Are You Training Kata the Right Way?

Today we’re going to talk about Change-of-Direction Speed in Kata…

With Karate Science, you can improve your work in the Dojo.

No matter if you train Traditional Karate, Sports Karate, Kyokushinkai, Kids, Women, Karate for Self-Defence…

Human Movement is Human Movement…

But let’s get started so you can know if you are developing your students’ Change of Direction Speed (CODS) in Kata the right way.

Kata execution involves frequent turns, twists and explosive Change-of-Direction (COD) movements, right?

Do you know if you are using the correct training methods to reach your students and athletes full potential?!?

Maybe yes, maybe not…


Let us say this again: STOP using “Lucky-Guessing” or “My-Master-Said-It” or “I-Saw-It-In-A-Youtube-Video-With-Thousands-Of-Views” training methods…

Note: We think Youtube plays an important role in one of the most important factors that make your Karate sessions more productive: TRAINING VARIATION! It’s a great source of new ideas… But YOU MUST KNOW WHEN, HOW, AND WITH WHO, you can use them.


And it’s a cheap training method that you can easily use in your daily Karate classes…

It’s also a great, safe and effective method no matter the goals, the age, the condition or the gender of your students and athletes!

But always with the same methodology with all your students?!?!?!?

Of course not, but that’s a subject for another time.

All Karate Senseis should consider the time constraints to develop the physical qualities required for performance success.

It is vital that the available time is used effectively and efficiently.

Time cannot be wasted on ineffective training methods that will not lead to a tangible improvement in a student or athlete’s performance.

If you have a competition team that trains once or even twice a day, 6 times per week, you surely must use all the effective training methods Science gives you!

But if you need solutions to your regular classes where you have dozens of students that train 2 or 3 times per week it’s crucial that you use simple and more practical training strategies.

And it’s even more important to choose really effective and proven methods!!


Change-of-Direction Speed involves:

  • The ability to brake
  • Change Direction
  • And Accelerate again (reacceleration)

How can Plyometrics help you?

First of all, Plyometric training has a strong component of eccentric load stimulus. That eccentric load is essential to “teach” your Karate students’ body to brake properly.

Scientific studies show that forces during Change of Direction movements are similar to eccentric forces generated during Countermovement Jumps, for example.

Besides that, Science has found a significant correlation between jump height of Countermovement Jump/Drop Jump and reacceleration speed. If your Karate athletes jump higher they tend to reaccelerate faster after a change of direction during Kata.


Plyometrics is a Big World with various stimuli, different types of exercises, and specific goals.

Regarding Kata’s Change-of-Direction Speed you must know how to plan the best Plyometric exercises.

Let’s see some practical applications:

  1. Slow Stretch-Shortening Cycle Exercises – these will improve the eccentric forces needed for braking effectively after and between two fast displacements.
  2. Fast Stretch-Shortening Cycle Exercises – these will reduce ground contact times which helps your athletes and students to spend less time braking.
  3. Both Types of Exercises – these give your Karateka’s legs adequate power so they can propel themselves into the new direction


Especially 1RM Squat… How much absolute and relative strength your Karateka have more Change-of-Direction Speed they will be able to express during Kata.


  • ABSOLUTE MAXIMAL STRENGTH is the maximum force you can produce, regardless of muscle or body size. Greater levels of absolute strength favor Karateka with higher body weight and larger individuals.  
  • RELATIVE MAXIMAL STRENGTH is how strong you are for your size. If you have two Karateka with equal absolute strength the one that has less bodyweight presents greater Relative Maximal Strength. This is very important to move the body through space in a fast way because Kata athletes will apply greater relative forces into the ground. Is this vital or not for Kata performance?!?

Why is Leg Maximal Strength important to Change-of-Direction Speed?

When you change direction during Kata performance you need to overcome the inertia that’s is placed over the body.

When you are in a static position and need to rapidly accelerate or when you change towards new directions in short distances inertia really tries to beat you!!!

The more Relative Maximal Strength you have easier you overcome inertia….

But what’s the big limitation of Maximal Strength training?!?

You must have weight-training equipment like a Smith Machine so you can stimulate your Karate with the appropriate loads…

If you have your Dojo inside a gym or a gym inside your Dojo… And if your Karate students have the time to make this type of program additionally to other dimensions of Karate training, GREAT!!

But if you don’t have these scenarios Plyometrics is the best method to achieve higher levels of Change of Direction Speed in Kata.

Are you a Karate athletes’ coach?!? That train 4 to 6 days per week?

If you are in this situation, Maximal Strength Training is mandatory…

You can make an agreement with a Gym in your town where your athletes are allowed to train there and in exchange, you advertise the gym’s support.

Or you can invest some money and buy a Smith Machine, a multi-purpose weightlifting bench, a bar and some discs and barbells. With these simple equipment, you can give your Karate athletes all the strength training they need!!

If you’re really thinking about investing some of your money buy a Smith Machine with a sliding bar. This allows your well-trained athletes to do Ballistic Training and guarantee greater safety for your younger Karateka (adolescents).


Your Karate Kids are the future of your Dojo, right?!?

Motivate them and give them the best and more updated Karate training methods…

They must do general strength training since the very first day they enter your Dojo!

Long-term periodized strength training improve the speed-strength relationship during Change-of-Direction tasks.


Based on Newton’s second law – F = m*a -, the ability to Accelerate (a) a Mass (m), such as body mass or an external object, depends on the ability of the musculature to generate Force (F).

But in Karate practice, the most important thing is not only to produce the greatest amount of force you can…

… What you want is to produce the maximal force you can in a very, very short time!!

We’re going to give you some examples of how much time is needed in several sports to produce a fast and powerful displacement:

  • A good sprinter makes foot contact with the ground in 80 to 100 ms
  • The feet contact of a long-jump athlete before the jump is of 120 to 150 ms
  • The majority of displacements in team sports are between 250 and 400 ms

How much time do you think Kiyuna, Shimizu, Quintero or Sanchez take to make a fast displacement during Suparinpei, Unsu or Chatanyara Kushanku???

To reach Maximal Strength, a well-trained athlete takes 800-900ms to finish a full extension of lower-body (like a squat).

As you can see, Rapid Strength is very important for Karate… FOR KATA PERFORMANCE… and for Change-of-Direction Speed!

If Rapid Strength is so important for Karate effectiveness what really is the role of Maximal Strength?

Maximal Strength is the “mother” of all Strength types and influences Rapid Strength and Endurance Strength. Plays a role as the fundamental base of power production!


The short answer is: Straight Sprint and Change-of-Direction Speed are distinctive physical abilities!

The more the directions change, the less the transfer from straight line sprint training to Change-of-Direction Speed!

If you have Karate Kids training simple Katas like Taikyoku Shodan that is based mostly on linear and large movements (Zenkutsu-dachi) sprint training will have more influence.

If you want to improve an advanced Kata with many fast Changes of Direction sprint training will be less effective!

Although this article is about Change of Direction Speed in Kata we are going to give you a practical scientific tip on how to use sprint training methods to improve linear displacements…

Sprint distances to improve Karate acceleration should be between 0 and 20 meters. Ideally 10 meters distance. This distance allows your Karate students to develop acceleration phase (the most important to Karate short distance displacements) and allows you to test their acceleration speed with a stopwatch.

But you can use scientific-proven sprint training methods in Kata and Kihon specific-practice:

  • The best external load is >10% of body weight or weight that cause more than 10% decrease in whole body movement’s time
  • You can use a Weighted Vest for this purpose. It’s the most adaptable equipment to complex movement in Kata.


Leg asymmetry of 10% to 15% is typical and acceptable in noninjured people.

But do you really want to have 10% to 15% less leg power when in you make a fast Kata whole body movement with one of the sides?!?

We bet you don’t!!!

What’s the best way of correcting it?

The answer is Unilateral Strength…

First of all, 95% of whole-body displacements during Kata are made by one single leg.

You should train each leg alone to develop strength, balance, and range of motion.

Secondly, because when your Karate students train always with bilateral exercises (both legs at the same time) they will tend to produce higher forces with their dominant leg.

This way, it’s hard to reduce asymmetry!

You can easily test both legs performance with Unilateral exercises, like Single-Leg Horizontal Jump (measuring the distance) or Single-Leg Squat and see the asymmetry level.

We’re not saying that you should stop using bilateral strength sizes!! They are very important… But you must integrate Unilateral exercises into your Karate training.


Don’t rely exclusively on vertical or horizontal planes!

Well, horizontal direction exercises are more specific to Kata performance… But let’s see why you should keep training multi-directional exercises.

Horizontal power exercises can be practiced in the three directions: forward, backward and sideward.

Drills using these directions facilitate greater motor control related to Kata displacements. To change directions the Karate students or athletes must create the correct angle of force opposite to the direction of the desired movement.

Horizontal plane exercises facilitate the learning of these movements and positions.

Neuromuscular efficiency increases because of the plane of movement and the angle of forces of the lower limbs.

Karate athletes and students that apply greater relative amounts of Horizontal forces in the final the step right before moving the body in a new direction can achieve quicker Change of Direction performance.


Human Movement Science shows significantly decreased Change-of-Direction time with Squat Jump training.

This shows the potential transfer of positive effects from training vertical movements to horizontal movements.

For example, when you want to turn your position laterally forces and impulses in the vertical direction can be dominant.

This clearly tells you that you should introduce multi-directional power training!


Foot Placement:

  • Teach your Karate kids or adult beginners to place their front foot in the right position. Capitalize even the warm-up phase correcting their foot direction. In Zenkutsu-dachi, the front foot must be well placed looking forward so they can displace faster; back foot should be pointing forward as much as it can too. Have you ever seen a sprinter starting the race with his feet pointing to the side?!? And your students’ knees will be forever grateful.

Adjustment of strides to accelerate and decelerate:

  • You should make Zenkutsu-dachi a little bit shorter if you have a sequence of displacements where you have quick changes of direction in a given Kata. Leave longer Zenkutsu-dachi to those parts where Kata asks for slow movements and where you can demonstrate all your flexibility or graciousness.

Body Lean and Posture:

  • This is simple to understand… Every small misalignment will affect balance control during Kata performance. And out-of-control balance will harm your movement speed. Teach your students to move with their attention in body center of mass (hip girdle zone). Leg movement should keep up to body center of mass and not in reverse.


Functional Range-of-Motion is very important so your Karateka can train in a much more safer way! And with more efficiency…

Joints with small Range-of-Motion levels will be much more sensitive to high forces training stimulus…

Don’t you ever forget to plan flexibility and mobility exercises in your classes! Every millimeter you can raise in your students’ range of motion will help them to prevent injuries…

Explain them that and they will see stretching in a much more positive way… Especially your rigid adult students that abominate and suffer from flexibility and mobility training!!


Training adaptations in Change-of-Direction Speed become from stimulating both neural and elastic components and muscle contraction speed.

The combination of eccentric force and reactive strength training with periodized weight training with scientific manipulation of volume will improve your Karateka’s Kata.

Too much training volume, for example, can cause a dramatic decrease of Change of Direction Speed. Remember that “Less can be More”!!

You need to develop three things in your students and athletes’ Kata:

  1. Shorter Ground Contact Times
  2. Greater Horizontal Peak Forces
  3. Lower Vertical Impact Forces (landing forces)

Arigato Gozaimashita

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