- The inaugural Crossing The Pond Martial Expo was held last weekend in West Seattle. This seminar brought together six well-known and highly skilled instructors of martial arts and self-defense from across the United States and United Kingdom.
- Over the weekend, two one-hour workshops were held by instructors Al Peasland, Nicholas Yang, Kris Wilder, Rory Miller, Marc “Animal” MacYoung, and Iain “Tuna Fish Pizza” Abernethy.
- Approximately thirty-five people were in attendance. Among the students, at least one third appeared to be black belts and/or instructors themselves.
- Participants were open-minded, polite, and patient–especially with this author, who hadn’t done any Karate training since elementary school. Egoism, inappropriate competition, and input from self-declared “assistant instructors” was minimal. This is a credit to the affable seminar host, Kris Wilder, and the other teachers as well, who together set the right tone for the event.
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.
Many long-term students of Taiji enjoy improvements in their metabolic and kinesthetic efficiency. They burn fewer calories, and expend less effort, to accomplish the same amount of work, whether that “work” consists of repeating the Taiji forms or any other activity.
When food is scarce and plain, this efficiency is an obvious benefit. For most people living in developed countries today, however, food is abundant and tasty. To a person who has become addicted to eating—as the majority of Americans are, studies show—this hard-earned fruition of Taiji is actually a problem: it makes you fat. (Technically, eating the food makes you fat, but let us ignore that detail, as everyone does.)
Dedicating oneself to longer and more strenuous practice might seem like an intelligent solution. Unfortunately, this is likely to accelerate the efficiency gains, exacerbating the problem in the long run. If we choose to define physical fitness as effort and exertion, then Taiji is a lousy fitness routine.
A comfortable and plausible short-term solution: redefine success as failure, and vice-versa. Prioritize effort expended, rather than work accomplished. Sure, your new Taiji may be less functional, but at least you’ll look good doing it!
The more responsible, but less appealing solution is to start eating within your means: to consume calories in accordance with physical needs, rather than insatiable desires. In the meantime, returning to one’s target weight requires a disciplined starvation diet, in conjunction with regular exercise.
Can we view this scenario as a metaphor for the United States economy?
Which of the following photos depicts an athlete in the 2008 Beijing Olympics?