Americans do not usually see themselves, when they are in the United States, as representatives of their country. They see themselves as individuals who are different from all other individuals, whether those others are Americans or foreigners. Americans may say they have no culture, since they often conceive of culture as an overlay of arbitrary customs to be found only in other countries. Individual Americans may think they chose their own values, rather than having had their values and the assumptions on which they are based imposed on them by the society in which they were born. If you ask them to tell you something about “American culture,” they may be unable to answer and they may even deny that there is an “American culture.”
(from Handbook for Foreign Students and Scholars)
A few minutes prior to the start of class, karateka (students) enter through the front door, immediately bowing to the sensei (teacher) and/or the kamidana (dojo shrine). The karateka remove their shoes, and enter the changing room to don their training uniforms.
For how long should we continue to practice our kata? Many senseis would simply answer: forever. Personally, I do not have forever to spare. Neither do you, I’d guess.
What do you have? A long list of responsibilities and interests, including but certainly not limited to karate (or other martial arts). You have a desire to maximize the benefits of your practice, while minimizing the costs. And you want to know when, if ever, you should quit your kata.
Simply put, you can justifiably quit when the costs of practice exceed the benefits. Here are a few of the potential, proposed and actual benefits of kata training.
Benefits of Kata Practice
Kata as a Memory Aid
The most frequently cited justification of kata is as a mnemonic device. The kata serves as a living dictionary of fighting techniques and sequences.
With his proclamation Cogito ergo sum, Descartes set the stage upon which most Western philosophers have played for the last four hundred years. Under his model, the human being is composed of two distinct entities: mind and body. Some thinkers agree, and others disagree, but few challenge the validity of the model itself, and its silent implication that nothing lies between.
Following George Orwell’s advice, I will begin by stating the obvious: East Asian martial arts training was never meant to be performed within this framework.
Although Descartes’ model allowed for each aspect to influence the other, he did not recognize the full breadth and depth of the mind-body relationship. So, like the atomic model of physics failed to explain observable and repeatable quantum phenomena, Descartes’ atomic metaphysics obscures the potential of high-level martial arts. When authentic traditional training is reformatted to fit into the duelistic model, the result is typically and predictably Bull-shido.
Theory and Application, and Nothing More
Two tragic outcomes result from the application of duelistic mind-body theory to martial training. First, the Complete Martial Art is defined as one containing both Theory and Application—and where Theory is given undue precedence.