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Kata-Story

A dear friend recently discussed the impact of knowing and wanting to follow "the rules" when writing first drafts, and how that knowledge and desire gets in the way. Because I'm struggling to learn a new kata right now, I heard in this friend's words the same emotions I've experienced at the dojo, and posted a comment about the "first draft" of a kata.

The more I thought about it, the more I wanted to expand on the idea. However, other things yet to be disclosed ended up eating my "free" time this week, so I'm going to settle for merely tweaking the original comments. It's rough still, but hopefully clear:

The "first draft" of my kata always sucks. Of course it does! I don't yet know the story-fight I'm telling with my movements. It isn't until I've learned the entire kata that I know, physically, what the arc is: where the pacing needs to change, when my focus has to shift, which movements need to be hard or soft, where the transitions need to be measured or abrupt. And, often, it's by coming to understand the intention of the kata's later movements that I am better able to see the intention of the very first movement.

Once I know the pattern (plot), I must "revise" my kata, one piece at a time. It's frustrating and bewildering and danged hard work until everything suddenly aligns. Then what might look like a simple middle block becomes a whole-body movement of power. It can feel like magic. And truly, some of my katas will have crappy parts for a long time because I don't have the skill to do what I know needs to be done. I just keep plugging away at it, alas.

But if I had to follow all the kata rules the first time I learned a new one, I'd give up. The only reason I didn't give up in the beginning? I didn't know the rules. I knew only that I was learning and making progress. I can't yet deliver a perfect shuto (knife hand, a.k.a. "chop") while also learning which stance I'm supposed to be in, the angle of my attack or defense and—most importantly—the movement that leads to the shuto and the movement that follows.

And you know what? The "perfect" shuto in kata might not do me a spitwad of good in a self-defense situation. So the next layer is knowing how to apply the rules, how to adapt them, and how to break them.

There did come a point when the words, "I will never get this right!" stopped being a cudgel with which to beat myself. These days, it's an acknowledgement of a truth. I'm not supposed to get it right. I'm supposed to always do it better. (Why, yes, that point is sometimes lost in total frustration. :)

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Blair MacGregor
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