by Bob Zaruta, President/CEO, NWIRC

During an event on December 7th in Erie, attendees will have the opportunity to learn about kata with insights from Mike Rother, engineer, researcher and author of several books including Toyota Kata, and experience the Improvement Kata in a hands-on simulation. Also in December, educators in our region will have a similar opportunity to participate in a Kata in the Classroom simulation to learn how to teach students this pattern of scientific thinking. And, in early 2018, stay tuned to NWIRC for more including Coaching Kata!

So why all the attention and hype for kata? To help answer that question, perhaps an overview of what kata is, with some terminology and applications, are in order. According to Wikipedia, kata is a Japanese word describing detailed patterns of movement practiced either solo or in pairs. Karate kata are executed as a specified series of a variety of moves, with stepping and turning, while attempting to maintain perfect form. Traditionally, kata are taught in stages. Previously learned kata are repeated to show better technique or power as a student acquires knowledge and experience. It is common for students testing to repeat every kata they have learned but at an improved level of quality.

I had the privilege and pleasure of coaching students in grades 7 through 12 in the game of football. My coaching staff and I used ‘football kata’. At every practice, our players went through numerous drills for each position. Within each drill, the ideal form and movement, the ‘how’ we wanted our players to perform, was broken down into multiple steps consisting of specific actions within each step. To start, players learned and repeatedly practiced step one, then repeated step one as they practiced the actions of step two. The process continued through each step until the entire drill was completed. As an example, a defensive back filling a lane and looking to make a straight on tackle would practice breaking down in stride as they approached the ball carrier with their feet spaced but within the frame of their shoulders. Next step, the player practices lowering his body into a proper contact and tackling position with helmet up and facemask aimed at the opponent’s jersey number. Next step, as contact is made, the player would practice sliding his helmet to the opponent’s side while thrusting both arms up under the arm-pits of the runner with hands open and palms pressed against the back of the ball carrier at the shoulder blades. Final step, the player practiced accelerating through the tackle aiming for a place on the ground behind the ball carrier. Again, progressing through and building upon each step of very deliberate learning and practicing.

This football analogy speaks to the Improvement Kata. Regardless if the Improvement Kata is in karate, football, or manufacturing, improved performance is realized by breaking down each critical skill (task) and by teaching the “student” through deliberate learning and practicing. And, by educating the student as to why each activity within a step is important and by reinforcing the how and why through effective Coaching Kata (a topic for another day). All with the end goal being a student, player, or employee functioning at a master level like it was ‘second nature’.

Most would agree that no manufacturer has done a better job of implementing lean manufacturing and building a culture of continuous improvement than Toyota. Mike Rother’s research of Toyota revealed that the company excelled at growing and engaging its people by developing their thinking skills. In short, by combining simple scientific striving patterns with practice routines called kata, Toyota’s employees became everyday scientists better equipped to achieve the next improvement performance metric or goal. Scientific thinking is a life skill that anyone can learn by using kata and can be used everyday in whatever we do.

Side note:  Check the NWIRC Event Schedule for Kata programs with researcher and author Mike Rother on December 6 and 7.