Sunday, December 28, 2008

Randori and Kata

This is in response to a very thoughtful and excellent post by Kevin Levitt on his blog at

I have to respectfully disagree about the necessity of randori type activity in training. People in Japan have been arguing about this for at least 400 years, but the randori folks have never achieved a noticeable advantage over the kata only folks. The kata only folks demonstrated the effectiveness of their training methodology throughout the Tokugawa era from 1600 to 1868, holding their own in challenges, fights and duels. I believe the key is that the kata system must not focus on techniques, but on higher skills such as recognizing openings, preparing feints, and dealing with surprises.

I've done both randori focused training, and kata focused for a while now. What I discovered is that my effectiveness in randori increases most dramatically when I don't do randori, but instead make kata training the center of practice. This isn't technique training, but well developed situational training where my partner controls the speed and timing of the action. To do the kata effectively, I have to learn multiple lessons about reading my partner's body set, timing, and spacing as she changes timing, spacing and speed I have to deal with.

I am always amazed at how quickly I can apply these lessons to effect in randori situations.

Randori practice on the other hand is intense and fun, the main thing I take away from most randori training is knowledge of what I'm doing that already works, and what kata need more practice. I can practice kata for a long time without doing randori. When I go back to the randori, I inevitably find myself much more effective. On the other hand, when I spend too much time doing randori, I find that my randori skills don't improve, and often they deteriorate. The chaos of randori doesn't leave enough room to focus on skill development and the desire to win can actually defeat the learning and improvement process as you shift back to relying on raw strength and speed to overcome opponents when your technique is insufficient.

Randori is fun, and it validates who has learned their lessons well, but I really don't think it is a good teaching tool. It is a great way for people to test what they have learned and find out where they need to practice.


Anonymous said...


Thanks again, for the post on my blog. Reading through your blog, I agree 100%!

I especially think it is important what you say about Randori being a process to provide feedback on what you have to work on.

A big part of Military methodology includes the "After Action Review" process. I think this process in important to provide feedback to improve.

I plan to talk about this important aspect of training as well. Thanks again!

PAR-2 Productions said...

I came to basically the same conclusion in karate after my first three years in Japan. I originally trained in a dojo back in the US that was very sparring heavy in the last couple of years leading up to getting my shodan. My sensei had a stroke about 9 months before testing and the senior guys that took over were very "into" sparring. Interestingly my own improvement slowed dramatically soon after and I was quite down on my skills as I was endlessly sparring and making no improvement at all. Upon moving to Japan, the dojo I ended up joining does almost no sparring at all in karate and instead works on tons over fundamentals and partnered exercises. I didn't think much of it at first, but over the course of those first three years on the very rare occassions when I would get put in a sparring situation, I noticed I hand made a rather large jump in ablility having developed the ablility to actually see and make use of openings, etc in the partnerd practice. After I went back to the US several people commented on how my timing and such had improved radically and I was actually in control a lot of the time when sparring now.