Kata training is only as valuable as you make it. Kata can be as shallow as a physical workout or as deep as a philosophical revelation. Unfortunately, it can be quite difficult learning how to achieve deeper levels while staying on a path true to tradition.
Kata repetition is often stressed as important, and indeed it is in a myriad of ways. One of the most obvious benefits is the rote muscle memory used in techniques during times of stress and peril. Sadly, as years of training grind on and the mind becomes accustomed to the same movements, it’s extremely easy to start “phoning it in” and still look good.
You probably know what I mean. Have you ever been in class one night and simply didn’t have your best focus? You run kata, snap techniques, and work up a sweat, but afterward don’t feel particularly enriched by the experience?
This happens inevitably and is a source of struggle not just for karateka, but for artists of all endeavors. There’s one thing that you can do to refresh yourself and invigorate a lulling routine – kata ichi go.
Kata Ichi Go
Kata is the term for a martial arts form (even though generally it just means a procedure for doing something). Ichi Go is a way to express “one moment” or “one time”. As such, kata ichi go means “one time to perform kata”.
The idea behind kata ichi go is to forego the normal repetition and routine of training. On a given day of your choosing, you do not practice kata at all…except once. A single kata, one time, with no do-overs, repeats, or mulligans. You have one chance to do it as best you can, and if you freeze or fail – tough luck.
The point of this exercise is to instill a sense of urgency in your performance. If you walk through your kata and give a blah performance, you get to think about how poorly you did until your next workout. There is no room to mentally escape a subpar performance. This anxiety will cause emotions to spike as you know there is no room for error.
Anxiety, tension, and a single-opportunity-mindset are all trademarks of real self defense situations. No matter how well trained you are, you will experience a certain amount of fear and adrenaline during a physical encounter. By utilizing kata ichi go and not giving yourself an outlet for mistake, you subtlely bring your kata training closer to practical application. Eventually, through imagination and visualization, you may be able to conjur up those same sensations during traditional repetitive kata during class.
Imagination During Kata Ichi Go
Once you have decided which kata you will perform once, you have to assess how well you know it. If you know it quite well, you can start to visualize during your performance. Imagine real attackers making aggressive motions toward you, and use the kata with speed, power, and precision to fend off the attackers. This will help you to induce appropriate emotions, and subsequently learn how to fight through them.
By isolating a single performance of the kata, you will be able to reflect on it. You will be able to see where you lost your balance, which techniques felt good, and what emotions clouded your performance. This self analysis can deepen your understanding of the form and help make it ‘yours’, as opposed to a copied exercise. It will also help you in your understanding of how your body handles stress, which makes fear and anxiety more manageable (remember: we can’t train ourselves to be robots, we can only temper and hone our own tendencies).
As a final note – try kata ichi go when you’re alone, and even at home in street clothes. See how the experience differs from dojo training.
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Sometimes the Japanese language seems endlessly complex to me, especially the writing of it. One word can mean 5 different things depending on your inflection and emphasis, not to mention what kind of kanji (or katakana) you use to write it.
A perfect example is the term “karate”. Back in the really old days…well karate was called “ti”. But AFTER that it was called karate, and that meant “China Hand”. Later a fella named Gichin Funakoshi came along and went about changing it to “Empty Hand”. He did this for philosophical and political reasons that you can investigate when the mood strikes you.
When placed side by side the two karates look like this –
Despite the difference they are spoken essentially the same.
This brings me to an interesting concept that I encountered on the blog of Charles Goodin Sensei (An extremely reputable martial arts historian and writer). In it he asked his karate friend and senior Pat Nakata about saying “I understand” in Japanese.
Goodin Sensei was under the impression that there was one way to convey the concept of understanding, and that was with “wakarimasu”. Nakata Sensei informed him (and us) that there are actually two main methods instead of one.
The term “shirimasu” indicates a level of understanding that is shallow, or surface level. For example, if someone explains a series of directions to you and asks you if you understand, you might say “shirimasu”, because you do understand what they have said, but have done nothing in particular to internalize that information.
Goodin Sensei’s “wakarimasu” also conveys understanding, but on a deeper level. If someone gave you directions and you spent years following those directions, exploring every facet of them, you might be able to say “wakarimasu”.
What a strong concept this is! There is no natural terminology in the English language that can express these ideas as succinctly. And therein lies the strength of the Japanese language along with all of its mind tangling complexities – it can convey critical subtleties of feeling and intent with a single word or short phrase. That’s also why grasping a small amount of the Japanese or Okinawan (Hogen) language is so critical to improving your study of karate (this is true of any culture and language your art happens to come from).
In a Karate Context
In my style of Okinawa Kenpo Karate there are 20 open hand kata and 29 kobudo kata, making for 49 total forms (Seikichi Odo Sensei was a bit of a collector, to say the least). Of those kata I “know” about 42. As many of you have noticed through this blog and facebook, I am not an extremely old man. What this means is that I understand most of those kata in a “shirimasu” sense. There are very few kata in which I would use “wakarimasu”…in fact, there may only be a scant few moments in those few kata that I would consider using “wakarimasu”.
These two different terms make a world of impact when describing progress in your art, both to yourself and others. When analyzing your technique, kata, sparring, and self defense, how is your understanding? Shirimasu? Wakarimasu?
Goodin Sensei contends that most of our understanding is indeed shirimasu, and I couldn’t agree more. In fact, it’s one of those martial art subtleties wherein the more we believe we only have a shirimasu understanding, the quicker we progress to wakarimasu (even though, of course, that goal is always just a little further away).
As the old saying goes: a good karateka, when asked if he/she has attained mastery, always replies: “perhaps with one more year of training.”
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Do you remember the video where a man was forced to defend himself on his own porch step? That was a pretty serious self defense situation, and since it was caught on tape we had a chance to watch the man’s mental decision process as he ultimately decided to use physical force to protect himself.
This week a different video was sent to me, and I think you are going to enjoy it.
This clip comes from a TV Show somewhere in Belgium. It is a candid camera program that annoys people in obnoxious ways (standard affair really). One fateful evening the show decided to visit a mall and harass local shoppers. The ‘host’ proceeded to throw a net on a man, taunt him, and then run away. Unfortunately, to bystanders, it looked as if he was either robbing or accosting the local shopper. One bystander in particular didn’t take kindly to that kind of criminal activity.
Check it out –
That kick was huge. I don’t like to glorify violence, but I do appreciate good technique.
From a martial arts perspective, it is clear that the individual in the striped shirt studies a form of Savate, Tae Kwon Do, or other such style. Clearly his training has not been for waste because he hit a moving target right on the money. Of course…that target didn’t see it coming…which brings us to the moral catch-22 of this video.
The Civil Assistance Conundrum
The big, $50 question to come out of this video is: Was that man right in using violence to defuse the situation?
Let’s look at it first from the kicker’s perspective. Somewhere behind him he hears a tussle. When he glances back he sees a shady looking individual sprinting away and another man chasing him angrily. From the context clues he assesses that the man trying to escape is some sort of robber (a scene all too familiar with many people that live in cities) or vandal. With a grand total of 2-3 seconds to consider his actions, he decides not to let the criminal get away with it. He then proceeds to utilize a non-lethal yet damaging technique to floor the ‘bad guy’.
Part of me applauds him for his quick thinking and desire to help make the world a little more scum-free. It takes courage and conviction to step in and aid your fellow man. Furthermore, his technique selection was probably a good one – if he tried to tackle the guy, he ran the risk of getting stabbed or shot while tussling. If he tried to stand in the bad guy’s way non-violently he would have gotten bowled over or pushed aside.
Unfortunately, as we see in this video, quick acts of effective violence are sometimes misplaced. As it turns out, there was no theft occurring, and the man in the leather jacket was angry and loud because he was annoyed at the childish prank pulled on him. The striped-shirt-kicker made a big leap in judgment assuming that the man trying to escape was both a.) a perpetrator of crime, and b.) the actual bad guy in the situation (he might have been trying to escape a bad situation himself).
Furthermore, the kicker took the law into his own hands and introduced violence into a non-violent situation. In a crowded mall like that, it is very possible to grab the attention of nearby security and alert the authorities to a crime in progress. In most large shopping centers there is both mall security and real law enforcement officials nearby.
It’s amazing how one well-placed kick to the face can really put a modern day issue into perspective. In times past the kicker’s actions would have been unquestionably justified and celebrated, as law enforcement could not possibly have arrived in time. However we live in a legislative, hands-off world where we have to weigh our role as citizens with that of the moral obligation to help others.
Where do you stand on this situation? Would have stepped in to help (and do you think you would have had the quick-response-instinct to do so?)
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