Brian Berenbach,

If you are starting to compete in kata, this article is for you. As a judge I have seen it all, so here are some hints and tips on how to win at kata.
Know the kata.
This means being able to do the kata without pausing or thinking about the next move. It also means knowing each move relative to the one before without having an external frame of reference. Each time you practice, change your orientation, so you are not always starting facing the same direction

Breathe properly.
Breathing should be learned as part of the form, just as the moves are learned. When in doubt ask Sensei. Choreograph your breathing the same way you choreograph your moves.

Don't look down.
Look at your opponent. You should know the bunkai, or explanation of each move, and be visualizing one or more imaginary opponents. The better your imagination, the more convincing you will be. Did I say don't look down? If your imaginary antagonist is on the floor look down at him.

Make each move separate and distinct.
Do not blur one movement into the other. A slow kata with power and clear moves is preferable to a fast weak kata where the techniques are mixed. Speed will come in time.

Snap the fast techniques.
The ideal is a series of stills superimposed one on the other with invisible transitions. If your fast techniques are fast, you can hear your gi pop (especially if you don't use fabric softener). A corollary to this is: wash your gi before you compete but don't use fabric softener.

Transition properly from soft to hard and vice versa.
Soft techniques are soft, and hard techniques are hard. There is an occasional tendency to Arun over,@ that is after a series of hard moves, to do the first soft move hard. Practice making soft/hard transitions sharp, just as in music the transition from allegro to adagio is clear and obvious.

Keep your temper.
The Japanese have a saying A Mind like the moon. Do your kata with a clear attentive mind. If you show anger with your imaginary opponent you may get an Oscar, but you will not get a ten.

Practice on different surfaces.
At your dojo you may practice consistently on one type of floor; when you compete the surface may be new to you and break your concentration. For a real challenge, try outdoors on grass.

Practice with an audience.
Get used to doing forms in front of other people. In front of family, friends, at the dojo, etc. Learn to shut out the audience and concentrate on the form. There is only you and your antagonist(s).

Fight enemies your size.
When you block or attack, your imaginary opponent should be your size. If, for example, you are delivering a mid level punch (chudan tsuki) use a mirror to deliver to your own solar plexus, and that will be the proper height.

Use a mirror or video to see your mistakes.
If this is not possible, have another student repeat and exaggerate your mistake so you can see what you did wrong.

Pick your form.
Beginners may not have an option. Different strokes for different folks. Grace, power, long, short. Different kata work best with different physiognomies. When given the option, pick one suited for you. Long forms are not always the best. If you have a tendency to easily wind, pick a short form for competition until your stamina improves. You will not be penalized for doing a short form (for example happiken vs sankoktobe).
You never made a mistake.
If perchance during a contest you accidentally leave out a move or put an extra one in, don't stop to think about it. Go on with the form; you never know, you might have just executed a legitimate variation.

Well, that's it. Let your body do the learning while your mind does the thinking and you are on the way to a perfect "10".

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