Tag Archives: Kata At Night

The Night Sky (Taikiyoku)

3 Nov

 KATA GLASS Welcome to the first submission in my new “Kata Vineyard” celebrating the beauty and joy of Kata.


The night sky.

As a child I looked up at the night sky and let my imagination run free. I wondered – 

  • What is there beyond the stars and planets? 
  • Is there intelligent life “out there”? 
  • How far will astronauts travel during my life and what will they find? 
  • What lies out there in the universe that we have not discovered? 
  • Will Dracula or the Wolfman appear from the darkness? (This thought dissipated as I grew older)

The night sky was a remarkable catalyst for my imagination. 

Now, each night shortly after sunset, I walk two miles to a local park to practice kata. With each step the Sun moves lower below the horizon. Soon, the first and brightest star appears. I glance upward welcoming this pinpoint of light that is the planet Venus. Under its watchful “gaze” I reach the park and walk onto the grass. Here in the Arizona desert, in an effort to “conserve” water, large grass fields like golf courses, parks and large lawns are watered at sunset. The grass is moist and somewhat slippery, like skating on green ice. The musky smell of moisture wraps itself around me. As a gentle breeze caresses my cheek, the sound of crickets and hunting bats melodically fills my ears, I look upward and find my favorite constellation. It is one that has intrigued humans since the dawn of time – the Orion constellation. 

If I were standing still, my inner self would hear the beat of my heart  (Thump – Thump / Thump – Thump / Thump – Thump). 

But, I am not standing still. I move in a heartbeat-like (Thump – Thump) rhythmic pattern that I have known for decades  –  I somewhat involuntarily move to this beat

Block – Punch / Block – Punch / Block – Punch / Punch – Punch /Block – Punch / Block – Punch /Block – Punch / Punch – Punch /Block – Punch / Block – Punch

This pattern is that of the Taikiyoku series of kata. I perform the three formal Taikiyoku Kata (Sho-dan, Ni-dan and San-dan) as one kata; as I finish one, I omit the ending Hache-dache position, and tie in the last move to the the first move of the next Taikiyoku. Thus, the three become one and more.

A Mexican fruit bat lopes overhead as I finish the three formal Taikiyoku. As the bat lopes away, I proceed to the informal, self-created Taikiyoku born in my youth. I simply use the pattern of Taikiyoku and insert any block and counter combination. (Block – Counter) My uninhibited imagination is resurrected from my youth. (Block – Counter / Block – Counter)  I semi-consciously wonder –

Who else on Earth is performing a similar dance under the stars? (Counter – Counter / Block – Counter) Is a being from one of the planets above looking down upon my Taikiyoku? What ancient, now forgotten God smiles down upon my efforts this night? (Block – Counter / Block – Counter) 

Observations filter in from my senses to my mind. A Union Pacific freight train thunders in the distance, as my mind quiets. (Counter – Counter / Block – Counter) I have random thoughts – no rhyme or reason, just my imagination as I move under the pinholes of light that pierce the veil that is the night sky and my conscious mind. (Block – Counter)

Moving stealthily through the dark, the flow of Taikiyoku (Block-Counter / Block – Counter)  resonates within my core. As the grass crunches underfoot, I find that my most inspired thoughts percolate to the forefront. (Block – Counter/ Counter – Counter) Many a realization about kata and bunkai brewed (or festered, as the case my be) during such performances of this kata. (Block – Counter / Block – Counter)

A faint yipping sound of a coyote (Yip – Yip / Yip – Yip) comes from the adjourning cotton field. (Yip – Yip) Unbeknownst to the coyote, my subconscious synchronizes my movements to his song. (Yip – Yip / Block – Counter  / Yip – Yip / Counter – Counter)

As my left eye stings from a drop of sweat, (Block – Counter / Block – Counter) I acknowledge the passage of time since my youthful vigor. 

To catch my breath, I slow my Taikiyoku and include the dynamic tension and breathing of Sanchin Kata. With a quick glance upward towards the Orion constellation, I inhale the cool, sweet night air, I exhale and slowly begin. (Block      –     Counter      /      Block      –      Counter) My body begins to slow and settle back into its normal flow of air and blood (Block      –      Counter) My senses grasp my surroundings and file away the memory of the night. (Counter      –      Counter) Like the worn, comfortable cotton sweatshirt I wear, my mind envelopes the memory within me (Block      –      Counter) I am one not only with myself (Block      –      Counter      /      Counter      –      Counter) but also with all that is around me (Block      –      Counter). Like the worn, frayed black obi tied around my waist, I am tied to all who walked under the night sky. A wanderer like those before me and those who will follow me! (Block      –      Counter) I am from the dust of these stars and I belong to this night! (Kiai!)

Kata practice is complete. 

Before I walk home, I again look towards Orion and focus on Orion’s belt. Astrologers named these three stars Mintaka, Anilam and Alnitak. I think of them as the three formal Taikiyoku – Sho-dan, Ni-dan and San-dan. For just as the stars in Orion’s belt call forth the secrets of the night sky, these three kata can unlock secrets of our imagination and creativity. 

orion star guide


  • A shooting star streaks past the three stars of Orion’s belt! 
  • A desert wren perched on a branch screeches in the night! 
  • A dust-devil briefly dances at the edge of a field! 
  • A coyote saunters by and sits! – watching or critiquing?
  • A realization!

Though I’m a bit tired, the night is too mysteriously beautiful to go home. I must remain part of it! Time for one more Taikiyoku. Let’s see what thoughts enter my mind as I  –  

Block – Counter / Block – Counter / Block – Counter / Counter – Counter /Block – Counter / Block – Counter /Block – Counter / Counter – Counter /Block – Counter / Block – Counter

“What a wonderful World” is insufficient. “What a wonderful Universe – Thanks Taikiyoku!”

carl sagan

In closing, I remain staring up at the night sky – blocking and countering in a rhythmic pattern known as “Taikiyoku”. Oh, and what thoughts percolated or festered in my mind this night? The next article on this blog, of course. 


Sensei John Szmitkowski

(Technical Notes follow)

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As the impetus for my Kata Vineyard category is the exploration of the beauty, art aesthetics and enjoyment of kata, I did not want to “bog-down” in technicalities when posting in this category; however, there are a few notes I wish to submit.

Taikiyoku Kata Variations: Every Saturday morning, Sensei Nick D’Antuono would end the junior division class with repetitive performances of Taikiyoku. To keep the session from becoming boring, he would invite us to create our own kata, within the Taikiyoku pattern, using any combination of block and counter. I continued this practice when I became a Sensei; however, I introduced a caveat. The student would be required to engage in kumite using whatever block and counter combination the student selected for their version of Taikiyoku variation. This prevented from the student introducing flamboyant, martially-absurd combinations into the kata.

Cadence of Taikiyoku: In the sequence involving a block followed by three lunge punches, the usual cadence is to perform all four movements in one sequence. For two reasons I adapted the cadence by breaking it into two sequences of Block-Punch and Punch-Punch. The first reason is martial in purpose and was necessitated by one of my junior division students. The class was performing kumite. I instructed them to defend using the concepts of Taikiyoku. One student attacked the other with an amazingly slow roundhouse kick (mawashi-geri). The defending student waited for the semi-slow motion kick to get close enough to block (I could have had a cup of tea) blocked and countered. I asked why he waited to block the terribly slow kick. The student replied that he was using the block and counter taught in Taikiyoku. Thereafter I changed the cadence. and teach the “punch – punch” sequence as intercepting a slow attack (thus attacking the attacker). Thus, Taikiyoku mostly teaches block and counter (8 sequences) and introduces the concept of intercepting an attack (2 sequences). The second reason was to effect a rhythmic cadence of 1-2 / 1-2 / 1-2 throughout the entire kata. This fosters a state of moving mediation.

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