A Rare Performance

Those of you who read my blog with regularity probably know where I stand on the modern sporting side of martial arts. I am firm believer in karate training focused on functional life protection skills. Kata, used as a tool for this purpose, generally looks a lot different then that performed in competitions, even traditional ones. Don’t even get me started on musical kata, or toothpick bos, or neon striped gis.

So, you might imagine that, when I was recently asked to perform at kata at a demonstration for school children and their parents, I would have politely declined. Instead, I said “yes”, seeing an opportunity educate, and hopefully inspire some young people. I agreed to do one empty hand kata and one bo kata and have been practicing those two katas, to the exclusion of all others, for the past few weeks.

Full disclosure; I competed regularly at the State and regional level back when I was in my twenties. These events were open to all styles, with point sparring, full contact sparring, kata and kobudo performance. I took home a few ribbons and trophies, made some friends, and had a good time. So, the idea of demonstrating a kata for others is not new to me, but it has been a while. More importantly, my focus has been not on the outward appearance of my movements but on the inner workings of my body.

As I have always said, short term goals can be very motivating in one’s long term solo practice. Preparing for this demo got me fired up and focused and I am pleased with the overall training. In considering how I might appear to others, I have worked particularly hard on posture and breathing. Poor posture is often a reflection of one being so focused internally that you lose your sense of an opponent. So, I am grateful for this training as it has reminded me of something that needed work. Breathing became hard as the rhythm and pace of the katas changed. Given that one never knows how a real conflict will develop, training controlled breathing should always be a priority.

Other aspects of the katas were illuminated by this focus on performance. In some cases, a change in rhythm suggested a different bunkai then I had previously considered. Deciding which moves to put together and which to separate has been very interesting. I have also been considering the pacing of the katas with my audience in mind. My goal is not, as in competition, to create drama, but rather to slow things down enough so that the audience can follow the movements and learn something from watching.

I have also felt that, as a teacher, I needed a deeper understanding of the history of the kata. With this in mind I have done much more academic study than usual. For the first time I feel much more connected to the kata. I have a better understanding over where it comes from and how it was developed (roughly 250 years ago).

All in all, I may have softened my stance some on performance. I still don’t think competition should be the focus of one’s practice because it will, inevitably, change your techniques. But, the occasional demonstration (or even competition) can light a fire in your personal training and illuminate things you were not paying attention to. And it never hurts to step outside your comfort zone and approach what you do from a different perspective.

My demonstration is tomorrow. Wish me luck.

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