Sensei Mae here!
How is everyone doing on the 21 day challenge?
I know in a lot of dojos, kata (also called forms) is looked on as irrelevant, weak, or a general waste of time. Some senseis just “aren’t kata people.” Sensei Glen and I respectfully disagree with those. Kata is so important to karate; we call it the lifeblood of karate.
Now it’s time for the Japanese word of the day! Kara, meaning “emptiness,” is the root of the word karate. And if you look at your right palm, you can see the Japanese kanji (or the Japanese writing) for “te” meaning hand. SO literally karate means the way of the empty hand. Now, what does this have to do with kata? Everything. Here are the top three things this tells you about martial arts:
- Practitioners of karate are said to be devoid of emotion. Hence, the emptiness. One cannot fight with anger. You must empty or clear your mind of emotions. Anger, regret, or sorrow get in the way and distract the mind from what is going on. Our muscles tense up when we become emotional, and we cannot block quickly when we are focused on our emotions.
- The hand is empty. This speaks to the lack of weapons in karate training. In our dojo we practice Shotokan Karate, and in that system there are no weapons. It is all “te” or hand techniques.
- The “kara” and “te” signifies that there is no first strike. As you may recall from previous posts, we are big fans of that concept. We do not start fights, but we can finish them. These are basic principles of karate, the way of the empty hand.
Kata helps to clear the mind. Personally I don’t care for yoga or “deep meditation sessions,” but I always enjoy kata. Kata focuses the mind and body. Executing the proper techniques, breathing, and timing are paramount to calming. There have been a few occasions at work when I have become furious with a situation and removed myself in order to do kata. My coworkers know not to bother me while I am outside doing my “crazy karate stuff,” and when I return I am calm and usually have a solution. Kata is a healthy outlet for frustration and stress. Even if I start kata frustrated, I always end calm. Starting from yoi or ready position I have already focused my breathing and cleared my emotions.
For those of you who know me personally, I am back at university, and this can be very stressful. To combat this, I have developed a habit where I always walk through a kata in my head before I begin a test. That way I am calm and confident. The simple act of visualizing kata can transform my mindset.
I encourage everyone to do kata regularly, and not just as a destressing mechanism but for many other reasons. My Hanchi always says that “kata is the essence of fighting” and is very important. Kata teaches you to be empty and to fight without distraction. That is how great fighters fight. When Bruce Lee fought, do you think he was worried about his hair looking just right for the cameras? I don’t think he even cared about that. He fought to defeat his opponent.
Kata is the lifeblood of karate. Not only does it embody the meaning of karate, it teaches us the moves we must know to defend ourselves. As we move up in rank, our katas become more intricate. The kata teaches us every move we need to know. From strikes to take downs to specialty moves, kata has everything. By recording kata into our muscle memory, we can live kata every day.
I would love to hear about your favorite kata! Please comment below or tweet me @Sensei Mae.