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Karate Training Progression



I think we've all been there when telling someone about karate. Their responses are usually: "What are those dances?" or "Why don't you just spar?"

Hopefully this post will help give them an understanding that kata is just one step in a progression of a proven training methodology. If you watch a golfer take "practice swings" or a baseball player swing a bat through the air, they are reinforcing the coordination, through solo training, to apply that technique later in a real scenario. Anyone who've dipped their toes into firearms training can attest to the hours of "dry-firing" their gun to make sure their draw and trigger pull is smooth and consistent.


And that's the biggest benefit of solo drills in karate aka doing kata. You developing the coordination for combat while reinforcing the correct form before you start trying to apply it on another person. Especially before resistance is involved.


So let's talk through the 5 points in the chart above:


  1. Kata - solo drills to build coordination.

    1. it is NOT a substitute for partner drills, pressure testing or sparring.

    2. it IS a fundamental step to teach the body how to move do execute the move correctly every time (there's that consistency piece)

  2. Compliant Partner Drills

    1. After figuring out what you're doing in the air, you then need a way to try the technique on a dummy limb or body. This can be a makeshift training tool or a training partner that's willing to let you work.

  3. Progressive Resistance

    1. This is probably the step you should spend the majority of your training on (just randomly throwing a number out there with zero data to back it up but i'd say 75% of your training should be doing drills with a partner at varying resistance levels.)

    2. All of the variations in drills should happen here - do the technique on one side, then the other, do it with motion, do it at the end of a combination, do it to start a combination, have your partner provide 25% resistance, 50%, etc. You can literally think of hundreds of ideas to try.

  4. Live Sparring

    1. This is where you see if your training has worked.

    2. There are a lot more variables to consider here: randomized opponent's responses, fight or flight response, breathe control, heart rate, anxiety levels, ego, etc.

    3. Live sparring shouldn't take up much of the training mix (maybe 10%?) but it's key to seeing what works under full and randomized resistance.

  5. Workshop

    1. This is where the ego will be your friend or foe.

      1. did you really get caught or were you just experimenting with something?

      2. did your partner actually beat you or will your excuses start coming out, are you really tired from that workout yesterday?

    2. As the saying goes - thick skin, broad shoulders. Get rid of the ego and accept criticism as a learning device.

    3. Video recording and objectively assessing the match will help you progress tremendously.


Finally - it circles back to 1 or Kata/solo training.


Rinse & repeat til you die.


And when you're objectively better than those around you and people tell you you're a natural, you can reference this post.




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1. Kata

c. Allows you to utilize visualization to take mental reps. You can vary the speed of mental reps to accomplish things you can't do with a partner, from static, yoga-like contemplation to full force limb destruction.

I'm not so sure you can do the same thing with shadowboxing or whatever the BJJ equivalent is. This is what makes the karate training progression superior to other methods of training, imo.


I don't know if compliant partner drills should always follow kata. I think sometimes you can show someone a self-defense technique and then show them the kata. I guess it depends on how a particular individual retains information. Thoughts?


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So do you think it's as effective to teach an oyo prior to an entire kata? Or kata always first?

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This is the single best explanation I’ve seen about kata’s place in karate.


There are so many things I want to say about this…


To “just spar” is simply too simple. Like anything else, sparring is a training tool. But sparring does not usually involve technique correction. Maybe we see a bit of strategy discussion. I also think there is a distinction between sparring and self-defense. Sparring is, in my view, usually done in the same context as sports fighting where as self-defense has no rules. Is this correct?


I also think we get hung up on the word “kata” rather than looking at it as another tool. Sadly, a toold wrongly applied.


But this is a great framework. Can…

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Please share! I posted the image on Facebook and Instagram and wanted a more thought out explanation in this post 👍 thank you for the kind words

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