Striking Post –

S T R I K I N G  P O S T  –  February 2019

Ichi Gan, Ni Soku, San Tan, Shi Riki 

 First the eyes, Second the feet, Third Centre of Gravity,  Forth strength

    In this edition I would like to discuss the judging of kata in competitions. In the last 35 years, since I began officiating at competitions there have been several different systems utilized to score katas in tournaments. Most recently the WKF has decided to again change the way kata are scored. They are now moving away from the flag system where one kata is judged against another and moving to a point scoring system where up to 10 kata are scored one after the other and the finalists and eventual winners are selected based on the highest scores.

   In the last probably 10 years I can only recall one provincial clinic where the judging of kata was explained. This was an excellent clinic facilitated by the very knowledgeable Sensei Tanzadeh. At that time, I recall Sensei going over every detail of the judging criteria. As per the current rules of the day, most errors in the kata performance were given equal value. There was not one mistake being “more serious” if you will than another.

   I am now going to share with you the system I use, personally, to score katas of any style in competitions. It is the way I was taught from the beginning, and as far as I am concerned, it still applies today.


ICHI  – Gan   (first – the eyes)

   The eyes must be horizontal, not looking up or down. They must look in the direction of the techniques delivered. Their shape must be oval, not round. They must not dart around but be focused. They must exhibit obvious concentration and determination.

   Errors in this area are huge. Even if a competitor performs a fairly good kata, if their gaze is downward the whole time then that is where their energy is going and therefore their techniques would be largely ineffective.


NI  – Soku   (second – the feet)

   The feet must be flat on the floor and must be in the correct stance of the style being demonstrated. Knees must be bent in the direction of the toes and there must be proper tension in the legs (shime) This component includes the posture of the contestant as well. Errors in this area are large. If the head is forward or back, or the back is not straight, this will affect the effectiveness of the techniques. If the competitor is shifting his feet forward or back, though this may be an error, it is a much smaller consideration as long as their feet are flat on the floor when they are delivering the techniques.


SAN  – Tanden   ( third – centre of gravity )

   The center of gravity must be low in order to have stability while executing techniques and to create power through the proper use of the hips. A competitor who goes up and down while stepping or who loses their balance while turning or delivering techniques may be guilty of not keeping their center of gravity low. Errors in this area are less serious than the eyes or the feet.


SHI  – Roku   ( fourth – strenght )

   The last component is the strength. When all of the other aspects are in order, then you add the strength. This criterion also includes the speed of the techniques. Be wary of competitors who “overthrow” techniques. The shoulder may be too far forward on punches, or they may lean back on kicks. The upper body may go slightly forward then return. Though they may give the impression that they are stronger the execution is still wrong. When assessing the strength of a technique you must determine if the hip is engaged. If it is not, then the technique is inherently weak. Errors in this area are less serious than the first three.


If you keep these 4 points in mind you can accurately judge kata performances even though you may have never seen the kata before. I find it is especially helpful for judging lower level kata where the quality may not be very high and there are an abundance of errors. A competitor who executes a kata while looking down at the floor the entire time will score very poorly even though the 3 other aspects may seem not too bad. A competitor who has good stances and posture will score higher than a competitor who`s techniques may appear to be a lot stronger but has poor posture.


Of course, there are many other considerations when judging a kata. Foremost you must keep in mind the reasons for disqualification:


  1. Not bowing before and after the kata performance
  2. Performing a kata other than the one announced.
  3. Stopping during the kata performance
  4. Belt falling off
  5. Not following the orders of the chief judge
  6. Actions which may harm the prestige and honor of karate-do
  7. Adding or omitting moves in the kata



I feel that, especially when we are judging juniors and there is a violation that would result in disqualification in older athletes, that the chief judge call the judges together and makes the infraction known to all such that the resulting scores will prohibit this athlete from continuing on to the next rounds. Even if the quality of the techniques demonstrated are far superior to their opponents, they should not be allowed to win.


After that, if the various kata are similar in the 4 major criteria, you need to consider the finer details which include, among other things:


Embusen     –        The performance line

Mai             –          The correct timing/distance of the techniques

Rhythm       –        The flow of the kata

Waza          –        The quality of the individual techniques

Kime           –        The focus of the techniques

Kiai             –        The quality and effectiveness of the battle cry/ or absence thereof

Ko-kyu       –        Proper breathing

Seichusen    –        Attacking the center line of the body

The knowledge of the kata (meaning of techniques)

The relative difficulty of the kata.


An interesting point to note is the fact that the WKF has included only 3 criteria in the Athletic performance: Speed, Strength and Balance. Essentially this is #4 (Shi – Roku) in the above. Also, flexibility is no longer one of the criteria.  I certainly agree with this change.


For provincial competitions I feel we should adopt the Chito-ryu method for judging kata. Five judges each with a score book with 20 numbers (7.0 – 8.9 increasing in increments of 0.1) where the scores for technical and athletic performance are combined into one total score.

In conclusion, I hope that this explanation will have helped to make judging easier for you. I have found that through all the changes that have come, this system has not failed me yet. Again, maybe it is simple to me because I have been using it for 35 years and perhaps to newer judges it is just as confusing as any other. Feel free to look me up on the tatami for further clarification.


Milton Bourque