Is This The Return of Kata?

Up until this point, Karate seems to have been having dwindling participation in recent years.

In my club, particularly amongst our kids’ classes, the numbers have steadily been going down.

It seemed that Karate was becoming a bit passé in comparison to the trending martial arts, like BJJ and Muay Thai. I suppose if a child is going to choose a martial art, they’re more likely going to want to choose a martial art that their parents enjoy on television like what they see in the UFC.

But now, we’re all in self-isolation. Martial arts that are dependent on partners (which SHOULD be all of them) are having trouble selling their art because it is so reliant on proximity with another human being.

If you’re not fortunate enough to be locked in with someone who also has a love for hitting and strangling other people for fun, what is one to do?

Kata.

Since COVID-19 has forced us all into isolation, famous martial arts practitioners, like John Danaher, have been promoting their solo drills—something karate students have been practicing since its conception.

Of the martial arts schools I’ve seen with the highest success since self-isolation policies were implemented, karate schools have reigned supreme with minimal loss in students.

Why?

Because solo templates are and have always been a pivotal part of Karate’s practice, a focus on solo practice has lent itself to an ease of adaptability in current times. Let’s look a little bit further at why.

#1 – Little Adjustment for Karate Students

Unlike other martial arts, solo practice has been a heavy focus in karate. Yes, other martial arts will use solo practice in a warm-up, but very rarely do they make it a focus for an entire class. In karate classes, you will train hours and hours of getting your body in just the right alignment, so that it will be as you train it with a partner. Because karate practitioners are already accustomed to practicing solo in the dojo and at home, there is minimal adjustment for them.

#2 – Trained To Use Imagination

Some Karate schools teach kata first, then the applications. Other karate schools teach the opposite. Whichever way they choose, because Karate has always used solo templates, they’ve always been encouraged to imagine an opponent, and different scenarios when practicing their kata. This is an ideal tool when in self-isolation.

#3 – Strong Sense of Tradition & Discipline            

Most martial arts also have a strong sense of traditions, but Japanese martial arts seem to place a stronger emphasis than others. A greater sense of tradition may lend itself to a strong sense of discipline, which is an important quality; without it, many may not be motivated enough to take the time to train at home. A sense of tradition may also promote a stronger feeling of loyalty amongst its karate students. If the Sensei says there is a virtual class, most students will follow through, simply out of a sense of commitment to their instructor and their club.

#4 – Meditation In Motion

Recently, I’ve seen an increased interest in meditation. Self-isolation may be a trigger for mental illness for some individuals, a common remedy is meditation. Kata can certainly be identified as “meditation in motion”, the focus derived from its practice and the focus on breathing, may promote the same rewards as meditating in a seated position. Kata as a holistic practice also allows for improved cardio, strength and flexibility. Because kata allows for the so many rewards, it’s easy for the karate practitioner to feel inclined to practice kata on a regular basis.

#5 – Pathways In The Brain See No Difference

The connections in your brain see little difference whether you practice a movement pattern with a partner versus during solo. Whether you practice the movement patterns on your own or with a partner, you’re still reinforcing similar neural pathways. Because, as previously mentioned, Karate Sensei teach to imagine opponents and scenarios from the beginning, it lends them the greater ability to reinforce these neural pathways in isolation, which ultimately will improve their performance with a partner.

Conclusion

More now than ever, solo practice or kata is one way martial artists can continue to build on their technique while in isolation.  But while kata offers many great rewards and should be practiced regularly, I think karate practitioners should stop to ask themselves a few questions.

  • Do you think when you did have a group of people in a room together that you used your time as wisely as you could have?
  • Could you have spent more time on practical two-person drills when you still had the opportunity?

Kata is a pivotal part of karate as a practice, and as discussed, an important tool in karate training, however, a tool that is over used, also becomes useless. For some schools, kata is over-practiced, used as a substitute for realistic, pressure tested scenarios. Although kata has it’s place, when you do have people to train with, that is the time when we should be practicing techniques and scenarios with one another.

But now, isn’t just the time for solo practice, but for self-reflection.

At this moment, it’s the world’s version of “Go to your room and think about what you’ve done!”

No matter the art you practice, also ask yourself:

  • Could I have been a more compassionate teacher?
  • Could I have been a more understanding student?
  • How could I have helped those around me, when I still could have?

The world has given us an opportunity to reflect. And, when you do, are you satisfied with what you see?

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