What Kata means to me.
When I began this journey some 18 months ago I envisioned me using Karate to help my fitness and improve my ability to defend myself. I was serious enough about pursuing it as a hobby but I never imagined it could take a hold of my life as it has. At that time I thought I would learn how to punch better, maybe how to kick effectively, and perhaps look a bit impressive doing it…. I didn’t think about kata at all. When after a couple of lessons I realised advancement and the majority of work was based around kata I was disappointed. It seemed to be just a repetition of moves akin to following a dance routine…….. and believe me I am not a dancer!
This feeling lasted for a good amount of time well over the first year in fact. I actually realised after a short time it was useful but I didn’t enjoy as I did the other aspects of my lessons. That is until recently when I realised just how significant Kata is and when my attitude to it changed and I began to work at it as it was meant to be I began to enjoy it.
Its easy enough to learn a new strike, be it with hand, elbow, knee or foot. The same goes for blocks. It’s also not too difficult to learn the many stances we use these strikes from. Its easy enough for some people to learn the pad drills (though not me and that’s a whole other story…) and these pad drills allow us to use the strikes and the stances in a repetitive manner that allows us to learn the control and power needed to make it all effective.
But what about a real fight, or for that matter Kumite, does our opponent allow us to drop into a specific stance and execute a specific strike? Does he block or counter as a martial artist would so we can use the correct block or strike? No. Combat is often messy and not really very pretty, it certainly doesn’t look like art.
As I progressed in my lessons and Kumite I started to introduce the strikes and blocks in as I learnt them, not always effectively though as I generally was not in the right stance.
It felt at this point in my training that there just wasn’t time in a combat situation to drop into a stance and hold it as we do in practice drills.
When I watch Shihan in Kumite it initially appears to the untrained eye that he moves much the same as we do, albeit more efficiently and seemingly always one step ahead of his opponent, but in fact he isn’t usually moving randomly at all. He is actually moving between the very same stances he teaches us in our basics, but so quickly and with such natural flow that it is hard to see unless you know exactly what you’re looking for.
How did he learn to do this? Kata. That movement between stances that is natural rather than forced can only be attained through long hard practice of kata, but not as a dance with steps to be made in a sequence but rather as a simulation of combat.
Kata is not dance it is combat. Because we do not see the opponent we think of it as merely following a pattern.
One of my Sensei’s told us recently she wanted to see us seeing our opponents during Kata and this comment struck home with me. I’ve noticed it now when I watch my instructors that they are focused on an imaginary opponent before them, each movement is aimed at this opponent and with that comes the fine detail that make the kata combat not dance. Moving your fist in a forward momentum is not going to break your opponent’s nose but might look nice in a dance routine. In kata that movement is a punch with all the force and control needed to do the required damage.
Kata at first seemed like a routine to be carried out in a classroom alongside other students, a performance for an audience. But Warriors have honed their skills for centuries by solitary kata training, imagining an opponent before them and repeating movements so much that it becomes second nature.
I no longer try to learn Kata moves by rote, flapping my arms around in the general direction of the pattern and hope the form will come with practice later. Now I try to kill, maim and disfigure that big guy standing before that’s trying to hurt my family…..
I’ve still a long, long way to go, but the journey ahead of me seems more achievable now with my realisation that kata is there to guide me and train me, not merely as a tool to measure me.
So, that's Mr K's two penneth. More from me when I've got my head around what I want to write in my next post, I'm mulling over a few topics.