In the hit Netflix series Cobra Kai, you’ll often see characters practicing karate techniques by themselves in choreographed sets of movements. These are known as kata, and you can read more about the history behind them and their importance in modern self-defense in some of our previous articles.
To casual viewers, it’s clear that these are the techniques that the characters must learn to defeat their opponents. But the true benefits of kata may be lost on those without a martial arts background. You, too, can practice the techniques seen in the show to focus your mind, train your body, and boost your confidence.
The most iconic kata from the series was practiced in the original Karate Kid movie from 1984. “Wax on, wax off,” is the oft-quoted technique taught by Mr. Miyagi (Pat Morita) to Daniel LaRusso (Ralph Macchio). At first, Daniel sees the movement as nothing but a menial task to polish Miyagi’s cars.
But Daniel has an “aha!” moment when Miyagi shows him what he has really learned. As Miyagi attacks Danile, he intuitively employs the “wax on, wax off” movements to successfully defend himself. Rather than performing a thankless chore, Daniel was actually training his mind and body to be able to react in a real-life combat scenario. This is the core principle of kata.
Some 35 years later, Daniel finds himself in a similar situation in Cobra Kai. Demetri (Gianni DeCenzo) wants to learn self-defense to protect himself from bullies, and instinctively identifies the menial tasks Daniel gives him as a way of training muscle memory.
Additional benefits of kata
In Cobra Kai and the earlier Karate Kid films, kata have numerous benefits for the characters beyond just muscle memory for self-defense movements.
The active nature of practicing kata, which combines elements of both cardiovascular activity and strength training, have numerous physical benefits.
Additionally, the intense focus on the movements allows the characters to clear their mind and even achieve a state of meditation that allows complete control of their body. This is depicted in the second season of Cobra Kai, when Robby (Tanner Buchanan) is able to balance himself atop a tree branch.
Lastly, learning the movements and their application can also boost one’s self-confidence. In Cobra Kai, this is seen when Demetri is finally able to confront his bullies without fear of retaliation. He is able to do this after realizing that his instincts have been honed to react in the correct way through the show’s kata.
But the benefits of kata aren’t only to be enjoyed by martial artists or those who want to learn muscle memory for self-defense scenarios. Anyone can practice kata to gain focus, tone their body, and get a boost to their self-confidence.
You can learn more about the particular kata practiced in The Karate Kid and Cobra Kai, which are derived from karate along with other martial arts, in the video above. Try them out for yourself!
As Cobra Kai depicts, the benefits of practicing kata move sets are many, and aren’t only to be reaped by professional martial artists.
For beginners, try practicing the Taigyoku Shodan, or “First Kata,” before digging into some of the move sets seen in the show.
This First Kata is easy to pick up, and involves just three basic steps:
- A long forward stance, with one foot extended to the back and the other bent at the knee. Your body should be bent forward at a 45 degree angle with the ground.
- A groin block: using the arm on the side of your forward foot, bring your fist from the opposite shoulder to groin-level, parallel with your bent leg. This move would block a would-be opponent’s strike.
- A forward punch: using your other arm, deliver a stomach-level punch across your body while taking a step forward.
Try to practice a kata for just 10-15 minutes a day over the course of a month. By the end of it, you will have accomplished three things: improved your physical fitness through activity, trained your mind to react in a predictable manner, and perhaps most importantly, built your confidence through the knowledge that you have learned a practical technique that can be used to defend yourself.
For some further study of the implementation of techniques like the ones seen in Cobra Kai in real-world self-defense scenarios, you can consult the website of Karate Kata Bunkai and instructor John Burke, who analyzes kata from a practical perspective. Check out an illuminating interview with Burke here.
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Ilustration by Darina Achremenková