Thursday, 17 February 2011

A Dilemma: Learning Kata Above Your Grade.

I have a bit of a karate related dilemma at the moment, and the more I’ve mulled it over, the more it seems like a good blog post topic. So I’m throwing some thoughts on it out into cyberland to see what comes back at me.

A fellow karateka recently asked me about teaching them some of the higher kyu kata I know and also mentioned that they were interested in learning the patterns of all the kata up to black belt before the year's out (they’re currently at orange belt (7th kyu)). At this point in the post, if you’re reading (which I know you do) you know who you are and I hope you don’t mind me using this as a blog topic! Eek!.


I’ve been giving this considerable thought of late. Mainly because for a reason I couldn’t fathom right away, the request made me a little uncomfortable. At first I wondered if it was a pride thing (tisk! How very un-karateka like! LOL), was I trying to keep this knowledge I had close to my chest? Hoarding what I’d learnt just for me? I soon came to realise that wasn’t the case. I’d happily show any student the kata required for their grade and maybe even their next grading step. I’ll share with them all the little things I learnt whilst I was learning it. All the tips and tricks other people told me to make the kata come together. So, it wasn’t about hoarding the knowledge. Why the wobble then?

To get to the bottom of my indecision I thought I’d try putting myself in the requesting karateka’s gi for a moment. I’ve come to realise that we’re very similar creatures this other student and I. When I first started learning karate (once I’d gotten over the initially shock at my unintentional arrival in the world of martial arts!) I couldn’t get enough information. I still can’t, to a degree. I’m the same with any new venture I embark upon. I have a thirst for knowledge. I need the information, and gad dang it I need it now! LOL. I remember wanting to know more kata. Craving more knowledge than I could possibly retain. Wanting to learn the new blocks, the new strikes, the new stances. Feeling the need to fill my metaphorical karate cup till it was overflowing. And therein lies the rub. If you try to do that, if you try to cram everything you want to know into your little newly purchased karate cup, stuff is lost. It spills over the sides. You can’t retain it.

Blimey, that was a bit deep for a Thursday lunchtime, wasn’t it? Where’d that come from? LOL.

So I think that’s were my hesitation is coming from. I’ve learnt from my own karate journey experience that if you rush to learn to much stuff you risk losing the information you’ve already learnt. I rushed ahead with the first few kata and to my detriment they were never quite as good as they should have been. Later on in my training I’ve had to go back and unpick the bad habits I had and relearn the kata, better. In the rush to acquire more knowledge I ended up making more work for myself. I’ve learnt that lesson the hard way. These days I think about the kata required for my grade and nothing else (except on the occasions I'm instructed to by my teacher). First the pattern, then the techniques and the stances, then tweaking every little thing until I know I’d doing the best job I can. Even then I’m always striving to do it better next time. To make is stronger, tighter, faster. This doesn't only go for my current kyu kata either. My earlier kata are stronger every class because my awareness of my techniques increases all the time and my motor/muscle memory it stronger week by week.

I can see why someone would want to know the patterns to all the kata. I've been there. The argument in favour is sound on the surface at least. To know all the patterns then when you come to it at a later date you can just pad out what’s there. Ultimately though, I don’t think that’s conducive to good kata or good karate in the long run. There are stances and techniques in higher katas that you haven’t covered yet and you need to know the basics before you can think about even the pattern of the kata. They’re the building blocks after all and you can’t build the top of the tower without the lower layers. It’s a recipe for bad habits I think and bad habits are much harder to prevent than they are to unpick, for sure!

I’ve been looking around the web to see if I can find any other discussion for either side of this dilemma and to be honest almost everything I can find comes down on the side of learning kata above your grade being a bad idea. The reasoning is mostly the same to.

There’s here:

It is far better to have a good understating of one kata than a superficial understanding of many. Do not rush when learning the kata or be in a hurry to move on to the next one. Take your time and always emphasize quality over quantity.
http://www.physicalarts.com/knowledge/kata-and-forms/17-learning-kata-the-right-way

and here:

Most students today seems to be in a hurry to learn their kata...so much so that they often forget that Kata is a practice of perfection. Rushing through the movements causes the student to lose the deeper appreciation for the fine aspects of this rare art form. Take time when training your Kata to enjoy its finer points. The beauty of the stances, the precision of its defenses and the flowing of the techniques into one complete Kata.
http://fudoshin.franzkarate.com/learningkata.htm

and here:

Never rush through the movements Furthermore never rush to learn a new kata until the instructor recommends you to do so. It is said that in former days of martial arts training a single kata was practiced for a minimum of three years. Today a student will often come up impatiently and say that he “knows” all of a kata and wants to do the next one when in fact the student only knows the sequence of the moves and would actually need to learn a lot more about stances, balance, power etc. before he can proceed to a more difficult one.

“Practice does not make perfect, perfect practice makes perfect” and in kata practice, there are no pads, no partners, you only have yourself to motivate you, consequently you must overcome your own criteria, discover your own strengths and be disciplined enough to overcome your own weaknesses.
http://summitkarate.com/shotokan.htm

To quote just a few. Different schools of karate. Different kata probably, but the same emphasis.

Quality Over Quantity.

I’m particularly fond of this statement:

“Practice does not make perfect, perfect practice makes perfect” *

*ETA. I've been mulling this over since posting and I came to the conclusion this isn't quite right. I don't think anything in karate (or elsewhere) can really be "perfect". I'd amend it to "perfect practive makes progess" I think :).


Time to wrap up those thoughts into an answer then. Sometimes it’s hard to say no to people. Most people strive to be helpful to others (I would hope anyway) and saying no doesn’t always seem conducive to being helpful. Let’s face it, no one wants to come across as an unhelpful bitch, do they? In this case though, I think no probably is helpful. Especially with an explanation of why the “no” is given. In the long term it’s better to go slow. Take your time. Perfect the grade kata you’re on and the ones before it before you move onto higher things. Cement your learning with perfect practice until you find that your karate cup has grown that little bit bigger and can hold just that bit more information. Time for advanced kata will come – and when you get there you might well wish you hadn’t! LOL.

TTFN

Tuesday, 15 February 2011

Building Blocks


Right now I am beyond frustrated that Blogger has eaten the massive post I'd just written.
Grrrrrr.I never really blog with a structure in mind...it's more a stream of consciousness kind of process, so it's almost impossible for me to rewrite a post once it's been zapped off into the lost realms of cyberspace.
So annoying.


Grrrr.


Okay.


Focus.


So. Lots of stuff has been going on around here of late. We had a grading a few weeks ago where I was (very happily) awarded my red belt (4th kyu). I know there rages wide debate amongst karate exponents on the validity and usefulness of the coloured belt grading system. Sue has a great post on this topic here, which you should read, if you haven't already. Personally I have to agree with Sue's sentiments here:


"Yes I agree that it’s not just about getting the black belt. I don’t want to follow some watered down syllabus that fast tracks me to shodan. I want to immerse myself more fully in the physical, mental and cultural aspects of martial arts and I need time to do that properly. BUT… I like my brown belt and I liked all the coloured belts I had before – they are markers of my progress, they help me put my new found skills and knowledge into context, they motivate me. They are like mini rewards for the effort I have made. And yes, I want that black belt."


For me making my next belt is a way of showing (to myself) that I've begun to start to master (I won't say mastered....clearly I have a long way to go before I master anything and I don't think truly mastering a martial art even begins until black belt) a certain skill set. It's a milestone. A way marker. A tool to say "this is how far you've travelled since you began with that brand new (decidedly unbendy) white belt around your waist so long ago". It serves another purpose too. In our club grades are only awared to students who have not only a certain knowledge, but also the ability to implement that knowledge. With a higher kyu belt comes the possibility (and indeed likelihood) that lower kyu grades will come to you with questions. There's nothing like being quizzed on kata or kihon to make you make sure you know your stuff!


I've been giving the process and evolution of my karate training much thought of late. I find I'm beginning to see the building blocks of my karate now. Kendo and I had a discussion after the Sunday class this week. We'd been doing some higher level combinations (involving cross blocks). Kendo has always struggled previously when we've done combinations but this week he managed them with no problems. I think it comes from building blocks. When you first begin combination work there are so many elements to think about. You've got to think how to form the block/strike, then you've got to think about how to move between them, then think about how to perform the next technique, then transition again. It's no wonder it's hard work when you start. As you progress through your training the blocks and strikes become second nature. Your muscle memory takes care of those and you only have to worry about the transition (much less to think about, so the whole thing seems that little bit easier). You've got a nice foundation of building blocks to balance your transitions on. Once you've worked combinations for a while the transitions themselves become second nature and soon find you only have to do a combination a few times before it sticks (you've got a nice shiny building block tower to play with!).


I'm seeing links like this all the time now. Clearly they were always there, but it seems that the pieces of the syllabus are falling into place more and more. In our classes we're constantly looking back over things we've already covered, and looking ahead slightly to things we need to know so as part of this process you start to see patterns unfold and pathways become clear. We started with this drill which we use here and that progresses to this part here which leads onto this. It's comforting to know my understanding and awareness of karate is increasing. When I see a new combination now I'm looking not only at the combination in and of itself but also "where have I seen this before?" (kata....and some bunkai), "how can I use this?" (in my taisabaki forms and kumite). I see whole new avenues opening up each class.


I think I mentioned previously that we were beginning new classes at a different Dojo location on Thursdays. These started last week and were already a great success. There were six students for the junior's class (there would have been 7 except Miss Grace has been stuck at home with the Chicken Pox, bless her. She's not amused). I'm acting as Sempai for the junior class there as well as the Monday class. Its strange. I never really harboured any inclination towards teaching growing up (I never thought I was one to impart knowledge well to others) but I've actually really take to it and I think (hope!) I'm doing a reasonable job. It's hard work teaching little people (they don't always have the attention span you'd like them to have) but it's really rewarding too. Everytime one of my little guys (they're mostly boys!) grades it's a really proud moment to know you had a hand in them acquiring that knowledge. Shaping young minds! LOL. Scary!


The adult class had an even greater start with 20 students (and not all the current ones how'd signed up where there!). It was a very different vibe from the Sunday and Monday classes though. We've been training together so long now in the other group (with the addition of new students only one or two at a time so they're easily absorbed) then we've becoming quite comfortable with each other and how we train. Having a class where more than half the people were new students was a whole different ball game! It was back to very, very basics for us - how to make a fist 101 being the first port of call, and became a opportunity for higher kyu grades to get into groups with the new students to help them through the techniques we were trying. I'm a firm believer now that there's nothing like having to explain something to someone else to help crystallise it in your mind. It's a great feeling to know that you now understand things that were completely alien to you not so long ago. Its much easier to see the control, or the escape. To know where your opponents body mechanics are going to lead them (and you) before you get there. It's a real eye opener to stuff you sometimes didn't realise you'd learnt and processed.


What struck me most about the first adult class was two students in particular. A young engaged couple had come together. They're looking to improve their fitness and wanted to do something they could do as a couple. Reminders of where Kendo and I were at when we started were obvious. The woman looked as terrified as I remember being! It was nice to be able to say.... hey, I was you 18 months ago! It won't always feel like that!



So, lots of changes around here (all of them good, thankfully). For me the immediate karate future mostly holds all things Bassai Dai (my required 3rd Kyu kata (purple...my fave! yey :). I have the pattern down to pat now but Shihan wants me to work on really getting my stances in place properly. I need to be able to perform this kata at full focus for my grading. The part I'm really struggling with is moving in back leaning stance (kokutsu dachi). I can't seem to get a handle on shifting my weight through the transitions without looking and feeling awkward. I've been quizzing the higher grades on tips for how they deal with this (it seems a common problem with this kata) and I have some ideas....any other tips from the land of karate blogging are greatly appreciated - I know some of you have this kata under your belt already (so to speak!).


Right then. That's it for now. A little disjointed I'm afraid. Blame blogger for ruthlessly eating the first post and totally crashing my thought train. Hopefully it won't be so long till bloggy inspiration hits next time.


TTFN

Arrghhhhh!!!!!!!!!!

I just wrote a massive post.

And blogger ATE IT!

Now I'll have to think about the whole thing again. It could take a while.

Damn you blogger!

TTFN