Strength, speed, technique, athletic ability, expression and explosiveness. It all comes together in Kata, a form of Karate that Matthew Martens (fourth-year Information and Communication Technology student) has been practising from an early age.
Can you explain what Kata is?
“If I explain to someone what I am doing, I always compare it to dancing first to give people an idea: a series of rehearsed movements with a certain rhythm. But then focused on fighting. A Kata is a fixed series of movements or techniques that put together a sham fight against an imaginary opponent. Do you know Tai Chi? It is a lot like that, but you are mainly focused on yourself, that is very intrinsic. Kata is focused on your surroundings; you really want to transfer your emotions to someone else.”
When you’re fighting, you’re not fighting against an opponent, but you do participate in competitions. How does that work?
“During a tournament, you fight against an opponent every round, but you do take turns to do your Kata. The five referees standing around the mat assess who did best and therefore wins and continues to the next round. For example, they pay attention to athletic skills and technique. But the transition between the different positions and my expression is an important part as well. I do my routine, my Kata, that consists of a fixed series of positions, punches and kicks. But if my wrist bents a little during a punch where it is supposed to be straight, that is a technical error and they will reduce my points. If a punch is very powerful then I will get another point for athletic ability and a slightly higher mark. Every Kata has a difficulty level, that doesn’t mean the person with the most difficult kata level automatically wins. If I execute a difficult Kata poorly and my opponent executes their less difficult Kata very well, then I might still lose.”
Do you have a favourite Kata?
“All Katas have their own name, I perform the “Unsu” for example. I think it looks cool and it has a high difficulty level. A Kata has to fit, just like a piece of clothing, you’ve got to have it in you. This suits me. There is a lot of power in the Unsu, it consists of many explosive movements following each other. That’s what I’m good at. Yes, my athletic ability is better than my technique.
I used to practise Kumite too, that is another discipline within Karate where you stand opposite of an opponent with someone. I am not tall and that is a great disadvantage in Kumite. My opponents were always taller, and they just have a bigger reach. But that is not the reason I wanted to do Kata. When I was seven years old, I saw a demonstration of the Dutch national team, and they all did spectacular jumps. That made a huge impression on me. I was really looking at that thinking wow super cool, I want to be able to do that too!”
What do you hope to achieve in this sport?
“The Dutch Championship was in November, I got second place in the category youth. This year I will be 21 and from then on, I can no longer participate in the juniors. So, I’m going to focus on the European and World Cup, seniors. But the level is way higher there of course. My ultimate goal is to win a podium place in such an important tournament, that would be really cool.’’