I imagine that observing my family on a hike would be a rather amusing thing to do. Take the photo above and consider how many paths there are. There's only one path right?! Now consider the number of obstacles in the path and you should start to see smaller, more individual paths, within the primary rocky trail. Each obstacle, whether it's a rock or a root (or the occasional venomous snake) presents an opportunity to change course within the trail. If all five of us Buchanans were in this space, we would likely each have our own interpretation of what the "trail" actually looks like. At 6'7", with uber long legs, I prefer to step over obstacles while my 8-year old son might go around. My 10 and 14 year old sons, who may be a little more daring, may choose to boost themselves over, of low crawl under, a fallen log while my very careful wife will take the more safe (often longer) way around. We're all in the same space, but are using our personal strengths and humble limitations to help us navigate through the trail.
For years I saw the training of kata as walking along a trail, but this trail was a single file, follow the leader activity. If this is all kata is to you, your kata is dead. Sure, there are times when learning a new kata, where you are focused on simply learning the order of the movements but that's the easy part. Training kata, really training kata MUST become an individual exercise.
What are YOUR strengths and limitations and how do they influence your kata training? How can you use your strengths to accentuate specific points or sequences in kata? Can you identify your weaknesses in kata and work on them in other areas of training? An example of this, for me, is the kata Garyu. This entire kata challenges my balance and flexibility. When learning the kata, I was quickly reminded that I need to work more on dynamic stretching and my flexibility improved a great deal. I'm still working on balancing games and activities to help me grow in that area.
As you work through kata, what is the meaning behind each movement? If you're only going through the motions, then your kata is like eating day old pizza from a gas station. Spice it up by considering different applications of each movement. Sure, you may be executing the same series as the person beside you, but in your mind, you can actually be training an entirely different kata. This kind of mental play is challenging for those of us who may lack in the creativity area, but can be so rewarding. Again, an example for me can be found in the way that I train one of our earliest kata: Ju Ni Ho. The initial movement in Ju Ni Ho is that step backward with our right hand loaded in chamber with our left hand covering. Why? Well, depending on my mood, I interpret that initial movement as:
- grabbing an opponent and pulling them off balance
- moving backward to avoid a kick while also protecting my right side
- the "last chance" for the "bad guy" to change his mind...and his location
There are a few other applications, but this is a tough area for me since I'm not that creative. Now, some of my students have come up with AMAZING applications for different steps and sequences of kata. They are, by far, much more creative that I am!
Just like the picture above, there is one trail but many paths in kata. There is one way, but many applications. Today's Lesson from the Trail is to use your strengths and limitations (physical, mental, and spiritual) to determine your path. Allow kata to highlight your strengths and develops your weaknesses.
Train hard. Train smart. Don't stop.