Karate kata: Femininity fights back

How I Used Femininity to Excel in Karate

My name is Kat. I spent 20 years of my life practicing karate, half of them as an elite karate athlete in Canada. During those 10 years, my femininity was my source of strength and allowed me to excel in my karate career, particularly through the art form of kata. By writing this, I want to inspire other athletes to find strength in their femininity to excel in their sport of choice.

Kata: Dynamic and flowing

Kata literally means “form” in Japanese. It’s essentially a series of choreographed martial art moves (punches, kicks, jumps, stances, breathing, etc.) that are performed individually or with a team in unison. Kata is dynamic and explosive, yet flowing and smooth. It contains both fast and slow movements; hard and soft; ying and yang. 


These are essential to the art form. Kata demonstrates devastating fighting techniques; yet is artistic and beautiful.  Kata tells a story, paints images, and mesmerizes the viewer.  If you’ve ever watched an action movie, particularly with actors such as Bruce Lee or Jackie Chan, many of those fight sequences are choreographed, and these actors must practice the same choreographed moves repeatedly. This is kata. We do not change the sequence of the karate moves within the kata; we train them repeatedly over and over again, to make it better each time we perform. In doing so, we attempt to perfect not only the movements that are being executed but the very essence of the art itself.

What is femininity? 

Femininity is a social construct that defines the attitudes, behaviors, and roles of women and girls. A social construct is an idea that has been created and accepted by the people in a society. Since femininity is a social construct, the traits associated with it will vary depending on the society we find ourselves in. In this article, I’m going to be talking about Western views of femininity, since I can only talk about my perspective as a female karateka (a karate athlete) in Canada.

When thinking about femininity, what traits come to mind?

Traditionally, you might think nurturing, sensitive and docile. You may even think of the color pink! In the modern Western world, we now think of femininity as soft, but strong. What a contradiction? Yes! And that exact contradiction is what made me excel in kata.

Soft, but strong

Wax on, wax off. Breathe in, breathe out. Slow down and then explode! These are all steps I had to take as a karate athlete to be successful in kata, and this is why I firmly believe using contrasting traits of femininity, like soft, but strong, helped me excel. 

In practice, kata athletes must gain muscle memory. We must repeat the same movements over and over again, while at the same time ensuring that every movement improves after each repetition. So, how did I make sure I had a successful practice each and every time? By using the feminine trait of soft, but strong.

Perfection is feminine, too

I would start practice with slow, soft movements, similar to Tai Chi. I would walk through the katas, really focus on each movement and take my time with them to really feel my muscles for every breath I took. As practice would progress, I would start to implement the trait of strong. I was now using what I learned in my slow and soft movements and adding all of my strength to them and—wow! What an improvement I saw in my performance. I used my softness to better understand the kata, every detail of every movement was perfected so that when I used my strength, my performance would be precise and powerful.

Another way the feminine trait of soft, but strong helped me excel in my kata was through my breathing. In kata, we call explosive power by the Japanese term, kime, which is when we do a technique with all of our strength and focus. The entire body, mind, and spirit are focused on one point for an instant. To do this correctly, we need correct breathing – where you can physically see and hear our breath contracting. Getting your breathing just right will make or break your kata performance. 

Embracing femininity

Using the feminine trait of soft, but strong is exactly what more karatekas need to be using in their breathing techniques. We have to softly breathe in parts of our performance that are supposed to be eloquent and picturesque (there are some other supposedly feminine traits for you), but, more importantly, we need to know when to breathe with strength in order to make a powerful impact (kime) on our kata performance. Using a combination of soft and strong breathing is fundamental to kata. Exactly that is why using this feminine trait will help you excel in your kata performance.

The femininity trait of soft, but strong helped me excel in five kata performances that I always used to compete with. Being soft, but strong is what helped me be an Ontario champion for three consecutive years and a Canadian National Team member. You can apply soft, but strong to many different sports. Learning a golf swing softly, only to swing with brute force in competition. Swimming softly to warm up and improve endurance, in order to execute a speed-driven performance during competition. It turns out we can learn a lot from being soft, but strong in sport. Consciously applying your feminine traits could be the hidden fundamental that will take your sport performance to the next level. 



  • Kathleen Terra was an elite karate athlete for 10 years. I was an Ontario champion for three years in my individual category and a Canadian champion for one year in my team category. With my team I participated in the Pan Am Games in Toronto. At 24, I retired and became a karate coach. I have a BA in Sociology and Gender Studies from the University of Toronto. Today, I am living in Mexico with my husband, rescuing animals and aiding the less fortunate.