscles exhale breath forcefully. Most techniques have a fairly regular exhalation - moderate at first, lighter during, and significant in the end. Kiai techniques have a very light exhalation and then a very significant exhalation at the end with shout.
Check out Dan's The Way of Least Resistance: Main Purpose of Kata.
Traditional Taekwondo Technique Workshop