There are many different ways to learn a new kata. In this article, I will share with you how I approach a new kata in five steps and hope that you will find some practical tips that can be useful in your personal practice.

Step 1: Learn the Kata Pattern

The first step in learning a new kata is to learn the pattern of the whole kata.

At this stage, don’t worry too much about power, speed and timing yet, just try to memorize the technique sequence, the stances and the transitional moves.

You can do this in a relatively short time, from within a day to a couple of weeks.

I find that instructors usually like to teach only 3-4 techniques at a time. Once students memorize those techniques, they would then add a few more and then a few more after that. If you train 2-3 times a week, you can easily learn the whole kata pattern within a couple of weeks.

If you learn it on your own by following an instructional video, you can learn the pattern of a new kata in one day or spread it out in a few days depending on how much time you have and how eager you want to learn it.

If you’ve been training karate for a while, you will realize that memorizing the pattern and techniques of a new kata is not that difficult but mastering a kata can take many years of dedicated practice.

Step 2: Practice Individual Techniques of the Kata

Once you memorize the whole pattern of the kata, you will then move on to practicing the individual techniques of the kata. You should still practice the whole kata regularly but the main improvement in your kata performance is gained through breaking the kata down into individual techniques and practicing them over and over again.

This step can be broken down into three small steps.

2.1- Understand the Meaning of Each Technique

First of all, you will need to understand what each technique means in the context of the kata. If you perform these techniques without understanding their potential applications, your kata performance will be no more than a fitness exercise and it will be hollow and superficial and lack martial spirit.

Your instructors will explain to you what each technique means but of course there can be many potential applications for each technique. While performing the kata, you can choose to visualize the applications that you are taught or the ones that you come up with yourself and prefer.

2.2 – Get the Techniques Right

Secondly, you need to make sure that you are performing the techniques exactly as you are taught because, if you don’t get them right at the start, after months or years of practice, bad forms will become entrenched habits. By then it will be very difficult and frustrating to unlearn and correct them.

At this stage, it’s best to perform the techniques slowly to achieve good forms and not to worry about speed and power until you are sure that you’ve got the forms down pat.

It is also okay to just practice the techniques in a natural stance at this stage to strip them down to the most essential elements. If you do so, you will realize that most kata techniques, even those of very advanced kata, can all be broken down into very basic techniques (and this shows how important kihon practice is).

You may want to check out: Why Is Kihon So Important in Karate?

2.3 – Work on the Speed and Power of the Techniques

The next step is to work on the speed and power of the techniques of the kata. If they are meant to be slow and flowing, they should be slow and flowing. If they are meant to be fast and strong, they need to be performed with speed and power. The key to increase the speed and power of your technique is relaxation, maximum body mass engagement and solid stances. All of these will come with a lot of practice and good quality instruction.

You may want to check out: What Is Kime and How to Achieve It?

Step 3: Grouping Techniques into Small Sequences

Once you’re confident that you’ve mastered the individual techniques, it’s time to group individual techniques into small meaningful sequences and practice those individual sequences separately.

You will either be taught what the main sequences of the kata are or can figure them out quite easily from the kata techniques and their bunkai or from watching recorded performances of the kata by karate masters or kata champions. But that doesn’t mean you must mimic them exactly. Kata performances inherently bear personal nuances and no two individuals execute a kata identically. You can certainly interpret the kata your way and put your personal marks into your performance.

Because you should have mastered individual techniques of the kata to a certain degree in the previous step, when you practice a small sequence of techniques in this step, the focus is to add in the stances and the transitioning moves while maintaining the form, speed and power of the techniques.

You can further break this step down by first practicing only the stances and the transitional moves (i.e. getting from one stance to another). Once you get the stances and transitions right, you can add the hand and leg techniques.

If you find that you don’t get the desired power and speed or the kind of clean and crisp techniques that you are after when you perform them in small sequences, you should break the sequences into even smaller chunks or go back to practicing those techniques individually again.

You should only move to the next step after you’re completely happy with your performance of those small sequences.

Step 4 – Put the Sequences Together and Find the Right Rhythm

In this step, you will put all the sequences together and work on the rhythm of the kata.

If you perform all techniques of the kata at equal speed and equal timing, you will end up with a very boring performance.

Your instructors will tell you which techniques should be fast, which techniques should be slow, which techniques should be flowing, which techniques should be grouped together, and where the pauses should be.

You can also pick these up from watching myriad YouTube videos of demonstrations by karate masters and kata champions but you can certainly add your own unique touch into the kata too.

The biggest issue I find that affect the aesthetic aspect of a kata performance is that people tend to rush through their kata and they don’t pause at the right moments.

In kata, as in music, it is the pauses that make all the difference. If you are rushing through a kata, the feeling from the audience’s perspective is like chop, chop, chop, chop, one technique after another. It’s kind of same, same, same, exhaustive and boring.

Imagine how soon you’ll want to fall asleep if you are to watch an action movie where essentially there is nothing but one fight sequence after another.

The general rule is you should pause after a sequence of fast and powerful technique (to give the audience a short break to savor the beauty of your techniques!!!) but should not pause after a sequence of a slow or flowing techniques.

In a competition, the rhythm and timing could mean the difference between winning and losing or a gold medal and a silver medal.

I highly recommend watching Antonio Diaz and Vu Duc Minh Dack performing Suparimpei at the 21st WKF World Karate Championships. Both are awesome but you will notice the differences in their rhythms and timing and see why Diaz’s performance is a lot more interesting to watch compared to Dack’s.

Nevertheless, if you just want to practice kata techniques for the sake of practicing the techniques, you can perform the kata in whatever rhythm that suits you.

Step 5 – Continuing Practice

This is the most enjoyable stage of your kata practice. Just like learning a difficult piano piece and finally being able to play the piece fluently and enjoy it at the same time, you’ve reached a point where you can fluidly execute the kata while expressing its martial essence, relishing the experience all the while.

However, it doesn’t mean that you’ve mastered it and there is no room for further improvement. You will find that even after years and years of practice, you still can find areas that warrant further refinement.

Your instructors may point out that certain parts of your kata are not quite there yet and show you how to improve them.

You can also identify parts of your kata that you think are the weakest and focus on refining those parts. I highly recommend focusing on one small sequence of a kata at a time and work on it until you are completely happy with it (or totally fed up with it!) before moving on to another sequence.

Furthermore, you’ll also need to allocate a lot of time on practicing the kata’s applications until they become part of your fighting repertoire because this will allow you to use those applications in actual combat. In addition to practicing the applications that you are taught, you can spend time figuring out your own applications as well.


Mastering a new kata is a journey that requires dedication, patience, a systematic approach, and many years of practice. Just as a towering skyscraper emerges from the foundation of fundamental elements like sand, cement, steel, and bricks, even the most sophisticated kata is made up of very basic techniques that are taught to beginners. Therefore, the key to mastering kata is to master your basics and understand proper body mechanics.

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