This week our Sensei was on fire for Kata. He was looking to light our kata fire as well. He asked us the question “what story does your kata tell?” Of course some of us answered we need to practice our kata more. The point of kata isn’t just to teach a form or sequence for dealing with danger. The point of a kata is to pass along a story about how an important confrontation was won in the past. We learn the outline of the story and do not go into the plot line fully for the whole story. We see down block left skipping to the next story sketch, learn its basic outline, and move on yet again, never getting the full flavor of the story. Instead of exploring all of the different ways we can use one kata, we move onto the next move or next kata in the belt progression without developing any competence about what we already have access to from the initial kata.
One of our Senseis who helped us prepare for our black belt test challenged us to fight using only the kata we knew. The fight had us calling out after the punch, kick or block the kata name that the move came from. It was hard at first and never became as easy as it should have been. I thought I knew my kata moves. What I learned is that I did not know my kata story.
Fundamentally we need to know the moves. What direction to turn, when to block and punch or kick and what type and how many. Without the direction and outline we do not have the foundation to tell our story. Practicing kata gives us the opportunity to learn how to demonstrate and express awareness, power and strength, softness, ferocity, and tranquility as we run through our basic moves. We set the foundation with learning the block, kick or punch and then put it to the moves. This alone does not bring the kata to life. It leaves the kata as mechanical and movement without purpose. Our katas provide us a forum for learning movement, self-defense, and self-expression. Practicing the principles of understanding body mechanics and application and giving that movement energy and life, will enable us to present a richer and more dynamic kata. Each of us has the same moves and will interpret the story differently depending on our background.
Any good story has a beginning, a climax and an ending. Once upon a time there was…fill in the story from there. Or “A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away….” the epic opening for the Star Wars films. As we perform the kata think about the introduction, the middle part (the battle) and then the climax (the big scream of hey we won!). Each kata has a sequence that when acted out by two or more will tell the story of the event in a way that practicing by yourself would not happen. This is called Bunkai, the application of kata or the process of analyzing kata and extracting fighting techniques from the movements. Sometimes these movements are hidden from us practitioners of kata until we begin to understand them and tell the story to others through our kata.
Our Sensei told us a story of a great warrior who returned to his Master and told the story of how hew slew 18 warriors and freed the village from tyranny. The Master asked the warrior to show him how this was done. The warrior was perplexed. He did not have the 18 men to show how he dispatched them and the village saved was not close by. He said to the master; let me demonstrate by breaking boards or bricks to demonstrate my skill. The master only replied that breaking was not the same. The Master then said it was not possible to demonstrate as anyone can get lucky and break a board or a brick. This great warrior was unable to demonstrate to his Master the skills. In kata we are able to fulfill the desire of the warrior to demonstrate how he defeated those 18 warriors. This also demonstrates to our Sensei how it was accomplished. With Bunkai we are able to show how the block or punch was effective.
How about it—what story does your kata tell? I am working on each one of my katas to see what story I am telling or missing. See you in class soon.