Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Contemplating Kata

Yesterday, training partner Ed and I, along with one of our students traveled to a tourney in NYC. I dragged my gear bag along - complete with my "competition" sparring stuff - in case there actually were "executive" (read: old) female black belts there, but there wasn't a long line of 45-yr-old females waiting to jump in the ring, surprise, surprise.

What I did see, though, was an amazing karateka in the children's division. I'm not big on 10-yr-old black belts normally, but this young lady had the most amazing focus and technique. She was obviously not just going through the motions and looked like she had been training her whole life. The same could not be said for other competitors, though. There was one young green belt - perhaps 15 or so, I guess - who actually did Unsu, an advanced Shotokan kata. He was full of spirit and very loud kias, but although his stances weren't bad for a relative beginner, for Unsu, they were not that great at all. I guess there is a reason why it's an advanced kata.

With the exception of an 8-yr-old brown belt who was very much on pointe, most of the other underbelt kata I saw was filled with lots of stomping (?!), ear-piercing kias and not much else. Although they looked really menacing while they were killing bugs on the floor, I kept waiting for some semblance of kata.

Another trend yesterday was the screaming of the name/style/sensei/kata presentation speech to the judges. Not an "I'm full of karate spirit!" type of yell, but an edgier, barky, almost rude type. Some even yelled up close then screamed the name of the kata again shortly before they began. And to step the rudeness up even further, too many folks felt bound and determined to let the judges know that they disagreed with the point calls during kumite. I'm talking incredulous stare-downs, outlandish hand gestures and outright questions to the center judge about his ability to see. I'm not quite sure what to even say about that.

Just so we're clear, this isn't a slam on large tournaments at all - but rather a commentary on the competition mentality. Any karate pratctioner who has ever competed knows that kata in open tournmanets tends to be a bit more, well...dramatic...than usual. For example, there are probably a few more kias tossed in when judges are watching than there normally are. Game faces are in place and practitioners try their best to bring the heat. But shouldn't that be the goal of kata done in the training hall sans judges as well?

I'll admit that I sometimes put different effort in when I'm first learning a kata, when I'm working on a kata and when competing. In front of judges, there is no thinking about the kata - there's just doing. Things flow a little differently when I don't have to think about the next technique or where my body has to go next - because I've already done that thought during the training sessions. In the confines of a ring, it becomes almost etheral in a way that I don't always feel during training (except when I'm working Sanchin kata). Maybe that's because the learning process calls for starts and stops, bunkai examination and flat cadences, I dunno. But it seems odd that the rote "in the moment" kata appears for me most when I'm presenting it to folks I don't even know and who don't know me. Perhaps the goal should be to flip that script.

When I was watching that 10-yr-old do her thing in the ring, I got chills - and the distinct impression that she always does her kata the same way. As it sould be, I'm thinking...

I wanna be like her when I grow up, I really do :-)


  1. Thank you for this. Somehow your closing thoughts gave me a good corrective nudge/wake up. I love kata and my idea is also of doing kihon and kata 110% all the time, not only at the test/when someone's watching. But sometimes I'm not in my best shape during the class and then I'm just trying to survive through the class. Your thoughts made me re-think this; it's not acceptable. I should push myself all the time, even if on my weaker days that results in not as good performance; the idea is really to put in that 110% no matter what state I find myself in. Should probably use that mokuso meditation chance to place myself in the right state of mind... too bad it's so short time.

  2. I'm with you on the child-black belts. Though every now and again there is a kid who shows you just how hard he/she has worked to earn that sash. And it is a pleasure to see them train.