Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Clearing the Fog: Working Out of a Karate Rut

As a writer, sometimes the words just don't flow. You know it as writer's block and it is absolutely one of the most difficult and frustrating things any wordsmith encounters. It happens in some way, shape or form to every writer, I'm sure - and I've found that the only way out for me is to keep writing, as contra-indicated as that seems. When that big cloud of nothing moves in, I try to head it off at the pass by entering a poetry contest or submitting something to a new market - be it pet or tech-savvy publications (all are a little outside of my comfort zone). Hey - the worst that could happen is the editors or contest judges aren't feeling it and don't publish my piece; it's not like they can take my first-born or anything. And by the time the contest winners are announced or the publications have sent out the "Dear Contributer" emails, the fog has lifted and the words are usually flowing from my fingers again.

Ironically, I do the same thing in karate. When in a rut - be it a training stagnation or a post-competition or post-grading lull - I find things to concentrate on to get my mind out of the ditch, give my body a chance to rest or even to try something new, like small-circle Jiu Jitsu, Aikido or Krav Maga. What I've discovered, mostly via trial and error, is that a new goal or challenge helps me re-focus and approach my training from a different perspective, allowing the fog to get gone already.

Well, karateka's block has recently decended on my path. I'm in a karate rut and I'm planning on kata-ing myself out of it.

From my friends at Harlem Goju, I learned a beautiful Shotokan kata about six months ago that they require all of their shodan candidates to learn called Gankaku/Kankaku (it used to be refered to as "Chinto"). I learned it from Master Dave Thomas who, like me, is tall with long limbs. The kata translates to "crane on a rock" because the single-leg balance movements resemble what the majestic bird looks like when it is preparing to do its thing. Those movements, Master Dave said, would allow me to fully use both my arm and leg length in a way no other kata (of the 20 or so in my Goju repertoire) could.

Another great thing about the kata is from a purely competitive viewpoint: since Goju katas are not known for their high kicks (most of our kata kicks are below the obi; heck, one of my absolute favorite katas - Seiuchin - has no kicks in it at all!), competing with them at open tournaments (where practioners from Tae Kwon Do, Kung Fu and other styles are letting the spinning hook, high crescent and vertical roundhouse kicks fly) presents a bit of a challenge. Gankaku has a bevy of face-level side kicks and even a big tobi mae geri (jumping front kick) to boot :-) See for yourself:

The balance required is amazing and looks so effortless when I watch the kata. A bit of a different story when I'm doing it, but I'm flowing it everyday and oiling the sticking points. Polishing it in hopes of competing with it at the Diamond Valley Classic in November is actually helping me chip through my current karate block.

In karate, there is always something new to learn, tweek, refine or tighten. I can frustrate myself to distraction waiting for the fog to clear or I can move around and look for a way to MAKE it clear by learning something new, tweeking, refining and tightening things I already know.

I'm chosing the latter :-)


  1. Martial arts training is a lot like gravity. Once it gets hold of you, you may escape it for a while, but it will always pull you back.

  2. Wow! that kata looks great. Those side kicks from a crane stance look really difficult, not sure I have the balance for that! I love the crane stance though - it appears in a couple of our katas - rohai and nipaipo. I also love many of the goju katas too - seipai is one of my current kata. I think we are lucky in shito-ryu having kata from both the naha-te and shuri-te lineages. Good luck with your competition in November...

  3. Great post. I dont know of anyone who hasn't experienced "karateka-block". I, myself, had it hit me big after my last grading. Poured everything I had into training leading up to it and then once it was over, I missed 4 classes in a row.

    My blog helps, I think. Because even when the lull hits me in my training, I still enjoy thinking about the various aspects of karate and it energizes me more quickly when I can test out an idea on the mat that came to me as I wrote.