Glossary for (Japanese) Continuous Improvement Language

What is ‘Kata’?

Kata means literally: ‘Form’ or ‘Pattern;

The Japanese term ‘Kata’ originates from martial arts, where it is a sequence of steps or movements, repeated over and over again to create ‘muscle memory’. (see: ShuHaRi)

Kata creates ‘muscle memory’

Kata is a training method to internalize a series of movements (a ‘form’) in such a way that the student can apply them ‘in a reflex’ without actually thinking about the form it selves, so he can focus on the effect the form should have.

Kata is an essential part of ShuHaRi

Kata is a typical Shu stage of learning: The teacher tells the student what- and how to do and the student practices until the teacher is satisfied. At that point it is internalized; it has become an automatism.

When a Kata consists of multiple kata… 

The word ‘kata’ has no plural or singular.  

A typical kata in most martial arts takes about 1 or 2 minutes and consists of 12 to 54 or even more steps, also called ‘kata’. This makes it a bit confusing; what is meant when someone mentions ‘kata’?

The number of steps has links to the Taoist spirituality where the number of 108 identifies the number of states of mind. A typical kata (a ‘form’) is a division of 108 kata (‘steps’).

Kata is more then doing some steps…

Behind all kata there rule some basic principles that have to be understood to fully benefit the kata, otherwise it could end in a form of gymnastic, a dance (which is not the purpose of a kata).

So when applying a kata in our improvement effort it is not just a matter of putting some steps in a sequence. A kata cannot just be constructed by defining some steps and call them a kata!

A kata is a sublimation of deep understanding and evolution of the process that should be achieved with the kata.

The kata, in most martial arts, is used for its martial purpose. But it can also be used therapeutically. This can be experienced in Taiji (or Tai Chi), where a series of steps, each potentially lethal movements, are performed to cure and shape the body and creating a harmonious energy balance.

Kata in Lean Manufacturing

The kata in our Lean-effort similarly can have a martial effect (the elimination of a loss) and a therapeutically effect (group-cohesion, better understanding, collective wisdom etc.)

Our SGA-kata consists of 8 kata (steps). Also Makigami can become a kata when we keep practising makigami in 7 steps.

Taiji Kata demonstration

Using a glass ball, the practinior demonstrates the perfection of his movements (‘kata’) in this ‘glass ball’ form (kata). In this way he proves to be in perfect balans, never losing control over his movements and executing each step flawlessly.

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