Training power and speed for Karate - Kata vs Kumite
One for the Karateka and those who train them...or want to train them.
Reece Taylor (Kata) developing lower body power
Kumite karate is different to my school boy experience of repeating drilled punches and kicks in neat lines. It involves two athletes fighting in a large square, matted area (called a Tatami) and the aim - as you'd imagine in a fight - is to punch and kick your opponent more times than you are punched or kicked. There are of course far more intricacies to the tactical and skill components. For the purpose of a strength and conditioning coach, we are concerned primarily with what the sport requires in terms of power, speed, energy demands, and injury risks. This is where contact fights are quite different from the other expression of traditional Karate - Kata.
Kata and Kumite are now both part of the Olympic programme from 2020. I currently coach one athlete from each discipline and support coaches training a further 3 athletes on a programme which aims to get them to Olympic qualification level, no easy feat. In addition, I coach another male senior kumite athlete in another karate federation (read more about him here).
Over the last 3 years I have worked with Sophie Santillo (read her testimonial here) - a Kumite athlete who won international medals as a junior and has had some national success now as a senior -55kg. Her training looks very different from the male senior Kata athlete I now coach - Reece Taylor (read more about him here).
Kumite karate is characterised by quick and springy movement in and out of range, dominated by the stretch reflex action of the calf/achilles complex. Striking with any limb and allowing sweeps means the body must be able to rotate rapidly and limbs must have great reactive strength and elastic properties. The trunk must be able to deliver the force from the legs so that body punches are effective and blocking is secure. Movements happen in random and chaotic fashion and success relies on reading and anticipating the opponents attacks and defensive manoeuvres. In this sense it has many things in common with both boxing and Tae Kwon do.
In contrast Kata karate is rehearsed and systematic. Athletes have a select number of set kata routines to choose from, each of which has varying levels of technical difficulty. Athletes go head to head but display their routines rather than fight. Points are deducted according to lack of precision with kicks, punches, jumps and spins, or for lack of conviction and subjective elements like overall athleticism. In this sense it has much in common with kung fu, diving, or gymnastics competition.
Although all karate is born of the same or similar styles, fighting using karate as opposed to displaying purist karate movements requires quite a different athlete. There are very few who can do both to the elite standard.
The kata athlete must be powerful and athletic, and has to appear so. They must embody the martial art and movements must be crisp and technically perfect in order to score well. Training therefore must also follow these principles at times, ensuring that total control of the body is priority. Oddly for me, as a coach usually concerned with performance over aesthetics, the appearance of the kata athlete really matters. Symmetry is important. Looking, as well as being, in control of the kata is important. I imagine that it also adds a sense of how hard the athletes work, to be in great physical shape, and that can influence the subjective scoring.
This contrast in the athletes programmes goals has been a real eye opener for me. I've enjoyed the challenge of improving kumite athletes movement, striking and kicking for quite a while now but the idea of packing on muscle that is also of real use, and that doesn't reduce the speed and accuracy of the kata athlete is a novel and interesting one. I'm really looking forward to seeing what all the athletes can do and the success that I can help in achieving. Keep an eye on the blog and @alexpadams Instagram to see how they all develop. Oss.