Friday, March 4, 2011

Kata: Best/Worst of Times

I try to do the kata flow drill every morning. Some days, it's as effortless as breathing. Other days, It.Just.Isn't. But I do it anyway - and most mornings, I enjoy it. Yesterday morning's kata flow ended on a high note - a "best of" time. Unfortunately, the day before was an absolute mess.

I admit that I don't always "see the opponent" when I'm doing the drill. The purpose of the flow drill is to NOT worry about cadence or tenacity and just do the form at one tempo without emphasis on the power/speed of any particular strike, kick or block. Trouble is that when it's time to present the kata in real time, I sometimes forget to put that cadence and tenacity back in there. Oops...

Lately, Tuesday nights have been dubbed "Thinking Nights" at my dojo. After we get our warmup sweat on, Sensei picks a kata or two for us to tear apart. Bunkai, strike/block placement and even little things like where your body needs to be in order to end where you started are discussed. There are always A-Ha! moments to be discovered. Next, we present a kata of our choice to the class - a formal presentation - just like we would before judges at a tournament.

Lately, I've tried hard to stay away from the katas we dissected when it's been my turn to present, because I know need a little time to practice and refine it lest the "other way" creep in. And lately, I've flubbed every single presentation. I'm talking forgetting opening moves, losing my balance, ending no where near where I began - the whole nine. I'm not sure if having the group critique after the presentation or if knowing that Sensei S and Sensei J are watching with the visual equivalent of a fine-tooth comb that's giving me performance anxiety, but clearly SOMETHING is. This week, I butchered Empi Ha, a kata I learned about three years ago as a second kyu. It was clearly a "worst of" time for me and my form.

Perhaps I'm taking the idea of emptying my cup - or emptying my mind, even - too literally. It's like the template that has all the instructions switches itself off right when I need it most. And no, I do not have this issue when I am competing. Still trying to figure out why the circuits get so log-jammed when I'm amongst friends but not when I'm doing the same thing in front of total strangers.

During my track and field days, I'd occasionally have the same issue. There were some days I couldn't get off the ground with anything resembling technique to save my life - especially if we jumped for height in the same way a competition progressed. My coach used to call it "Non-Performance Anxiety" - meaning that because I wasn't in uniform, wasn't jumping against a field of other competitors and didn't have the total adrenaline rush that always came on the day of a big competition, my mind knew it wasn't "real" and acted accordingly. To get over that, he'd sometimes have me practice in my uniform or go through my warm-up routine the same way I would on competition day. It helped. But there isn't really a karate equivalent for that - as I'm always in uniform (gi) and on any given day, either/both Sensei S and Sensei J could be my judges in competition.

I was talking it over with one of my training partners and I clearly recall saying that the walk from the wall where everyone sat to the center of the room to present the kata was like "going through hell." Her response? "Well, they say when you are going through hell, you should just keep going."

"'The best 'gains' are made when there is no flow. 'Ughs' help us refine and improve," another martial artist told me. "Keep on kata-ing."

Advice I plan on taking. I'm glad they offered :-)

Getting by with a little help from my friends...


  1. It's interesting but not surprising that you are more nervous in front of your dojo mates than in front of competition judges (even if the judge may be your own sensei occasionally). You want to impress with your kata performance whether it's in the dojo or in a competition but the latter feels slightly anonymous whereas the former feels personal and more intimate. If you cock up a kata in a competition you just lose the competition but if you cock it up in front of your friends it feels like more of a failure because you care what they think - it matters more. They matter more. The only way to perform your kata like you do in competition is to treat your dojo friends like anonymous strangers but you may lose more than you gain! Friendship is more important than perfect kata. Happy training!

  2. When you find the formless in the form...aha! Ughs take us there. Be well....:-)