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"Crisp Authority"

“Crisp authority.”

I’m not sure if Hanshi Owens coined this phrase or if he heard it elsewhere, but when he uses it to describe technique or a Kata, it conjures up images. It is the perfect descriptive.

Of course, I analyze everything to death and this phrase was no exception. An Oxford definition of Crisp is:

briskly decisive and matter-of-fact, without hesitation or unnecessary detail.

Authority can be understood as:

having power or control in a particular sphere

“After the mae geri kekomi, place the kicking foot down with crisp authority.”

“The mae-empi-uchi in Nijushiho should be completed with crisp authority.”

As senior belts, part of our personal karate mission is to eliminate hesitation (dead time) in Kata as well as to strip out anything unnecessary. Over time, Kata undergoes two changes: stuff gets added and stuff gets left out. Kata, I believe, were developed for specific reasons. They weren’t just built to allow demonstrations of karate to be done, but they were built to allow practitioners to work on very specific techniques and body mechanics such as the reverse hip rotation in Heian Nidan and the vibration required for the Tekkis, to name a couple of obvious ones. They demand refinement in the transition between movements and the understanding of power generation, and kime in appropriate places. Without kata, kihon and kumite wouldn’t make sense.

At a recent tournament, this three-girl kata team from Power Karate illustrated what crispness and kime in kata look like.

So, there are messages and fighting principles already baked into Kata, and I don’t think we should jig with that: keep the doing of kata crisp, and without self-added movements or techniques. The phrase ‘make the kata your own’ means to personalize it in its delivery (express yourself through it), not to overhaul it or reinvent it.

Kata movements with snap and sharpness are something to behold and, unfortunately, we sometimes try to replace them with power and speed. Kata with fluidity and sharpness can’t be accomplished with brute strength. They need crisp authority.

Authority. Getting movements or a full Kata to a point where it looks like it is being done with authority is a supreme accomplishment. Beginners do Kata and it often looks like the Kata is doing them. Tier heads are in the remembering of the sequences and the process is: think about the move, prepare for the move, and execute the move. A kata can only be done with authority when the muscle memory has been developed and it can be executed as an automatic flow of waza.

Kata with authority doesn’t mean heavy-handed movements. It means having a command of posture, body connection (total body involvement), and there is a flow that is “continuous strong” (Nakayama). There are those who argue that kata has to be powerful and forceful. This works for the 90 seconds it takes to do a typical kata, but I challenge anyone to get through the first five Heian kata in a row doing them at full power. If kata is a story, there are peaks and valleys.

Easy enough to say – not so easy to master. I love Kata but I have a few thousand repetitions to do yet before I have any claim to fame.

For now, crisp authority is the fundamental principle that I’ll work on and teach my kata from.

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