Climbing kata

I feel like there’s something missing in my climbing training, and I think I have an idea for how to solve the issue.

I have a background in martial arts, where we used to train a lot of ‘kata’. This term comes from Japanese martial arts, and it refers to a defined sequence of moves. For instance, there can be a blocking kata where you learn to step left block, turn around block, return to the beginning block, and keep moving into different positions and train different blocking techniques (without an opponent). There’s all kinds of kata to learn all kinds of movements. It’s 100% structured and pre-defined, and martial artists will spend thousand of hours trying to perfect every movement.

In a lot of ways, I feel like this is the exact opposite of climbing. We always move on different terrain and in different ways. Everybody tries to find their own way. And to be honest, I think this is MUCH better in pretty much every way.

Yet there is something to be said for the kata approach as well. It creates a separation between kihon and bunkai - between basic technique and application of technique. Climbers spend pretty much 100% of their time practising the application, which again is good in pretty much all cases… But it can make it more difficult to just improve the basic technique. It’s nice to be able to do that in a void, where you don’t need to worry about sending, figuring out the beta, or anything else. You can completely focus on making the drop knee, heel hook, back flag or other technique look and feel as perfect as you can get it.

I think this could work on standardized boards like moonboard, kilterboard, grasshopper or tension board. Surely, there are problems on these boards that would be well suited to train a specific technique. That specific technique doesn’t need to be the easiest way to do the problem, just as long as the problem is well suited to focus on a perfect execution of the technique (holds shouldn’t be too difficult and placement of holds needs to be right).

Is anybody willing to help out with this? If so, let me know if you found any problems on any boards that are well suited to train 1 specific technique. I can create a repository of ‘kata’. One day, maybe a climber of a specific size with access to a specific board realises they need to train a specific technique. They can then find a suited problem through the repository, and spend some sessions perfecting that technique. Then, once the basics are ingrained, they can go back to application and practise in a real world setting on different problems and routes :slight_smile:

I hope somebody else is as excited about this idea as I am!

I’ve found using a spray wall is a really good way to approach this. Especially because I’m also having to come up with the moves, I think it helps me to understand the movement even better.

For example, I’m tall and find it hard to move quickly out of scrunched up positions. So I’ve been practicing creating these positions and exploding out of them, but just doing one move at a time. I think that by learning how to create bunched up positions and trying moves out of them, I’ve gotten much better at climbing in those positions.

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Yeah that’s excellent, but a spray wall isn’t standardised so for the very basic situation of just wanting to practise the move by itself it’s better if the position, holds and moves are pre-defined. It’s like punching in the air as practise, it’s a very basic thing that even highly advanced martial artists will do to improve.

In this video, they do something very similar to what you’re doing but on a symmetrical system wall: Climbing Workouts - Drills and Exercises - Movement Training in System Wall - YouTube

I just think it would be great to have that for standardised boards, so you don’t need to think about the position, or beta or anything. Only the technique in a void - like punching in the air. It seems silly but martial artists have been doing it for thousands of years.

And if I’m honest, I realise it’s probably not even necessary if you’re dedicated enough to invest time to explore and find positions for different moves on a spray wall. But we could be making it easier, especially for beginners, by pre-defining the holds & moves on standardised boards so you can practise the physical move beyond your current understanding of the move :slight_smile:

This is an interesting idea- I’m not sure that this would work on any board in the way you’ve described. You probably will want it to be on a standard system style board with symmetry- so the Grasshopper or the Tension board will be best for this. While I love the Kilterboard (I have the home board and I’ve set hundreds of problems on it and the commercial board), I don’t think this kind of specific, standardized movement would work well on it. I also suspect it wouldn’t work well on the Moon for similar reasons.

I think you could do this on any spray wall that was mirrored as well- or a standard systems wall if your gym has something like that. The boards will be nicest for sharing with others, but any symmetrical board would work well since for it to be symmetrical, it would need to be mirrored and set the same on both sides.

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I think Grasshopper is working on something exactly like that with their board. I think it was talked about in the Boone Speed interview on the Nugget Climbing Podcast. Check it out!

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Lots of info out there on this approach, - pretty much everything on system walls up until around 2017 or so. In my experience it’s good for learning some basics, or maybe endurance work in a pinch, but otherwise not so valuable.
There is quite a bit of research into movement and motor learning that just doesn’t support this method as all that useful. Even in sports in which the movement is “the same” such as 3 point shots, golf shots, etc, repetitive training of the “correct” movement usually results in decreased performance - even for that movement. At best, there is improvement but not to the same degree as more varied movement practice.

I’m not even sure how one would define what a “good” movement is anyway. I don’t have the first clue what makes a “good” drop knee, flag, toe hook, heel hook or anything else - not even for myself.


@iansiess awesome, thanks for letting me know!

@Kris I still think it’s useful for the basics. For instance, for a long time I forgot to activate the glutes in heel hooks. Practising that in a ‘kata’ where I don’t need to worry about other things could’ve helped me and sped up the learning process.

Maybe, but practicing that anywhere could have had the same result with more variety, which is more like climbing.
Something like “engage the glutes”, which won’t be the answer for every heel hook, isn’t something people will learn automatically on a systems wall. The onus is still on them and their intention and attention, which can happen on any wall.
I don’t dislike the idea - I’ve explored it quite a bit. In 2014 I wrote a series of articles about a board I put together that is what you’re describing, but in a layout I fully believe to be better - which has been adopted by Tension and Grasshopper - the mirrored spray wall.
The traditional systems wall, used to facilitate the memorization of positions and movements (which a fair amount research has theorized is not very effective for motor learning) just didn’t cut it, in my opinion.
Maybe it all hinges around the question “what are the basics?” Particularly the ones you speak of?
I wouldn’t put individual movements in my list of basics. No heel hooks, toe hooks, drop knees or flags. Those are just names that arose for the sake of communication - the basics are a layer or two below. The core of what makes those basic is much more broad. More thematic. Exploration, balance, affordance, tension, Etc. I’m just not sure a MORE systemized board or process is the best answer to teach those things. It has its pros, but far more cons.


Those articles I mentioned started here, and evolved WAAAAY past what I wrote on the blog.

I’m not sure if we’re talking about the same thing anymore :stuck_out_tongue:
In my own example of wanting to practise the heel hook, it would’ve been nice to be able to select “heel hook kata” from a list and then see which problems on which standardised boards are well suited to practise it.

But thanks for all the info and link!

I see what you’re saying, but any move can be done with a heel hook, and no single situation is more correct for heel hooking for every person. Climbing movements change according to affordances - strengths, weaknesses, morphology, mobility, etc.
The best way to learn a heel hook will always be to try heel hooking in a wide variety of positions, angles, situations, and holds. Doing heel hooks where another person has determined that heel hooking is “correct” will definitely not be the best way to learn them.

But I do think that something similar to what you’re describing, though less specific in the skills (which I think is a good thing) is what Tension has tried to do with Skillscape.

Circuits at some gyms are also built around a similar idea, rather than strictly grade levels.