Since 1976

New Kata Book and APP

Who would have thought, when I wrote "The Complete Book of Tae Kwon Do Forms" back in the early '80s, that it would still be selling in 2017. Seems that there are a lot of students of American TKD who have used and continued to use that text as a reference for their training patterns. I've learned a lot in the last 35 years so I have wanted to update that book for a long time. About a year ago when I decided to finally do so there were several of you, in the younger generation, who said something like, "Mr. Yates, no one reads books anymore!"

While I disagree with that opinion I do have to admit that it isn't so easy to take a book to class or even prop it up in your living room while you try to learn a new form. So while I am updating the book with all new photos and some more history and philosophy, I am also shooting new video. We won't be combining the videos into DVDs (who still has a DVD player?), but instead incorporating them into a mobile app where you can just click "chunji" and see it performed from both front and rear angles. The other really exciting thing I'm going to do is video some specific applications for some of those puzzling moves in the kata. You will also be able to click on those. This will be a valuable aid for students and instructors alike.

This time I won't be going through a traditional book publisher but I'll design and print the book myself (in case you weren't aware, I am a professional graphic designer in my non-martial arts life). Of course that takes time and money. The programing of the app is going to be a complicated project as well. So that is why I am launching a crowd-funding campaign on Kickstarter. It's only a 50 day campaign but I hope to raise enough in pre-sales and support to get the book and app going quickly. Go to the link below to help me make this a success.

A New Chapter

In the last couple of weeks I've said, "goodbye," to three of my black belts who were moving out of state. One is a high school senior whose dad's new job means they are headed to the Pacific Northwest. This young man has been with me since he was seven. As he related to me how much his life has been affected by the martial arts he had genuine tears in his eyes. He thanked me for all I have done to make him into the young man he is. It was emotional for both of us.

Then a week later I had to bind farewell to a mother and daughter black belt duo who are also moving out of Texas. The youngest daughter had just made first brown belt and mom assured me they would be training and she'd come back sometime next year so they could test for their third family black belt. Once again, I heard how much the martial arts has meant to them and changed their lives.

Is't it true that the arts have that effect on people? The beginning students don't realize it but if they stay long enough to internalize the lessons (physical and otherwise) that training will produce, then it becomes a life-changer. These young students have stepped out into a new chapter in their lives but the experiences they accumulated in the dojo will forever be with them.

While it makes me sad to see students leave, it makes me glad that perhaps I had some small part in giving them the confidence and determination to face new challenges.

What's the Purpose of Rank Exams?


Mr. Yates, at our instructor's roundtable we were discussing the subject of rank tests/promotion exams.  The many ways we had all seen these handled were something we talked about at length—including a Kendo promotion exam that was conducted in competitive rounds, where students were eliminated from consideration at the end of each round without explanation being offered.

The question then arose:  what are the purposes of a promotion exam?  What ends should we seek to achieve thereby?  We have all of us come up through systems of instruction that use the promotion exam as a regular feature, so that we all tend to take them for granted.  It can also be a very sensitive issue, touching strong emotions. I would like to get your perspective on this question, if you would be so kind.


Many old Asian schools did not hold formal exams like we are used to in America. I remember working out with Tamura Sensei in the 1960s in Judo and he just gave you a new belt when he felt like you deserved it.

Allen Steen used to make examination pretty tough (especially the higher ones) and people often flunked. Of course there were only four colors below black belt in those days (white, green, blue, brown).

As we added more colors for American students, ranks became a way to encourage the students as they progressed (and maybe a way to create more income for the business as well). Years ago I instituted a “pre-test” where a student had to convince me he or she was ready to be advanced to the next rank. That reduced the amount of tears at the actual exam—however I will still issue a ‘no promotion’ if they just cannot remember anything they have practiced. Note that now I don’t say ‘flunk’ anymore.

I’m kinda old school in that regard, I will make students test again if I think they have not performed up to standards. In many schools however, the promotional event is just a ceremony where the students are to perform for parents and friends and be awarded their new belts based on their previous demonstration to the teachers. I suppose that makes promotion night a joyous occasion for everyone.

I’ll still run into instructors who say that the color of a belt shouldn’t matter and while that is true in the overall picture, I think rewarding students, especially young ones, is a valuable motivation for their hard work. And in the end, a belt rank is just that, a reward and a motivator.

That’s why not all green belts (or whatever) are the same. Some are highly skilled at the requirements for that belt because they are superior athletes. Others may not look technically as good but they had to work twice as hard to remember their moves and to improve their physical skills. So in some ways the more awkward green belt deserves his rank more than the natural athlete because he had to overcome more. 


"Individual commitment to a group effort—that is what makes a team work, a company work, a society work, a civilization work." —Vince Lombardi

Martial arts is an individual activity for sure—but much can be learned from working together as a team. So for the 2017 awards ceremony I have decided to not do a big and fancy banquet like we have in years past but to concentrate on getting some demonstration teams together from several AKATO schools and have a fun time letting the kids (and maybe a few adults) show off their skills and training.

One of the most memorable experiences I've ever had in the AKATO is when we took a demonstration team to Washington DC in 1995 to perform on the national mall for the dedication of the Korean War memorial. We maintained that "Dragon Demonstration Team" for several more years doing exhibitions at boy scout meetings, churches, fairs and even movie theaters.

I hope that as our member schools put together teams for the demos in March that you will have as much fun and accomplish as much as we did back in 1995. Here is the team meeting with Texas Senator Kay Bailey Hutchinson.

The History of KATA

I taught a kata class for AKATO black belts in August. This is from the handout we passed out to attendees.

The recording of information through physical movement is rooted in ancient history. Even today, certain cultures use “dance” to tell stories and pass on their history to the next generation. And no doubt hunters and fighters would pass on their most successful techniques to those who were less experienced. This is probably how the first fighting “kata” were created.

The Japanese word kata means “shape” or “form.” The kanji for kata the Japanese character is composed characters that literally mean “to cut a shape into the earth (soil).” Imagine cutting a shape into the soil, ie a “pattern” and then pouring plaster into that shape and you get a finished sculpture when you pull it out. In Western parlance we might call it a “form” or “pattern” that someone uses to design a piece of clothing or to mold a sculpture.

Anko Itosu (1831–1915) has been called by some the “father” of modern karate. He was one of the earliest Okinawan karate masters and he is noted for modifying the kata he learned from his teacher, Sokon Matsumura, who had brought back patterns of fighting moves that he was taught during his Chaun Fa studies in China.

Right after the turn of the 20th century he lobbied for karate to be introduced into the public schools in Okinawa. He therefore simplified some of the kata, changing open hand techniques to closed fists, arm breaks into blocks, and placing more emphasis on the physical performance. Some criticised Itosu for “watering down” karate but he probably never imagined his “children’s karate” would become the standard for modern karate practice.

In fact, he is quoted as saying, “The individual must decide whether your kata is for health or for its practical use.”

Gichin Funakoshi (also often called the “father” of modern karate because he introduced and popularized the art in Japan) was a student of Itosu’s. When he was granted permission to teach in Japan the martial arts hierarchy insisted on standarization (which led to the use of the “gi” and the “kyu-dan” ranking system—both borrowed from Judo). It also led to a further simplification of kata as Funakoshi, like Itosu, was focused on taking karate to a younger generation.

Ultimately the introduction of competition further served to place more emphasis on the “look” of kata performance. That has become more obvious as karate came to the West.

So today a karate (or tae kwon do) kata is a sequence of blocks, kicks and punches from one or more stances, involving specific movements and stances. The balance between offensive and defensive techniques and the direction and flow of movement give each kata its distinctive character.

In a traditional sense, all fighting techniques rely on similar movement, that is a particular physical movement can be applied with varying results depending on the application. This is the idea of “bunkai” or the breaking down of a movement to its real-world effect. Kata also embodies the idea of “ren-ma,” or “always polishing” —with diligent practice, the moves of the kata become further refined and perfected. The attention to detail that is necessary to perfect a kata cultivates self discipline.