There Are No White Belt Katas - Zen and the Fishbowl

Apr 29, 2022 3 min read
There Are No White Belt Katas - Zen and the Fishbowl
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There are no white belt or black belt katas; there are just katas performed at a white belt or black belt level.

Post by Jason Repovs

We live in an amazing age – never in history have we had more access to tools, technology and information than we do today. As I finished school and entered the workforce however, I noticed that despite all this, I still carried stress with me on a daily basis.
I’ve always believed that we’re each responsible for finding our own happiness and peace in life, whatever form that takes. Part of my search for these things has led me to examine my life through a variety of different lenses with the goal of finding my passions. Ultimately, here’s what I learned: I’m most passionate about the arts (photography and karate, among others), personal finance, travel and helping others in their career.
As I was thinking about why I’m passionate about these things though, I realized that they all had one thing in common: in one way or another, all of them play a role in my view of what I need in my life to be happy and at peace. This is the reason that I’ve decided to write about personal finance, the arts, travel and careers with an eye toward personal happiness, peace and fulfillment

There Are No White Belt Katas - Zen and the Fishbowl
Listening to my Sensei talk about how Seiunchin, a blue-belt kata, used to be saved for Nidan, has me thinking that there aren’t belt-specific katas at all.

There are no white belt or black belt katas; there are just katas performed at a white belt or black belt level.

As I stood there listening to my sensei talk to us about how Seiunchin, currently a blue belt kata, used to be reserved until Nidan, I thought about how many of our katas carry with them a similar story: they used to be taught at this belt level, and now they’re taught at that belt level. It got me thinking about why these changes are made, and what it means for the kata.

In my experience, karate students often discount the value of kata taught at lower belt levels, considering them to be “basic” or “foundational.” When you hear a story like the above though, it gets you to think a little differently. When I combined this knowledge with the fact that one of the ultimate goals of karate is refinement – of our technique and our character – I realized something that now forms part of my martial arts philosophy.

There are no white belt or black belt katas; there are just katas performed at a white belt or black belt level.

What I mean by that is that, for the goju practitioners out there, we’re not done training kata Taikyoku Gedan when we get to yellow belt, or green belt, or black belt. You’re always training it… you’ll just train it at a different level over time.

A Shodan’s Taikyoku Gedan can and should look very different from a white belt’s version of the kata, and the focus in terms of improvement is on different things. A white belt is focused on learning the steps of the kata and performing the correct techniques; a Shodan might focus on the timing of the steps, the height consistency of their stance, the kime in their blocks and any number of other refinements. The point, though, is that both are still working on refining the same kata.

It’s no different than people who work out at the gym: everyone is struggling with the weights they’re lifting; they’re just struggling at different levels. That guy lifting 50 pounds in each arm is struggling just as much as the guy lifting 10; ultimately though, they’re both working toward improving themselves, and that’s the same view I take for our kata.

As a shodan, we’re told to check our ego at the door. In the spirit of that, I have a challenge to you: ask yourself what you can continue to refine in those “beginner” katas you haven’t touched in ages. If you’re a kyu belt reading this, don’t lose sight of your earlier katas as time passes; they only form a strong foundation for your future training if you continue to tend to them and provide them support.

And remember: that blue belt kata you’re learning might not originally be a blue belt kata at all… so instead of focusing on the belt level of the kata, focus on all of the knowledge to be gained from each one. You’re practising them for a reason.

Guest article by Dapo black belt (2º nidan) and alumni Jason Repovs. Originally published in Zen and the Fishbowl.

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