About.com - Video Review

Heian Kata 1-5
VHS, 1 tape, 80 minutes
Ertl/Bendickson Productions (http://www.karatevid.com/), $49.95

The Ertl/Bendickson tapes are simple and direct, like the shotokan karate style they cover. This tape, documenting the first five katas of shotokan training, does its job well, providing the viewer with a ready reference to consult while learning these forms.

Probably the best feature of the tape is the onscreen overlay of the embusen, or performance line, that the student travels along while performing the kata. Think of the embusen as the path your feet take while executing each move. The tape overlays the embusen on the screen while demonstrator Joel Ertl (5th dan, JKA) demonstrates each kata, with a cursor moving along the path in sequence with his steps. It's a great way to show the footwork of the kata in conjunction with the arm and leg techniques.

Each kata is performed at normal speed, at normal speed again with the embusen overlay, then a slow step-by-step with narrator Anita Bendickson (4th dan, JKA) describing each step and technique. The kata is then demonstrated with applications of each step against an opponent, and again at fast speed. For each kata, the video highlights specific transitions and steps that are more difficult to learn and/or are scrutinized more during kata competitions. These five basic kata introduce new techniques to beginners, and the explanation of the key points of each technique should help a lot.

I would have liked to see more kata interpretation--execution of the kata with "attackers," demonstrating the use of each step and technique against multiple opponents. Often such interpretation is a required demonstration at belt advancement tests, and students are sometimes left to discover the applications of the techniques through trial and error. Ertl and Bendickson show some applications of kata sequences, but just of selected sequences, not the whole kata. Since the other "views" of the kata (at normal speed, with embusen overlaid on the screen, step-by-step, etc.) are so detailed, this was surprising.

Experienced shotokan stylists might find the detail devoted to each kata excruciatingly excessive. But this tape is directed at lower ranks; beginners who are learning these kata for the first time and need the detail and repetition to cement the sequences in their minds. Ertl and Bendickson's narration helps a lot here; the attention given to little things, like body posture during a transition, or the proper time to execute the hip turn, allow the beginner to cease being a beginner quickly.

All content copyright © 1999-2008 James Hom