There are three basic physical components of karate training. These are named kihon, kata and kumite. Students beginning karate training are usually introduced to kihon as the basics of that training. The kihon are considered the fundamental components from which all else is built. They are like the strokes in painting, the letters in writing and the pure-tonal notes of music. On their own they are of little value but when mastered and allowed to flow naturally in learned or natural sequences they become far more powerful than individual basic strokes, letters or tones.

If kihon are not practiced, appreciated and 'felt' (kimochi), karate cannot exist beyond a very rudimentary level. The greater the depth of appreciation and the depth of feeling for the kihon the more the karate-ka can delve into the depths of their karate and the heart of traditional karate, kata.

A beginner memorizes the kata sequence often while still struggling with what constitutes proper kihon. The student tries to remember the proper form for the kihon and, in addition, remember what the elaborate sequence of the kata is as well.

Master Iwata image

Manzo Iwata practicing kihon

Confusion usually reigns and the student must practice the kata over and over to memorize the sequence. In time the student triumphs. The kata is memorized. The student will require much more time to internalize and truly 'understand' the kata, however.

At this level the student probably has only developed rudimentary kihon. The stances remain high, immobile, weak or wobbly. The blocks, punches and strikes are fairly ineffective lacking power, speed, and correct paths for maximum efficiency. Transitions from one to another are usually poorly balanced and slow.

Master Iwata image

Manzo Iwata training in kihon with master Mabuni

One great pitfall, and a common one, is the lack of refinement of kihon. After a few weeks or months students believe they have 'mastered' the kihon. They are bored by kihon practice. This is evidenced in two ways. The first is that they begin to dread repetitive kihon practice and avoid it or put very little effort into the kihon sessions in class, and rarely, if at all, practice outside of class. The second way is that they just don't eagerly seek improvement in the manner that kihon are refined. Some believe, if not most, at least at this stage of learning, that they already know the kihon so further refinement is inconsequential or just not necessary. This can lead to years where the student makes little progress in karate proficiency.

The kihon hold the key. The kihon develop and refine not only the way that karate is practiced but also the way that body dynamics develop.

If the kihon are distorted in any way through lack of practice or attention to detail, refinement of form is not possible. In addition, proper body dynamics cannot be grasped. Any sustained errors or modification, even through simple ignorance of proper form, will hinder the martial art students progress and proficiency.

Advice on how to progress

The simple answer is to practice your kihon. A great karate master (Mas Oyama of Kyokushinkai), was once asked what the secret to his karate was. The master lifted his eyes as if to reveal a great secret and he said; "sweat, sweat and more sweat". In other words practice. But you must also keep in mind good form. Look at yourself, study what you are doing at that moment, feel (kimochi) the technique and try to understand what you are doing. Remember that practice alone does not make perfect. Practice makes permanent. Perfect practice makes perfect.

It is the kihon that holds the foundation of all that is to come!

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Courtesy Sensei A Tanzadeh

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