KATA ON ICE
 
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If you are an instructor, then I am sure that you have heard something like this many times before.
 
"Sensei could you help me please, I seem to have forgotten the next move in my kata".
 
I know I have.
 
I have heard it from every rank, from white belt to senior Dan's, and everything in between.
More often than not, like me, the one thing you may have noticed is that this type of request occurs with much greater frequency the higher a student rises up in rank.
 
Odd perhaps, but true.
 
The reason is quite simple really.
 
Usually soon after a student has been promoted in rank they are introduced once again to a new kata.
 
This being the case, over time senior Dan ranks have a far greater number of katas to practice, and to remember correctly, not always an easy task. On top of that, many senior ranks tend to prefer practicing the "higher" katas more than they do for example the Heian kata's, not always a good idea, since ignoring any kata for to long is when problems start to occur.
 
Now while it is always gratifying to see a student apply themselves whole heartedly to a new challenge, they can sometimes unwittingly start to focus far to much time and energy on this "new kata", most often to the detriment of the katas they had previously been taught, and that they think they already know well enough.
The problem you see, is that that "mental memory", unlike "body memory", is a fleeting thing.
 
By that I mean, "mental memory" is a students reliance on the mind to "remember pre-conditioned actions through thought" which in turn then "reminds" the student what move or technique to do next in a kata.
 
Where as "body memory" on the other hand, relies on body's muscles to "remember pre-conditioned actions through physical repetition" which in turn "remind" the body what move or technique to do next in a kata.
 
Yet many students rely for long periods of time on "mental memory" when performing their katas. This is not unusual, since "body memory" is something that takes many, many years of proper practice to properly develop. As a result, when the student finally puts down their "new kata" and returns once again to practicing a particular kata that they were confident they already "knew", they are often surprised by what they find.
 
First, they may discover that they now have to "think" their way through a kata they were previously confident they knew very well.
 
Second, they may discover that as a result of this need to rely on "mental memory" the kata now "feels different" somehow.
 
Next, they may notice that their timing seems to be off a bit. Their balance is not as sharp as it once was. That their turns for some reason are not as fluid as they once were, and that strangely enough, many "bad habits" that they thought they had already conquered, also seem to have re-appeared somehow.
 
Then all of a sudden part way through the kata, it happens.
 
They hit a blank wall,
 
They find themselves stuck in a stance with no "body memory" as to what comes next and no "mental memory" as well.
 
That is when you hear it.
 
"Sensei could you help me please, I seem to have forgotten the next move in my kata".
 
Now it so happens this morning near the end of class, I was watching one of my Sempai's practice a kata. When he was finished I walked over and asked him how it felt. He said, "not that good, I was really struggling with that kata, it has been a while since I have practiced it".
 
We talked for a few minutes about some of the places where he had experienced difficulty and then I asked him why he had ignored that particular kata for so long. He replied that he had been spending a lot of time working a new kata that he was recently taught, and now he was finding that some aspects of this particular kata seemed to have drifted away.
 
With that thought in mind I offered him an analogy.
 
I happen to like analogies.
 
I said to him, imagine that you are standing on a small iceberg floating on the ocean. It is not a large iceberg by any means, but it is big enough for you to comfortably do any kata on.
 
Now imagine that on this particular iceberg you are only allowed to practice one particular kata, in this case the kata Heian Sho Dan.
 
So you do.
 
Upon finishing your kata you stand up and bow, where upon you notice that another iceberg of similar size has floated along side, and so you hop on.
 
Now imagine that on this particular iceberg you are only allowed to practice one particular kata, in this case the kata Heian Ni Dan.
 
So you do.
 
Once again upon finishing your kata you stand up and bow, where upon you notice that yet another iceberg of similar size has once again floated along side.
 
But, just as you are about ready to hop on it you notice that the first iceberg with Heian Sho Dan on it has slowly started to drifted away in the opposite direction, taking with it your knowledge of that particular kata.
 
So ignoring this third iceberg, you quickly paddle over to the first one, get back on again, and once more practice Heian Sho Dan until you are satisfied that you know it and that you can remembered it.
 
The only problem is that you now notice that the second iceberg with Heian Ni Dan on it is now starting to drift off in to the sunset, taking with it your knowledge of that particular kata.
 
So what do you do now?
 
Do you paddle back to the second iceberg, stay on the first one, or hop on the third one that is floating nearby with Heian San Dan on it?
 
Now imagine that you know ten kata, or twenty, and that they are all represented by different icebergs.
 
Imagine that you must constantly keep paddling from one iceberg to another always hopping on again, and off again, in order to practice each of the many katas you know, all the while not allowing any of these numerous icebergs to drift beyond your easy reach.
 
My point is this.
 
In order to not "loose" a kata, or for that matter any part of it, you must always keep the kata, very, very close at hand.
 
This will only ever happen, however, if you constantly practice all of the katas that you know on a very, regular, if not daily basis, and if you always give each one of them equal time, and effort.
 
Because trust me, once neglected, any kata will drift away from you faster than you ever thought possible, and getting it back to where you thought you had it is not something that just happens over night.
 
So by all means remain excited about any new kata that comes your way. But it is also important to remember that each one of the katas that you already know can also be just as new, and just as exciting, if you approach these katas with the right attitude, and a beginners mind.
 
If you do, you may just discover some of the many previously undiscovered secrets that lay between each move.
 
So spread your energy, your effort, your drive, and your desire for knowledge equally and without favouritism, across every kata you know, and when a new kata finally does come along, be sure and treat it like one of the many, not one of the few.
 
If you do, then after many years of dedicated study you might even begin to see some light at the end of the kata tunnel.
 
Remember
Mental memory and body memory,
are not the same thing.
 
Part the clouds - see the way.
 
"The objective of karate-do is to contribute to the evolution
of the human spirit through physical and mental training."
Sensei Peter Lindsay