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.