Kata – A Curse?

22 Sep

November 3rd, 2014  – UPDATE: Sensei John has posted the article and video for his “Kata Lab: Random Sanchin Kata” which was inspired by the events contained in this article. A link and the video are now posted at the end of this article.

October 20th, 2014 – UPDATE: Sensei John has posted the article and video for his “Kata Lab: Reverse Sanchin Kata” which is referred to in this post. A link and the video are now posted at the end of this article.

We learned that our own Sensei John is cursed by kata. In this article, reprinted, with permission, from his blog, he shares his curse.


I live for karate kata. It sustains and fulfills me. My desire to share my kata insights beyond the dojo walls led me to start this blog in 2010. In 2013 I introduced Sensei John’s Kata Laboratory. My goal is to stimulate those readers that may have lost interest in kata. (link: http://senseijohn.me/category/kata-laboratory/ ) With my over four decades of karate experience behind it, my Kata Lab is a fresh look for those with tired, uninspired kata eyes.

brush script

But, I wonder whether my love for kata is a curse. If it is a curse, then am I wrong to encourage practitioners to passionately pursue kata and bunkai? How can my love for kata be a curse? Here is one example. Coincidentally, it comes from the world of chess which requires as much deep practice and analysis as kata. (See Endnote # 1 for my comparison of chess and kata)

Saturday, August 30th, I was feeling quite ill. I spent most of the day in bed exhausted. Though a mere recreational amateur, I enjoy the game of chess. I had my laptop in the bedroom and was watching a live feed of the highest ranking chess tournament, the 2014 Sinquefield Cup held at the St. Louis Chess Center. The broadcast was moderated by GM (Chess Grandmaster) Yasser Seirawan and WGM (Womens Chess Grand Master) Jennifer Shahade with analysis by GM Maurice Ashley.

3 commentators

I lay in bed, half awake, listening to the games, analysis and commentary. Every so often, I would watch when an innovative move was played, or there was an uncommon analysis. But for the most part, it was background noise. Until, the moderators commented on a game in round six between GM Levon Aronian and GM Fabiano Caruana.


It was noted that GM Levon Aronian was once a world champion of 960 chess. That penetrated my brain. “What the hell is 960 chess?” I wanted to stay under the covers, but I had to know. I pulled back the covers and looked online.

960 chess is also known as “Fischer chess” after world champion GM Bobby Fischer. GM Fischer invented 960 chess. He randomized the starting position of the major pieces on the home ranks (King, Queen, Bishop, Knight and Rook). According to Wikipedia (I have a link in Endnote # 2),

Fischer’s goal was to eliminate what he considered the complete dominance of openings preparation in chess today replacing it with creativity and talent. (My emphasis)

Damn! I had to read that! I kicked off the covers, took my laptop into my office and began to write. My mind was swirling with a kata idea. I had already written a Kata Lab discussing the merits of performing the movements of Sanchin Kata in reverse order. Now, I was haunted by the idea that I could use the concept of Fischer chess to advance that Kata Lab one step further. I thought of a randomized “Fischer-Sanchin” Kata Lab. Worried that I would forget my thoughts, I hurried to write them down. So much for being sick, trying to recuperate in bed.

And that is my kata curse. Ideas and innovation occur at any time; whether you welcome them or not. I would like to say that the motivation for my Kata Laboratory is to motivate you to practice your kata with imagination, talent and creativity. Perhaps; however, I simply want to lure you into the dark depths of my kata curse.

The motto of Sensei John’s Kata Lab is, “Think * Sweat * Experiment.” I’ve thought about the concept of “Fischer-Sanchin.” Now, I’m sweating and experimenting, practicing it daily (another part of the kata curse). Eventually, I’ll post links for both the Reverse Sanchin Kata Lab and the Fischer-Sanchin Kata Lab together with accompanying videos when I finish them.

November 20th, 2014: Here is the video and post for my “Kata Lab: Random Sanchin Kata” which was inspired by the events of this article.

Link to the full article: http://senseijohn.me/2014/11/03/kata-lab-random-sanchin-kata/

October 20th, 2014: Here is the video and post for my “Kata Lab: Reverse Sanchin Kata”

Link to the full article:

Until then, please enjoy two of my Sanchin variants, “Shobu (Combat) Sanchin” filmed with watching vultures and “Four Direction Sanchin.” Both were filmed in 2011 at the beautiful Lower Salt River, Tonto National Forest, Arizona.

Until the next submission, I remain haunted and cursed by my beloved kata,

  szmitowski_print_small   HANKO-DEF-R-reverse

Sensei John Szmitkowski

If you enjoy this post please help support this blog, visit my store.

Come visit my store on CafePress!
seiza - ringwood  For information on my “no-risk”, kata seminars, please visit the seminar page using this convenient link http://senseijohn.me/seminar-kata/ – COMING 2015 TO NEW JERSEY!

1. I find it interesting that there are other similarities between kata and chess including the following:
A. both have exotic names, for example;
Kata                                chess opening
Gekisai (To destroy)   Benoni Defense (“Son of my sorrow”)
Seienchin                      Pterodactyl Defense
Suparunpei                   Fried Liver Attack
and so forth

B. both have rankings for experts, black belts are ranked by belt level, chess masters are ranked by ratings points

C. both inspire the most enlightened participants to use their imagination to develop a more creative approach (Fischer chess being one example). Another example is found in the case of GM Seirawan (shown above) who created Seirawan-chess, also known as “Sharper-chess.” For more, please use this link: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Seirawan_chess

2. Here is the link to the Wikipedia article on Chess 960: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chess960

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: