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Paul Herbert 5th Dan
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Shotokan Kata up to Black Belt

Fiore Tartaglia

Kata is one of the vital three K’s that make up karate – Kihon, Kata, and Kumite. They are an integral part of the study of Karate-do, and much emphasis must be placed on its study.

When you think of kata, you don’t necessarily think of little drawn men punching and kicking. I expected to not really like this book. I thought, how can a book full of drawings truly convey the significance of Kata? When the book arrived however, my initial judgement was somewhat altered. True, little drawings cannot - with all the will in the world - illustrate the attitude and feeling of practicing kata, for the drawings are expressionless. However, on the other hand, human beings have errors. Human beings have technical faults. In many ways, as shown here in this book, technical points are to some extent easier illustrated through diagrams, for you can always make a diagram look perfect. You cannot always do this with a human. Therefore, when you study the technique of these drawings, they are more technically perfect 100% of the time than any human could be. In some strange way, these little men inspire you, and you want to become as perfect as something created by pen and paper. All the same, you are inspired to become better.

The first thing that struck me as I looked at the book is how beautifully presented it is. Not just the drawings of the karateka (who are technically awesome by the way!), but the general set out of the book. From cover to cover, clearly, every little detail has been thoroughly thought through to maximise the aesthetic potential of the book. When you open the book on the first page, you see a small graphic man bowing, with the quote ‘Karate begins with respect’, then on the very last page again a figure bowing with the quote beneath ‘and ends with respect’, ignoring the small typo here, (they have written end ends, rather than and ends) this is a very nice touch, which increases the professionalism of the book.

One thing that is always a worry is that many people place a greater emphasis on studying karate from books rather than an instructor, but accurately, this book states ‘It can never take the place of an instructor’. This is an extremely important point, and should be taken very seriously.

Before delving into the difficult job of demonstrating the kata, the book firstly gives an introduction into the nature of karate, and explains the origins of many of the kata, informing for example that Chinte is a Shuri-te kata, and that the stylistic points of the Shuri-te style comes from the village of the same name. This is important in demonstrating the deeper source of kata in history.

Also very important is the section dealing with the points that need to be remembered. Here, all of the necessary points that should be considered during a performance are briefly covered, giving an insight into the expected technical points when executing a kata. One such mention for example, I quote ‘Correct breathing enables the maximum kime during the performance of the techniques, and supports the kata’s rhythm’.

The book covers Taikyoku Shodan, all of the Heian kata’s, Tekki Shodan, Bassai Dai, Empi, Jion, Hangetsu, and Kanku Dai. For each of the kata, there is a running commentary of what techniques are being used and where. There is however little technical information provided, so in this way, this book, although for a beginner may be better suited for those with a little experience. More accurately, those who want to learn the form of the kata rather than the details. I feel I am being a little unfair when I say this however, for the diagrams are so accurate that all of the necessary information is provided.

To accompany the kata comes a key, which can be found on the front inside sleeve of the cover. If you follow the key, along with the kata, you quickly gather quite a lot of information, especially considering that the key is very easy to follow. The key, covers ‘The start and end of the technique’ highlighted through the darkness/or lightness of the line alongside the pictures, describing the embusen. This makes following the performance of the technique very simple. It also teaches you how fast/slow, where to pause, the type of body movement (step, turn without a step, sliding step) and shows you when a change of direction is required. This is simplified further through also providing side angles.

One thing I like about this book – or should I say kata book in general – is the blurb to accompany the kata. Here, a little historical information is given, which will be of use to those who are interested in learning more than just the forms.

At the very end of the book though, there is a very impressive glossary. Not only do they give the English translation for the techniques, but also give a pictorial demonstration for certain techniques. This, I’m sure will be a very popular part of the book.

I think this book would be a great aid to the beginning student, for the katas are easily broken down, and the diagrams are extremely easy to follow. Despite a lack of technical information, the professionalism of the graphics (how perfect the little guy’s technique is!) makes the book educational.

Mark Thompson

18/09/2006

Click here to buy a copy of 'Shotokan Kata up to Black Belt'