What is it that makes karate more than just choreographed movement?
There is an intensity to karate practice and performance that is sometimes difficult to precisely identify, but that you simply “feel” when watching someone perform. This is an observation of Kime (pronounced “ki-meh”), a Japanese word that describes the coordinated focus at the completion of an action.
When a karate student executes a technique, all of his or her energy is being focused into a precise target at a single instant in time. This precise focusing can be observed in advanced practitioners as a level of “reality” in their performance. In other words, when watching the kata of an advanced student, you should be able to easily imagine that they are in a fight and not simply going through a pattern of motion or a dance.
This is different from the dramatic performances of free-style karate performers, who rely on theatrics to simulate reality. Kime-based kata is an intense experience based on focus and not performance art.
Kata is a great tool for developing kime in that students have to develop coordinated movements requiring completion at each step. Once a level of kime has been developed, it will appear in all areas of practice including partner work and sport competition. In fact, the presence of kime is a requirement for a scoring technique in sport karate and competitors often use their traditional karate training as a means to develop the focus needed to be successful in sport competition.
So how do you go about developing kime? First, start by recognizing that there is a focused meaning to everything you do in karate practice and especially in kata. Never practice kata without a focused attention to proper technique and especially to the completion of each technique. Even if you are not performing kata with full power each time, still focus on precision and focused completion.
Work hard to understand the bunkai (analysis) of the kata movements. Ask your instructor if in doubt. It is very difficult to develop kime without an understanding of the meaning behind kata. Another area to focus on is the isolation and elimination of unnecessary body movement. Don’t wiggle in your stances and work hard to remove any unnecessary moves as you transition through the kata. You should feel solid and “locked in” at the completion of each technique. Don’t move on to the next move without this feeling of completion. As your kata progresses and sometimes speeds up, you should still have this sense of completion between moves.
Aside from kata improvement, you should see many other benefits from your development of proper kime. Your technique will feel stronger in all respects and partners will feel this strength and focus when you work together. You will also develop the ability to focus on tasks and bring them to conclusion in all areas of your life.
So next time you see someone perform kata, look for kime and learn to recognize it in others. Ask yourself if they are performing an intricate dance or a kata. This will also help you develop your own sense of kime.