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"The Empty Hand"

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Lessons from Kata Training

Uechi Ryu Karate is such a positive part of my life and there really isn’t one aspect of my training that I don’t enjoy. Of all the physical work that I do in Karate, such as Kumite, body conditioning, sparring, or partner drills, I find that I like practicing my Katas (forms) the most.

If you took someone that knew absolutely nothing about the martial arts and had them watch you do a Kata, they would be able to see that there are some obvious self defense techniques being practiced. They would see some aspects of strikes, kicks, blocks, and footwork involved with the routine.

Someone can learn a Kata, practice it repeatedly, and be able to perform it flawlessly by just going through the motions. And to the untrained eye that might seem like a very impressive thing. And sure, it is an accomplishment in and of itself. However to a trained eye, you can see if someone is just going through the motions. Without adding spirit and intent in your movements then you’d be missing out on a lot of lessons from your Kata training.

As I said, I love practicing my Katas and they have given me many more lessons than I anticipated, beyond self-defense techniques. By adding that spirit and intent in my movements, I’ve come away with much more than just some routine to perform. These lessons include:

1.) Concentrate on 1 thing at a time: The best definition of “multi-tasking” that I have heard is “doing two or more things poorly at the same time.” If you are performing your Kata and thinking of the next move while going through your current move, chances are they both won’t be what they should. The best lesson I’ve learned about Kata training from my Sensei is that each movement in the Kata has a purpose and needs to be focussed on as its own movement. Do one thing well and then move onto the next.

2.) Breathe: If you go through a Kata as fast and strong as you can without proper breathing, it will feel like you just ran a race and lost by the end. If you get into a fight, it’s extremely important to have an extra breath in reserve if the fight starts up again. If you used up all your energy at the start of the fight but you didn’t do enough to end it, then you are probably in big trouble. Kata training is a perfect place to practice effective breathing techniques while doing something physical. Why would this matter? Have you ever been overly tired, stressed, felt lost or frustrated? Have you ever been in a situation like that, took a deep breath and regained your focus? Chances are you know what I’m talking about and can understand the multiple benefits of focused breathing.

3.) Move on from mistakes: You can continually dwell on your mistakes if you want, but I can’t see how that could serve you. Learn from it and move on. I have found that no matter how diligently I practice my Katas, I always find things to improve on. I make plenty of mistakes each time I practice. But if I dwell on it too long chances are the next Kata will go even worse. I only have to read a bad book one time to know it is bad. No need to read it again.

4.) Make consistent minor improvements: I look for little things to improve on each time I do my Katas. If someone could do 10 push-ups and their goal was to be able to do 100 push-ups, that is going to take some time to accomplish. They’re not going to be able to do 10 push-ups one day and then 50 the next day. They would have to find little ways to improve and get stronger each time they practice. Those little improvements over time are what create the big results.

5.) Strive for perfection in the techniques: Now perfection will probably never happen in my Katas, but having the mindset of working towards it is the reason that I can keep improving. Have you ever seen someone that has chosen a profession and they are bad at it? It’s a really pathetic sight and a poor way to live in my opinion. If you are going to spend so much time doing something then why not keep trying to improve at it? And while I probably won’t ever reach that level of “perfection” in my Katas, I remember what an instructor in college said to me once: “Strive for perfection but accept excellence.” I like that.

Train hard and with intent! Thank you for your time

-john g

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