The modern tradition of karate practice is that one goes to a dojo three times a week and practices kata. Every few months the karateka learns a new kata, and once they have reached a certain level of black belt they might learn the most advanced kata in their system. Along the way, they may engage in prearranged sparring, visit seminars, run scripted drills and possibly do a little bit of limited sparring. This is the mode of most legitimate traditional schools. The conventional wisdom is that one doesn't truly start to learn karate until they have learned the basics. This means reaching black belt, which if it is a “good” school will take a number of years to show that you have the ability and determination to study karate. Along the way one pays dojo fees, pays for seminars, pays for equipment, pays for weapons, sparring gear and testing. We are told that karate is a continuous life long practice, so this amounts to a monthly car payment extending out infinitely into the future.
The hope of many of the students is that once they work hard enough they will reach that coveted level where their instructor will finally start to reveal the secrets of karate to them. They will learn the secret techniques, the applications to all of the kata, they will become fighters, the master karateka of their dreams. The reason many people start practicing karate is to learn an unarmed fighting art. The sad fact is that there is no such thing as secret techniques, official applications to kata, karate will not make you a fighter and no sensei, teacher, coach or guru can make you into a master karateka. The reason is that karate is almost completely theoretical.
The only concrete aspect of a karate dojo is karate kata. Everything else is purely opinion. There are no secret documents outlining the applications of all the kata. There are no specific karate techniques and no one in the karate community can agree on any theory, which explains kata. The karate community exists in an uneasy truce involving the idea that all ideas are legitimate, while they all secretly know in their hearts that what they practice is the true karate. The only problem is that there is no true karate.
Everything we have ever learned about karate comes from word of mouth. They are merely stories shrouded in myth, bias and political agendas. Many of the karate pioneers, such as Gichin Funakoshi, Itosu Anko, Kenwa Mabuni and others openly admit to modifying karate in order to bring it into the modern era. They actively and purposefully changed karate into a cultural sporting recreational activity. This is what we currently know as the Three K approach to karate, which is kata, kihon, and kumite. Whatever karate was and whatever karate meant in the past is completely lost to the sands of time.
This is not a secret in the karate world. This is only a secret to the new practitioner of karate. The new student assumes that the instructor knows what he is doing and is not merely handing down what is the equivalent of the illiterate monk blindly copying down letters, which he does not understand. The conventional wisdom is that one does not truly start to learn karate until they reach black belt. This means that one wastes years studying empty kata until the student knows whether or not their teacher has anything of substance to pass on. This phrase may be used to talk about the depth of karate, but to the layman it is a reason not to question their teachers until it is much too late. After years of following orders, bowing, and adhering to ritual a person has a psychological and financial investment in their instructors not being completely full of shit. They have literally spent thousands of dollars and built an ego out of practicing karate. If the dojo is wrong than they are a fool, so they will fight tooth and nail to protect their self image that they are not a fool, no matter what the evidence may suggest.
The few karate instructors who know how to effectively apply it as a fighting art, or even begin to apply it as a fighting art did so through their own study. They talked to experts in violence, did research, practiced and expanded their knowledge base to become better karateka. They did all of this to better understand an art, which they supposedly teach. How can you teach something if the lessons you pass on are from other martial arts? Why didn't you learn these lessons from karate itself? What exactly did you learn to become an instructor? These few people are a representation of the survivor bias. They are the few people who have managed to go through all of the empty karate hierarchy and come out on the other end and not be completely mentally compromised. The vast millions of people, who practice karate are no closer to understanding their karate than anyone else, because they assume that their teachers have the answers. Karate teachers have no answers that you cannot find on your own. In fact some of the most reputable karate teachers will withhold lessons, because they believe it is best if you learn them on your own. A Yogi Bera quote comes to mind “You have to be careful if you don't know where you're going, because you might not get there.” I wonder how many promising karateka have abandoned the art, because of lack of guidance or just lack of information.
Here's the question. If a good reputable karate teacher just lets you learn on your own, and no karate teacher can tell you the meaning of kata, and no one knows the true meaning of kata than why should anyone pay for karate lessons?
The vast majority of karate schools practice and teach kata during class time. A person comes to class does warm ups and basics and then practices the kata. They punch and kick air. They practice kata in the air. They might do strength and conditioning exercises through calisthenics or what amounts to lifting weights and they may practice scripted drills. What is the difference between punching and kicking air at home and punching and kicking air in the dojo? What is the difference between practicing kata at home and practicing kata in the dojo? Absolutely nothing. A karate teacher may correct posture and kata position, but if the student doesn't practice, concentrate and pay attention to this on their own than no amount of correction will do any good.
All the work, practice and study is still squarely the responsibility of the student. The instructors only real capacity in teaching is being a repository for the patterns of kata, which they dole out little by little once you've reached the required time markers or familiarity with other kata patterns. This at first blush would seem like a legitimate reason to stay at a karate school. This however is not the only way to practice karate. Historically for most of karate's history at least until before the reformation. A person only studied one kata at a time and was expected to study it for three to five years before moving on to another kata. A person might only know five kata at the most. Two or three was more common. It was expected that you would have a very deep understanding of a single kata, because a single kata is the basis for an entire fighting system. It is a primer for unarmed fighting, which are the essential body mechanics used to create efficient and brutal kinetic energy. A fancy way of saying breaking a person.
Kata were guarded secrets. A single kata was a treasure that was only taught to people who you trusted, and aspects may have been changed if you had to reveal it to those who you didn't trust. This was a single kata, where as in today's tradition one can learn up to 20 kata in a single system. One can learn ten kata in the first year of study and spend the rest of their time practicing kata in rank and file up and down the dojo floor until they get their black belt. Kata are no longer a guarded secret. They are open to everyone, but the classical style of a single kata practice has fallen out of favor, mostly because by the time you are interested enough in karate to learn that others practiced in a different way you are fully indoctrinated into the conventional paradigm of training. We might also ask ourselves that if it historically took three to five years to competently learn a single kata, not to master one, wouldn't that mean it is only possible to become only competent in karate after nearly 60 or more years of study? Even if it only took ten years to become competent, its a terrible system of teaching. It takes less time to become a medical doctor.
One might be asking themselves about the role of self defense. Self defense is an often espoused perk of learning karate. There is a difference however between self defense and martial arts. According to Rory Miller, an expert in the subject, self defense is more about teaching people not to be singled out as prey than teaching people how to fight. To use my own analogy, it is the same idea behind a bicycle lock. There is no bicycle lock, which is thief proof. Cyclists in big cities know this very well, so the strategy behind not getting your bike stolen is to make it harder to steal than the bike next to yours. Criminals will go for the easier prey. If your bike looks like more trouble to get than the bike next to it than they'll choose the bike next to it. Predatory violence is much the same. It's about being a harder target than the person next to you. This has more to do with being aware of your surroundings, body language, avoiding venues where people get their mind altered and not being an idiot. Fighting has very little to do with it. Besides this there is a threshold where people are able to access their skills. Rory Miller puts this at close to 20 or more unarmed incidents. Considering that one is not supposed to engage in violent conflict if they are a good karateka than this is beyond the scope of the hobbyist, and unless you are a force professional you are a hobbyist.
This essentially means that to be a fighter and have the access to your skills you need to get into a bunch of stupid and dangerous situations. You need to have the luck and instinct to survive these encounters. You also need to have sufficient skills to access when you finally cross this threshold. This is a bad idea, and is the exact opposite of good self defense skills.
Karate is a martial art, or as some phrase it a civil defense art, because it was not meant for war. It is essentially studying the combative tradition of 19th century Okinawa and the Old Ryukyu kingdom.
A good karate instructor is practically an anomaly. Many who teach karate are unethical, immoral, ignorant and closed minded. They are happy to take your money and design their teaching to be over complicated and cloudy, so you have to keep coming back. They tailor training to meet the expectations of the consumer, the students, so that it resembles their ideas of combat. Ideas learned from television, movies and professional sporting matches. It has more to do with the aesthetics of a foreign culture than internalizing and studying a fighting art.
There is an alternative to the modern tradition of karate training. This is the individual study of a single kata. Kata are freely available. People film them on social media, they are handed out like candy in dojo and there are books filled with pages and pages of kata in local libraries. The study of a single kata requires no money, no dojo fees, no uniform, and no testing. It is built completely on your willingness to learn and study. One will have to put in the work themselves anyway if they go to a dojo, except they will pay for the privilege. A karate teacher cannot tell you anymore about kata than what you can learn on your own from a few books and constant and dedicated practice.
The only difference between the independent study of a single kata and dojo practice is a belt. The independent practitioner does not have one, but since belts are supposed to be unimportant, this does not matter. The practice of a single kata gives a person all the advantages of practicing traditional karate, but without monetary cost, or searching for a legitimate dojo.
Studying karate is a physically and mentally fulfilling study. Practicing a single kata makes karate a personal journey to the heart of a individualized understanding of karate. It is a democratic study, which is open freely to everyone, and it won't take you decades to become competent. Just a few years.
The nature of a single kata practice requires that it be structured differently for training. One would think that there wouldn't be that much difference between practicing one kata and practicing many. The very core of the practice is the study of kata, but by changing the number of kata studied at one time one drastically changes the type of training one can do. One cannot engage in the traditionally taught technique-based training method. This is where we practice the kata and after a sufficient amount of time we begin to extract specific techniques and technique variations from the kata to practice in scripted or semi-scripted drills. Unlike other martial arts, which contain a fixed list of techniques, karate kata do not have a verifiable list of techniques from which to draw. Some would argue that each kata is merely a memory-aide list of simple defensive techniques, so this is our list. The problem with this theory is that there are so many viable technique variations within each kata. I have never once seen two people with exactly the same application of a kata movement, unless they practiced at the same dojo. This becomes a paradox. The widely held and correct belief that “there is no one viable interpretation of each kata movement” is a contradiction for technique-based training. If a kata movement can be multiple techniques, it is not one technique. If it is one technique, it can't be multiple techniques. This logically means that a kata movement is not a technique at all. This can be shown in two ways: the practicality of trying to extrapolate technique and the practicality of practicing individual technique variations from kata.
Technique is not the smallest component of karate kata. It is the smallest part of the theoretical side, which includes technique, tactics and strategy, but it is not part of the nuts and bolts of kata. These are context driven considerations, which are dynamic and change from situation to situation. The humble punch for example is a single type of technique. It is a strike. Simple, yes? But, the straight, the hook and the upper cut each use different body mechanics to produce force. The straight uses gravity and a step, the hook is the rotational torque of the body, and the uppercut uses the upward driving force of the legs. One of these punches does not show the body mechanics of the other. They only share a striking surface. When you can use the straight, hook or uppercut are also different considerations, which change due to situation. It is hard to extrapolate technique, but it is easy to extrapolate body mechanics. The body mechanics of a straight, a hook and an uppercut can also be used to lever someone off their feet. This is also dependent on body position and context, but the same movements are used. If I put a foot behind someone's leg and push them over it, that's a straight. If I grab onto someone's chin and hair and twist that's rotational torque,a hook. If I drive upward at someone's shoulders and push them over a curb, I'm driving with my legs, an uppercut. None of these examples involve striking, but the body mechanics are the same. Mechanics can be applied to produce an infinity of technique.
The practicality of trying to pull out individual technique variations, or rather the impracticality of trying to practice each technique variation even of a single kata, is that there are so many different technique variations for each movement. For a single kata movement there can easily be 10 different technique variations or more. Strikes, locks, take downs, gouges and chokes, not to mention limb clearing, or moving and manipulating a body. These change based on position of yourself and the position of your opponent. This doesn't cover all the possible actions of the opponent as well. To use my own kata as an example, there are 13 distinct movement patterns. If there are 10 technique variations for each movement, and I want to practice all the different permutations in a flow drill or even in my head there are hundreds of billions of permutations. For a set of 13 there are over 6 billion ways to put these 13 movements in order. Even if I try and simplify the process by narrowing my practice down to how each of these different variations could be a simple attack and counter attack drill, I run into similar problems. Even with 10 variations of each movement taken two at a time there are tens of thousands of permutations. Imagine having to memorize this many flashcards. Keep in mind this is only one kata. Once we get into the billions of permutations it would take well over one hundred thousand years of continual practice to get through one repetition of each distinct flow drill. Each new technique discovered adds to this process. This is not a practical mode of study when it comes to kata. This problem also becomes more compounded when the more we practice. We find different and more creative ways to apply the kata, which mean more scenarios and continually adding to the list of techniques.
We can see that technique cannot be extrapolated and that memorizing techniques from an increasingly variable amount of applications is impractical. This means that kata is not technique. Kata has to be something smaller and more fundamental, which can be used to make an infinity of possibilities. This is something we see in nature all of the time. Protons, neutrons and electrons compose all of matter. Base pairs of DNA produce all life. We have followed this pattern artificially. Binary is the fundamental language of computers and it is merely 1's and 0's. Our alphabet is 26 letters, which is capable of spelling any phonetically spoken word. Kata is Japanese, but we don't use kanji we use our own alphabetic script. Every word that has been spoken and every word that will be spoken can be spelled in phonetic script. This is because the alphabet is a primer. It is the most fundamental component of our English language, which are phonemes used to create syllables. It is the foundation, which is built an ever more complex system of language. If we treated our alphabet like we treat many kata, as flow drills and scripted exercises to be memorized there would be over 403,291,461,126,605,635,584,000,000 permutations of these 26 letters. There are only a couple million English words in use today. We do not interpret the alphabet however, we apply it. It is a tool for the transmission of ideas from one person to another. Each individual letter is meaningless on it's own. It's the combined relationships between these letters and rules for application, which give a relatively small set of fixed sounds and squiggles their versatility and adaptability. Kata is the same.
Kata is a primer for an individual martial art. They are the fundamental body mechanics and movements, which take advantage of physics, anatomy and physiology, to have the greatest effect on an opponent possible with the smallest amount of effort. Instead of transmitting ideas, we are transmitting kinetic energy to do damage. It is not a list of techniques, but effective and efficient movement, which can be extrapolated and applied to produce a near infinity of techniques. It is a system and a system is greater than the sum total of its parts, because it's the connections between the parts, which are important, not the individual parts themselves.
The Nature of Kata
Our English alphabet gives a very convenient parallel to using kata as a primer. It is highly abstract and requires cognition (thought), but once it is learned is fast, frugal, efficient and highly versatile. It works by ingraining a series of cognitive processes to the point that they are instantaneous and effortless. If you are reading this now, you are using a host of mental machinery that is operating below the conscious level which is not directly observable. Letters are associated with one another based on sound, meaning and syntax to produce syllables, syllables are combined to produce words, words are interpreted based on their context and placement in a sentence and sentences transmit larger ideas and concepts. This is done below the conscious mental level after some practice, but it is all built on the bedrock foundation of 26 letters. The letters do not change only the context changes. We do not memorize all the words and then pull from a mental list, we employ a rule, which we use to make associations. A single kata practice is built on this same type of mental process.
Physics, anatomy and physiology lead to body mechanics, body mechanics lead to movement, movement leads to function, function leads to application, application leads to technique, technique leads to tactics and tactics leads to strategy. Each level effects all the rest and misunderstanding one level leads to a misunderstanding of all the levels that come afterwards. None of the levels are exclusive to one another because they all work together and effect each other. The type of situation will effect your strategy. Strategy effects tactics, tactics effects techniques and techniques effect movement. This is the same as how expanding your vocabulary and language skills changes the way you write and communicate. The most base element of this entire process is your kata. The fundamental movements, which need to be ingrained first and hard to allow us to build a strong starting structure, which can support the rest of the process.
This means we will not be memorizing a list of techniques and specific scenarios for their use. As shown above there are too many different ways to apply a movement as a specific technique to memorize them all. The only things we will be memorizing and internalizing are the body mechanics of our kata, their functions and the rules for applying these functions. This is a principle based training method. It also means that what is important is not the individual isolated movements, techniques, tactics or strategies, but the connections between them. Understanding the connections between these is what's important. If we understand that a letter is a letter, but don't understand how it becomes a word than knowing the letters means little. It's the connections between shape, structure, function and the abstract meanings they represent, which are important. This means internalizing and studying the connection between these different principles.
Individual and Creative Nature
The abstract nature of a single kata practice puts the focus on the mental processes as well as the physical. They go hand and hand. The physical without the mental is dance and the mental without the physical is just thought. We want both of them combined. Regardless of the physical skill learned there is always some cognition in the beginning. Aspects, which must be mentally attended to in the beginning, which are no longer attended to past their internalization. Repetition and scripted drills can work for things that have a one to one ratio of meaning, but kata movements do not have a one to one ratio of application. The meaning changes with the context of the situation.
I am not you, you are not me. Body type, size, temperament and personality can have as much impact on the application of a kata as an opponent. The meaning of each movement is individual because of these factors. They are individual to you and only to you. This requires more mental work than is usually expected of in other martial paths. It requires not only that we build our bodies, but that we build our minds. We must think and be creative to unlock the secrets of kata for ourselves, because they will be different for each and every person. This makes kata a wonderful tool if you're up for the challenge. It is something that will be internally personalized beyond traditional style markers. We may practice the same kata, but my kata is mine and yours is yours. They will be different, because we are different.
The Goals of Study
The goal of this style of practice like other styles of martial arts practice is to make intent and action spring forth intuitively, instantly and effortlessly. We want to ingrain a set of martial movements, rules for application, techniques, tactics and strategies, which we can use in an emergency. We will do this by slowly and diligently attending to each aspect of the training process until all the required skills become second nature. A skilled fighter will know their own position, available weapons and techniques that can be performed from that position, the position of the opponent, open targets, the environment, appropriate tactics and strategies for the individual type of situation and survival goals. They will be acting on, adapting and responding to the opponent in a continuous and dynamic fashion, and almost all of this will be done below the conscious level in less than a second. It is a none observable process built on applying principles, knowledge, experience and conditioned responses. On the inside this entire process is taking place, but on the outside it merely looks like someone kicked the legs out from under a person and knelt on their neck. It will look like a predicted outcome, when the situation was actually instantly read like a book and acted on.
Mental Tools for Study
The physical and cognitive tools for violence require cognitive tools for study. Most of what is contained in this book are thought experiments and guided thinking problems and ideas for creative practice. We want to flex our problem solving muscles as much as our physical muscles. It is easy however to get trapped by certain modes of thinking. I will cover these again as they are relevant in each subsequent section, but I want to go over them now, so you can be thinking about them.
Ideas as Possessions
We should not think of ideas as possessions. The point of practicing a single kata in the manner that follows is so that we can change our minds if needed. We will grow, adapt and change over time, but this cannot happen if we get locked into certain ideas when it comes to practice. Our only concern should be improvement and getting better, and this involves acknowledging when we've made a mistake or a wrong turn. Does this mean don't think or have ideas? Not at all. The whole point of this mode of practice is training our brains as much as our bodies. It is important to have as many ideas and theories as possible, but it also means not getting attached to them. We want to put all of these ideas to the test, and this requires sacrificing our ego. We need to allow ourselves the room and opportunity to grow and this means allowing ourselves to be wrong. A single kata practice is not about your ego. It's not about your ideas. It's about getting better. Getting better means growth and growth can't be done in the dark.
The Confirmation Bias
The confirmation bias is our tendency to test and interpret things in such a way to prove our preconceived ideas about a subject. This means that we ignore proofs or signs that point in the opposite direction. This is an easy trap to fall into as a martial artist because we are mostly concerned with what “works.” We want to prove that our thoughts on application are correct, or prove that our chosen martial art is effective, so we look for all the instances where our ideas are shown to be correct, while ignoring any evidence, which might prove it to be false.
This is an easy trap to fall into when one starts to apply their kata movements. We look for applications that work and we find them, but we find too many applications that work. This is like having a math problem where you find five answers when you were supposed to find one. These confirmatory results soon become noise.
In scientific research, one designs an experiment in such a way that it will prove the hypothesis wrong. This is the same type of thinking that we need to adopt when examining and studying each aspect of our kata, from movement to strategy. There are no definite right and wrong answers when it comes to kata, there are only what works and what doesn't work. There are so many ways that a kata movement can be applied that it does us more good to discover how a movement consistently doesn't work. This usually has to do with the function of body mechanics and force vectors rather than specific contextual scenarios. An example is that certain movements will work if they follow a certain force vector, but will fall apart along any other force vector. For ease of the example imagine a compass. North, south, east and west. A particular kata movement may work wonderfully for all applications in the northern direction, but will fall apart in any other direction. This is an important result, because knowing how not to use a movement is a shorter list than all the ways a movement can work. Another example would be if we were testing the penetrating power of a bullet. If we only test a bullet's performance by shooting through different types of tissue paper than it will appear that the bullet can go through anything. Conversely if we only shoot at thick plates of tempered steel than it might not penetrate at all and we'd have learned just as little. We want to find the very edge of its capabilities, so we should fire through an ever increasing range of materials from tissue paper to steel to find that edge. Kata movements are the same. A movement may have a million different successful applications in one avenue, but fail in all others. The function of the movement will be that avenue, not the millions of applications. Search for the negative results. There is a strength and weakness to everything in kata. Find the edges.
Attention to Detail
This is a critical skill, but the details you will attend to across your lifetime of practice will change. This is a continual mental examination of everything you are doing during practice. At the beginning this is body mechanics, how you are moving. At the end you will be examining strategy and everything else will be automatic. This is a continual process without any set destination.
This type of training requires an ability to delay gratification. You will “not get it” until you “get it.” It's a yes or no question until you reach the higher concepts of technique, tactics, and strategy. This is very, very similar to the process in which you learned to read and write. You can either read or you can't. You can sometimes get by with guessing, where you have the outer appearance of reading, but looking at squiggles and guessing correctly that it represents a word is very different from looking at a group of letters and reading them. Even someone who technically can read, who can't put it into practice in the different contexts in which we encounter them on a day to day basis is considered illiterate. Reading is not merely recognizing a list of words. It is receiving a transmission of ideas. A single kata practice involves applying principles in a dynamic situation. It is not regurgitating memorized scenarios.
This is an important concept for a single kata practice and for life. It is the idea or strategy of only looking for how we can directly effect a situation or environment. In the case of karate, we will develop our skills in such a way that they do not require a specific response from the opponent. What they want shouldn't factor into the equation, they're the bad guy. They don't get what they want. They definitely don't get a “turn.”
Environment for Creative Play
Repetitive drills are boring. Drilling for the sake of drilling is not only a waste of time, but it puts practice in the wrong context. Training should be fun. All aspects of training should be fun. There is a certain amount of training that needs to be done to internalize the pattern of a kata, to free up the mental working space to move on to other aspects of the kata, but this is a very small part of your lifetime of study. You should strive to create a training environment for yourself that encourages experimentation, creativity and play. This is an internal process as much as an external one and we are not playing a matching game. This is not a memory game, paint by numbers or Rock Paper Scissors. This is art, and your art, so there needs to be a fair degree of freedom involved in the practice. Your kata should fundamentally stay the same, but how you choose to practice and the ways in which you study it can vary greatly. The kata is only worth as much as your understanding of its application, so anything that has the potential to increase this understanding and doesn't damage you or others is beneficial. Even if you just learn that certain exercises or training routines are wastes of time. Part of this involves “increasing exposure to opportunity.” The individual nature of karate kata means that I can't hand you a list to check off and by the end you will understand your kata. It doesn't work that way. Every aspect of our entire lives has changed our judgment and perceptions. What's clear to me may not be clear to you, so it's important that you experiment, play and study as much as possible to form your own ideas. You never know what will make things click in your head. Carpentry, personal finance and a love of letters has probably done more to influence my understanding of my own kata than anything else. Don't limit yourself.
Philosophy of Training
Practicing a single kata is not like practicing at a conventional dojo. In the traditional dojo, one is not expected to start examining the nature of their karate until after decades of dedicated study. This process starts immediately after memorizing the pattern with a single kata practice. There is no destination with a single kata practice. There is only the process of study. No belts, no ranks, no hierarchy, no ultimate techniques, no seminars. It is almost a purely internal journey with none of the external markers, which we associate with a successful martial arts practice. Your kata will look wonderful, but it will hide a dense network of conditioning, knowledge and applied principles, which cannot be seen. While this type of study is directed toward the practical application of skill, it will have more in common with zazen, or sitting meditation. It will be Zen in motion first, not because this is the goal, but because they share a common practice. Constant wholehearted attention to the present moment. There is no halfway in this type of karate practice. You are focused and training, or you are daydreaming and dancing. This doesn't mean that you are being serious, rigid and/ or strict. It only means that your brain is where it should be. It shouldn't be checking the clock, thinking about dinner, or wondering what new shows are on Netflix. This is not training. The process of study is the point and this process is never ending. It is a lifelong practice. This changes the tone of training. It is mushotoku, practice without the thought of gain or profit. If you are thinking about what you will get from practice, the perks, the techniques, the skill than you are not focused on your training. You are focused on illusions. The external and superficial aspects of training.
“You can eat whatever you want because you're healthy.”
“No, I'm healthy because I don't eat whatever I want.”
The same is true of our karate practice.
A Note on Kata
A single kata practice is the application of principles. It is building a tool out of our bodies and then studying the application of this tool. It is not a list, a scenario and it is not predictive. It is a preparative model of training meaning that we will not assume to predict what a living breathing and thinking person might do, so we will train ourselves to act accordingly to a situation by learning to read the situation and developing appropriate and adaptable tools. Kata cannot predict what a person will do. It makes a nice little story to demonstrate to people, but this is impossible. We are not automatons. Stating that a kata plans for the failure of your technique and responds to a specific counter attack of the opponent is putting forth the idea that a fixed set of movements can accurately and consistently predict what a thinking human being will do. It also means that a mindless pattern will be thinking for you. A kata does not have a brain. It's what you're there for, your brain. It's your most powerful weapon. Use it.
Kata is very much like a stone, which we cut and polish, until it becomes a beautiful jewel. The jewel however is only the outward and superficial representation of the skill, which produced it. What is important is the skill we learn along the way, not the rock.
Beginning and End
There is a dichotomy in the practice of a single kata in that it can represent both the beginning and the end of training, the purpose and the goal. Karate is for physical violence, a set of brutally efficient body mechanics for defense of one's person. Building this skill is the purpose of training, but it does not mean it will be used in this fashion. The best case scenario is you'll never have to defend yourself in a serious conflict. What we are then left with is practice, and it is a continual practice without destination. The thought of mastery is an absurd notion. Not because we cannot master kata, but because doing so is a meaningless goal. It is like mastering how to breath. Will you stop breathing because you have mastered it? Kata is a continual process of study, practice and refinement of skill. It is the beginning and the end.
To paraphrase Taisen Deshimaru:
For how many years must one practice kata?
Until you die.
What is Movement?
Movement is not the wiggling of our toe, or the minute details of how you hold your fingers. Movements are the larger pattern sequences of the kata, which are either divided into repetitive sets, or divided into longer chained sequences. For example, Naihanchi is a chained sequence. Movements are demonstrated in reference to how they relate to each other, but not themselves. My own kata Seisan has repetitive sets, which demonstrates how a movement relates to itself, but not the other movements. A movement is not the complete set, but the individual pattern of motion, which is repeated. From here on out, when I use the word movement, this is what I mean.
The movements in kata are our foundation. They will comprise the very basis for everything that will come after. The kata is our primer for physical conflict. Each movement is not a technique, it is a means to apply a technique. They represent how to efficiently produce kinetic energy using body mechanics. It is an expression of human capability. This gives us a greater tool than just specific technique. It gives us the fundamental basics for fighting without the need for memorizing specific scenario based techniques, variations, or specific responses of the opponent. It allows a way to make fighting as quick, intuitive and instinctual as speaking or writing. Remember writing is an effective and efficient means for delivering ideas and it all comes from 26 letters. Because of this we need a very firm and intimate knowledge of our kata. How familiar we are with it will effect our ability to apply kata, learn new techniques, internalize principles, and all other aspects of our practice.
Learn to Move
In a very simple sense, we are merely learning how to move when we practice kata. In the beginning, we conform ourselves to the kata. The kata is this thing. Awkward shapes and steps. Strange seemingly convoluted limb movements and confusion. It feels as if we are shaping the kata, perfecting the kata, but we are not, we are shaping ourselves. We tell our body and brain this is important by giving our full attention to the process. Our muscles and tendons adapt to the movement and our brain encodes the pattern. We practice the kata to ingrain the kata, but after a certain point we are no longer practicing a form, we are practicing something else. The kata is at first a script, then a model for action, and finally merely movement.
The first step in study is to become as familiar with your kata as possible. This means practicing outside the pattern of performance. Life does not happen according to a script. The kata is not a script. It is linear only because time moves forward. One movement must come after the other. Application will not follow this pattern. The pattern is only a means for transmission. Only practicing the pattern of kata will mean you only know the kata as a fixed list. You must move beyond this to build the required fundamental skills.
Recognition and speed of transition between movements are the key skills that need to be developed to successfully apply the movements. This is not speed of limb, but speed of cognition. Knowing the position of your body and what weapons you can immediately use from that position is the goal. This means knowing each movement and how to transition between any of the movements, fast, efficiently and without mental effort. It also means becoming continually aware of your entire body. It's very easy to recognize how adjacent sections relate to one another, but it's much harder to perceive how one movement at the beginning of the kata can relate to a movement at the end of a kata. The brief span of time between the two movements acts as a barrier to studying their relationship. Too much happens in between for our mind to make the connection. Studying the kata in this manner makes us aware of how different movements can work together or in conjunction with each other to the benefit of the whole. Intimate knowledge of each movement will also be crucial in recognizing possible applications later on in our study.
This means practice. Weapon arts teach a person to become familiar with their tools. The weapon must be a part of themselves. In the unarmed fighting arts, our body is our weapon, built from kata. We move every day. We use our body casually for the mundane and the stressful alike, and we have learned not to attend to it. We must relearn how to attend to it. Learning to become familiar with our kata means learning to become familiar with ourselves.
What follows is a guideline for your kata practice. We have spoken about why it is important, but this is how you go about practicing to get results. It is not fixed or concrete, and one is allowed to be creative and add any exercise or practice that they feel is beneficial.
Kata is Yes or No
The meaning of a movement is abstract. It does not exist in physical form. It is an idea. A principle for application. The movements on the other hand are concrete. They are not conceptual, and they are either known or they are not. The ability to apply the movements in the kata rests firmly on the ability to execute any kata movement in any order at will without conscious thought. The body mechanics must be the most fiercely absorbed aspect of your karate. This is something you can do, or you cannot do. Kind of, sort of, when no one is looking, know the kata is not acceptable. It is about as useful as kind of, sort of, when no one is looking, knowing the alphabet. It is the same principle. If you do not know the movements down to your bones than the rest of the process will be a confusing guessing game, which you will not win. Luckily, the practice of one kata gives us a limited number of highly versatile and functional actions, which we can concentrate on.
Learning the initial pattern sequence of the kata is one of the only things you will do by rote memorization. The rest of this book promotes active, associative and meaningful learning. One cannot study a kata if they don't at least know the pattern of a kata. It will be boring. This cannot really be avoided. There's not much fun in trying to memorize convoluted and confusing limb movements, which are coordinated with parts of the body you didn't realize could move together. One must be diligent and practice. Once you have become comfortable with the pattern and can perform it on command, without pausing to think about what will come next, the real practice begins.
Slow is Smooth, Smooth is Fast
During the initial practice and beyond, it is important to go slow. As slow as you can without tensing or losing your balance. You must stay relaxed and move slowly coordinating action with breath. Breath normally and move to the rhythm of your respirations. You will speed up in time as you become more comfortable with your karate and speed can have pitfalls. Speed makes you sloppy, makes it hard to pay attention and gives a false sense of strength. We want to move correctly and moving correctly means moving deliberately. Become aware of how your feet, knees, hips, torso, shoulders, arms and hands work together and work in concert to facilitate a movement. Focus on each tiny aspect of a movement at a time and strive for slow steady perfection. The more work we spend on this portion the better we will know our kata, the better we will know ourselves. Like any learned skill, we will eventually not need to think about the moves, we will just move.
The goal at this level is to become as comfortable and acquainted with all the movements in all their configurations as possible. The pattern by itself is mostly worthless. This is not exercise where one can mindlessly churn out push ups and see results. It is having confidence in your body and attention to detail. Any type of practice that isn't destructive to yourself or others that helps you toward this goal is good practice. Be creative. Practice needs to be fun. If it isn't fun, you won't do it. Every master of anything has been a master because they enjoyed the activity. It was fun.
Practice the kata in as many places as you can. In your kitchen, in your bathroom, in your hallway, outside, on hills, on uneven terrain, in the dark. This will change your stances, but the function of stances is not always in their exact depth or width. There is room for adaptability.
Practice your kata stationary. Shifting your weight back and forth changing your orientation with each movement can allow you to do this. Practice it in zigzags, or while negotiating furniture.
It is important that we know each movement outside of the pattern of the kata. Time must be taken during each practice session to spend a little time honing each movement. When we practice a kata in its entirety we only spend a few moments performing each movement and then we are onto the next and our attention shifts. This is not enough time to really know a movement. We keep our attention to detail, and our slow, smooth, steady movement, but the repetition will allow us to disassociate from the process a little bit if we concentrate. This will allow us to focus on the larger mechanics of the movement as we become comfortable with the finer details. The larger mechanics are more important. Where our weight is going, where our center of gravity is during any moment, how to shift slightly as we move over uneven ground or terrain and how our body works together.
Learning to shift between each movement at will is something else we must practice. It can help to pick two or three movements to link, which are not adjacent to each other in the pattern. It may not follow the same lines of performance as the kata, but we will need to learn to move with the winds of change and adapt. We will move how we need to move, so we must learn how each movement can feed into the another. Practice moving between two movements. Keep the same pace. Go slow, stay smooth, pay attention. Do not reset, prepare or get ready. You must know how to move immediately and efficiently from one movement to the other. Practice how you can achieve this.
You may notice that basics or kihon is not included. This is because with the practice of a single kata they are not needed. There can be benefit in practicing the individual stances in a static fashion to increase your comfort with them, but this is of limited value. Application involves movement, continually shifting from one position of strength to another and this doesn't involve taking a stance and sitting in it for an extended period of time. Your stances will get better as you practice the kata.
Studying the kata is really about playing with the kata. One needs to experiment with it creatively and discover.
Fighting is about making decisions. Some of these should be below the conscious level and others should not. How you need to move should be below the conscious level. Knowing how to do this still takes active thought in the beginning, but it needs to be quick and get quicker with time. Pick a movement to work on and then transition to another when it seems appropriate then switch back to the first then switch to another, and keep moving. Change direction, change orientation and move freely through each part of the kata at random and repeat portions at random. Transition to the first movement that pops into your head. Move as quickly as feels natural, but don't get sloppy. Your actions must be deliberate if not precise. Music can help. This seems to be taboo in the traditional karate world, and it can be distracting, but it can also be distracting just enough to keep you from thinking about what's for dinner, work, or what's on television and keep you focused on practice.
We've not gone over any type of application, technique, tactics or strategy, but you should take a little bit of time out during each practice session to fight an imaginary opponent. You are close enough to hug, chest to chest. You can smell what they had for lunch and you need to take them out. Move like a whirlwind. Your arms, legs, feet and hands are swords, lasers, hammers, destroying anything they touch. Don't worry about precision, don't worry about perfection, don't worry about strict adherence to the movements. Move, fight, play. What you do and how you think of fighting, application and technique will probably be wrong, very wrong, but this is okay. This is to work the cognitive part of your brain that will apply the kata. Similar to inventive spelling in elementary school. Sure, the words are spelled wrong, but that's not the point. The point is to start drawing your attention to the movements and what they might be able to do. Put yourself in bad situations where you are losing. Fight your way out, escape. Have fun.
Note on safety
Practice should have a positive influence on your life. Too many times have I seen or heard someone brag of their intense and harsh training only to see another person lament the destruction of their body through same said training. Practice should never be detrimental to your health. There's not much point trying to learn a martial art if you're going to destroy your body on your own. Keep in mind that many training practices of the traditional martial arts were created when we did not have as much intimate and detailed knowledge of human anatomy and physiology. Shortened life expectancy may have also hidden any crippling effects of harsh training. People may just not have lived long enough to see the harmful consequences. Train diligently, but be safe, smart and cautious.
Kata practice becomes a zen exercise before it becomes a vehicle for fighting skill. It is a side effect of training. Kata is meant to ingrain in you and then preserve the fundamental mechanics of a fighting art. If it were strictly for Zen, we could as easily practice zazen, or seated meditation and save ourselves the sweating. It however has the same flavor as zazen, because it is a simple repetitive act, which requires our full and undivided attention. This starts when we learn the pattern and continues on through practice. Seated meditation is merely giving your full attention to your breathing and your posture. With kata, we must give our full attention to it in the same way from the first practice to the last practice. Posture, movement, breathing, flow and balance. The kata is the moon eternal casting its reflection on the water of a river. We, in the present practicing, are the reflection on the water. The water, time, slipping by moment by moment. Different water, different time, different understanding, but the kata remains the same.
Ease of recognition and transition between movements is the goal of early training. We must recognize a movement by feel as well as sight, and we must know how to move freely between all parts of the kata. This is our foundation, but all parts of the process are important. They are not exclusive from one another. They must be studied independently and together, because each level effects all the other levels.
Concrete and Abstract
This is the first abstract and the last completely concrete level of practice. The other levels are completely dynamic and based on the context of the situation. This level has a definite concrete aspect to it because it is about examining the strengths and weaknesses of our movements, but it is a very abstract idea because it is not how we are used to thinking of kata movements. We are used to thinking of them as being responses and actions to deal with specific attacks. In a single kata as stated before, we cannot conform or reasonably use this type of limited thinking. A kata movement is a tool from the start to the very end. A fluid weapon made from our body. Just as arbitrary letters embody a sound, a kata movement embodies a principle of movement, which is only defined by what it can and can't do, not what it is supposed to do. We must divorce ourselves from the thinking that any movement is more or less than what it is. It is movement. There are no attached definitions to it. There is only the skill of application, which is divorced from function. Each movement is meant to achieve an end, that end is the application of kinetic energy. Your position, the other person's position and the environment will dictate how you use a movement more than anything you memorize. The application is continually dynamic and changing from moment to moment. The actual movement or the principle of the movement does not change. A simple example: punching someone in the stomach, and punching someone in the kidney from behind. The movement is exactly the same. It is only the context, which is different. Knowing that you can punch someone and where is a better tool than memorizing a scenario of when to punch someone. It is applied movement, not memorized script. We must think of each isolated kata movement as a tool, a part of a greater weapon for hand to hand fighting.
There are no fixed applications in a single kata practice. One uses their creativity, their brain and their study to apply the kata. It is merely a tool we make with our bodies. Art is made with simple brushes and paints. Beautiful furniture made by simple hammers, saws and skill. It is the hand that wields them that makes the difference not the tools themselves. Function is the tool use of each movement and every good craftsman and artist knows their tools as well as they know their own art. Practicing and studying the function is building, shaping and sharpening those tools and getting to know them intimately, so one may apply them with merely the will of spirit.
Function is the heart of kata. It is what kata is all about. Teaching and training your body and your mind to be aware of itself and its functional capacity. Kata cannot teach you tactics, strategy or technique. These are things, which we learn from other sources. It's why I believe books like the Bubishi were cherished by many because it was a tactical and strategical manual for applying kata. Kata is just movement and movement does not have a brain. How we apply our kata will be different for everyone based on our size, temperament, our opponent and the environment. For lack of a better word, function is the next level of thinking in kata practice. It is the last concrete level, which is not contextual. Your body has fixed strengths and weaknesses. There are the vital points, which we all hear so much about, but there are strengths and weaknesses to every movement and every action inside the kata. The strength of one movement is the weakness of another and these overlap and compliment each other so they become strengths only. Function therefore is being aware of these strengths and weaknesses.
The body has a set amount of capacity. We have our mass and we have our skeletal structure and these two things are our two biggest weapons when it comes to functional movement. Our mass no matter how small we are is a reservoir for potential energy. It is weight we can put into motion to do damage. Imagine a bowling ball. In respect to a human body, it is very light, but dropping it on someone's foot would be very painful if not damaging. Our bodies are much heavier than a bowling ball. Force is created by the acceleration of mass. The smaller the mass the more you need to accelerate it to do the same amount of force as something larger. We can move our bodies much slower, because of our mass and achieve the same damage as dropping a bowling ball on someone. We use gravity and our body mechanics to increase the acceleration and deliver as much force into a person as possible. We use this force or kinetic energy to do work. This is moving a body, striking, locking, gouging, throwing and all the other applications of kinetic energy, which are used to power technique.
The efficiency of this energy is very much dependent on our structure, which is also a fixed amount. Our skeletal system is our structure. Like a suspension bridge, we must use our skeleton correctly to absorb, redirect or transmit as much energy as possible. Suspension bridges work through geometry and triangulation to focus the mass to its strongest points. Kata movement works along the same lines. Poor structure means weak energy transfer, which means weak technique.
This is something wholly apart from muscle or chemical energy. Muscles don't hurt, they can lend mass, which we can use, but relying on muscle means that anyone stronger than you will have the advantage. This means if you rely on muscle you are planning on only applying your karate to people who are weaker than yourself. Chances are if someone wants to attack you they are already stronger than you otherwise, they'd probably leave you alone.
Each movement in a kata has strong and weak points because our bodies only work in a few limited ways. The joints only bend certain ways. Bones align in certain ways to take or give force and we only have so much mass to our disposal. We need a variety of ways to use our mass and structure, which is why there are a variety, but fixed set of movements in each kata. In a simple kata, let's say that we have a forward function, a turning function, a left function and a right function. This means we have ways to generate force in these four avenues. These work as a set. The strength of one is the weakness of another. By knowing the strength and weakness of each function we know when we can or can't use it. It is like a set of hand tools. The hammer can't cut. The saw is used to cut, but it can't hammer. You need a saw and a hammer to build things. You need both and you must know the strengths and weaknesses of each to apply them effectively. The functional aspects of movement in kata are the same.
The force vector is the direction, which a group of forces head. The nature of many kata movements means that their force is all generated in a similar way, but the way the limbs are used, the path they take and the shape they make cause different directions of force. The limbs transfer the energy. The force vector will the be the place where energy is applied the easiest and this can be anywhere in your sphere of influence. It's why it's important to experiment to find such avenues for each movement.
The strengths in kata are natural. The movements seem awkward and unnatural at the beginning only because we have not practiced them, but the strengths of the movements are strengths that we encounter every day in our waking world. We have learned not to attend to them, or they are so natural to us that we just don't think about them. We have no real need to examine them, but they are there. When we were small we ran, jumped and climbed on playgrounds. We scrambled up these metal structures in ways that they were not designed by using the natural strong points of our anatomy and physiology. Whatever was the easiest way to get up the slide was how we got up the slide. We do the same thing as adults when we move furniture, walk or negotiate a parking lot full of puddles. We don't move, so that it's hard, we move in a way that's easy.
As adults we have somewhat trained ourselves to move badly through exercise. Many types of exercise especially for aesthetics teaches us how to stress our muscles effectively, but is poor movement. It is the poorest application of strength on purpose to stress our muscles. Look at how a power lifter lifts and a bodybuilder. The strength, which we want to apply with our kata is easy. It will feel easy almost as if we are cheating, because we are taught with exercise that if it feels easy we aren't doing the exercise properly or we need to go harder. This is not the type of strength we are trying to apply. We are making our structure and mass work for us, so we do not need to apply muscle, or very little of it. Proper function of a movement will feel easy.
Finding the function of each movement is about finding the edges. It is a sliding scale between optimal and worthless. There are sweet spots in any movement where there is some play or wiggle room in how strong or weak it is. This goes for stances, the path of your limbs and the position of your limbs. To find the edges you need to stress your movements and postures in some way. Put weights in your hands and feel where you can rest in your posture while holding them. Use elastic bands or a post or wall to test your structure. Use someone else and try and move each other around a room to test your movements, but use your movements, use your patterns.
Tying it together
It's very easy once you begin to start playing around with the functional bits of kata to forget about the kata itself to forget about the movements. One needs to experiment with the movements and try and use them. They might fail or they might succeed, but one needs to use them to find out how this happens. This means active examination and analysis just like the previous level. We are still staying mindful of the movement, but we are not being mindful of the performance, so much as we are being mindful of where we feel strong or compromised, where our center of balance lies.
Pattern and Function
One must have internalized the pattern and the shape of the kata to enough of a degree that they have freed up enough brain space to be able to examine how your body is moving. This is not the how to move your body to conform to the kata, but examining what you are doing. It is difficult if not impossible to both examine how to use a movement and focus on how to perform each movement.
Function vs. Application
Function is not application. This is the difference between how you use a tool and what the tool is itself. This is where the fundamental difference between a single kata and a mulitple kata practice happens. Knowing and internalizing the functional use of body mechanics allows you to apply that movement in any way you chose. The use of movement is only limited by your imagination. There is no right or wrong there is only what works and what doesn't work. There is no wrong way to use a kata movement if it is effective. There can be a million and one different applications for a single kata movement, but that movement doesn't change. It stays the same. The ability for the movement to become so many different applications and techniques resides with its structural strengths. These applications succeed as opposed to those that fail, because the strength of the movement resides in this avenue of application. I wish there were simpler terms to put this in, but there are so many different kata movements and kata that one cannot list them all in any reasonable manner. Let's use a straight punch for example. The strength of it lies in the alignment of the arm bones, horizontal to the body. Its weakness is perpendicular to this alignment. Try holding a weight by extending your arm straight out from you. The natural strength of the arm does not come into play. The only thing keeping the weight up are your back muscles. Now hold the weight straight above your head. The alignment of your arm, your skeleton bears the brunt of the downward force and you use very little muscle. Your skeleton does the work. All kata movements have this same basic set up. A strength and a weakness.
Function and application cannot be completely divorced from one another. Application is all of the defensive, offensive, techniques, multiple level attacks and ballistic grinders that the movements can be, but these are only possible because of the structural and shape aspects of each of the movements. The original meaning or purpose of the kata movements if there ever was one becomes inconsequential because if you understand how you produce kinetic energy and take advantage of your body mechanics in each movement than you can apply it at will in an ever expanding variation of techniques and tactics, but because they are all married to a single movement each repetition of the movement despite its application burns the movement deeper and creates a connection in your head to that application. A pathway for accessing the information. The more you use the movement despite the application the stronger the connections get until you don't even have to think about the function of the movement you just see an opportunity to use the movement, so you move. Application is the different ways to use the movement and there is a system to this as well, but this has nothing to do with the function aspects of the movement. Each movement is a tool and to really know and understand a tool you need to know how you can abuse it in at least three different ways. Knowing how to abuse a tool means testing it to the limits and finding the very borders of its usefulness.
Confirmation Bias and Negative Results
It's important to test your movements in as many ways as you possibly can and test to see how they fail. Only testing in one avenue can leave you susceptible to the confirmation bias. We are looking for the edges of the structural integrity of each movement and how you can apply your mass. The negative results will be more telling than the positive results, because they will be hard. They will be a bear to try and force and these are where a movement is weak. In application, we need to know both the weakness and the strength of a movement in order to know how we can use it effectively or when it isn't working.
The kata represents a best cased scenario representation of movement. The best case scenario is something that we will rarely get. Movements have a range of orientation, which they work best. Stances don't need to be perfect. Your toes don't have to be just so, and the positions of your arms can vary. These are sweet spots where a movement can still work, still do something even if your alignment isn't perfect. They are adjustable to the situation. Find the sweet spots in your movements.
Karate is close range and this type of karate is done by touch rather than sight. It is one of the reasons why one must pay attention to the feeling of each movement. Our brain functions have propreoception, the ability to sense the position of one's own body in a space. Tiny hairs in our ears sense momentum and direction and our skin is covered in millions of sense receptors specifically for touch and pressure. We use the largest sense organ we have to our disposal, which is linked directly to our brains and more accurate than sight to fight. One may not be able to see what they're doing. We must be able to rely on touch as well as sight.
Stress the Movements
There is right and wrong way to do this. The whole idea of learning the functionality of a movement is to find where the natural points of strength and weakness are and this means stressing the movements. The strong avenues of use and application are those that feel easy. The weak avenues are those that feel hard or make you strain. You will feel pressure and the weight, but you won't have to contract any muscles that aren't natural stabilizers. Stress the movements to find the edges. As long as it doesn't damage you it's a good way to test each movement. The makiwara or other impact training devices can be very good for this because if you feel yourself collapse into the strike or push than you know it isn't structurally sound. You should not flex on impact. Your skeleton bears the brunt of the force. Weights and elastic bands can help you feel structure. Move between different actions and movements breaking them down bit by bit and seeing how you can apply pressure and force continuously. This goes back to transitions.
This is part of testing structure and stressing the movements, but it's a more specific exercise. You are basically leaning against a wall with the contact points, which you would use to strike or move a person. This is your hands, feet, elbows, forearms, knees and anything that might touch a person in the kata. Remember a person will be close enough to hug. What parts of the kata and at what angles and avenues can you lean up against a wall without using an abundance of muscular strength? Bounce against the wall and see where you collapse and where you're rigid. Collapsing means it will act as a shock absorber and inhibit the transfer of kinetic energy into someone else. You should not have to tense, contract or use muscle to hold these positions. Find this in every little part of your kata. Find where each little part is strong and where its weak. Play with this.
Feel Your Weight
During kata practice, break down the kata by movement and examine the path your limbs take and the direction your weight is going. Feel your inertia and momentum as you go through each movement. As before it is easier to examine each movement if you practice them individually. As before also pracgtice transitioning between movements and engaging in free play movement where you move between each pattern spontaneously and creatively keeping in mind to feel where your weight, momentum and inertia are at any given time. How can you move continuously in ever changing directions without stopping, resetting or prepping?
Kata as Work
The purpose of kata movement is to do work. It is the efficient and effective application of energy. It does not have a preconceived criteria for this. It is just movement, because it is used for work one should try and use the kata for work. This doesn't have to be an entire movement, but parts of a movement. Trying moving groceries, furniture or anything with different parts of a movement and feel if it makes it easier or harder.
The movement of kata is part of our daily lives. The same strengths we use to move around during the day are the same we use in the kata, except in the kata they are put to use for doing damage. Pay attention to how you are moving throughout the day and try and find similarities between it and your kata. The same principles of walking, which is a controlled fall, are the same principles employed in generating power for many kata movements. Pay attention to all of your movement.
This is the first of the partner practice. It is a free play exercise where each person slowly and softly tries to move the other person against their wishes and the other does the same. It is a dynamic way to experiment with using the kata and structure. Each of you is trying to find the structural weak points of the other person by applying your structural strengths and adapting to the others actions. It is not competitive. The more energy you give the more it can fly back in your face if you over commit, so go slow and smooth.
The Mindless Drill
During partner practice pick a movement. Use this movement repetitively without thought of repetition when you are within hugging distance and see what happens. Your partner is free to attack or defend however they like, or they can pick a movement as well. The point of this drill is to see what the movement can do on its own. Many times just going through the movement softly, but firmly will move you to a certain position or orientation naturally. This will not only give you ideas for use, but will also help to show how different movements might be applied.
All the same exercises from the previous section are still important, but one should also add thinking about the function of each movement. Kata should be practiced according to the pattern, outside of the pattern and any way else you may think to practice the kata.
Questions to meditate on while practicing kata.
What am I actually doing?
What is the force vector of my movement?
What feels strong?
What feels weak?
As in the section before play is important. Play is where the learning really takes place. One must practice the kata enough to be able to play with it. As before practice fighting imaginary opponents, practice the kata in unconventional ways and use your creativity.
Function is the meaning behind the movement.