Thursday, October 27, 2011

Kata and Logic

The term "kata" is a martial arts term, but in this blog, I’d like to introduce a meaning much deeper than kicks, blocks and punches.  

When I was in college, I took a philosophy class, a requirement that I had to work on because, to be honest, it was boring.  Hate to say, but normal people didn’t discuss philosophy while sipping beer at a local pub.  

The topic of discussion was “logic”.

The first words that came out of the professor's mouth were: “A cat has four legs and a tail. A dog has four legs and a tail, therefore a cat is a dog.”

Then he scanned the room and waited for a response.

Silence. Crickets.  Chirp.  Chirp.

I couldn’t wait, so I raised my hand and said, “I don’t think so.”

He asked me why?

I told him, cats aren’t dogs. 

He slapped his hands and screamed.  “EXACTLY!”

This professor then got on top of a soap box and, in so many words, said, the world was full of people, with power, who affected our lives; and, there was nothing we could do about it because we, as a human race, was inherently ignorant and stupid.

He stopped talking and scanned the room again.

Okay. No one said anything, so I raised my hand again.

He waved me off and challenged everyone to provide him with a 40-page, typed, term report with references to prove him wrong.

Remember, at the time, we didn't have the Internet nor word processors. It was then blood and guts, research.  Little did I know; I could use my martial arts training to provide a strong reference.  

At the time (1973), I trained in SF Chinatown and had the pleasure and honor of learning from Richard Kim, founder of the Zen Bei Butokokai ttp://www.richardkimmartialartist.com/affiliates.html, Master (Hanshi) Kim told us this story about kata.  

I remembered it well, driving the long distance from Cal Poly San Luis Obispo to San Francisco.  Okay, I accepted being “inherently ignorant and stupid,” but I was, also, enamored in learning; and, I wanted to understand about so many things: Why we were in Viet Nam?  Why Kent State students got shot?  Why ethnics minorities were ethnic minorities.  Why S.I. Hayakawa was such a butt.  Why I liked listening to Jimmy Hendricks?  Why I wanted to be the next Bruce Lee?

About 200 of us sempais and gohais stood in attention between the long and arduous training to hear Hanchi Kim's words of wisdom.  Some carried small pad and pencils.  I wished I did, but my memory served me well, because in this lesson, he opened our minds to the responsibility of kata.  (For those of you who don’t know, “kata” was a set of pre-arranged techniques: blocks, strikes, kicks and punches that emulated combat, the karate way to develop skill and endurance. Breaking it down to brass tacks, it meant putting an opponent out with force but not kill.)

In kata, because we fought imaginary opponents, we could insert, should we wish, a “killing” mindset; but by doing so, must accept the responsibility and intellect behind this practice.  Training to take another person’s life should not be taken lightly.

He said that, after long hours of repetition, the intent becomes “second nature” and, in a life and death situation, the techniques would come out, automatically.  

In my report to the philosophy professor, I referenced this “kata” analogy, and he, surprisingly, agreed with my argument about how an individual without knowing was influenced to accept faulty logic.  We talked about how mainstream media, seclusion, and exclusion perpetuated a “if said enough times must be true” culture that, if not checked, affected the lives others.

Could it be true that political pundits and talk show hosts were convincing unsuspecting souls that "cats were dogs?"  

And that each day, when we watched and listened to the same words, our minds believed it (without so much as researching a paragraph of reading) because, like kata, of repetition?

Through intellect, rational thought, research and logic, I chose not to be "inherently ignorant and stupid,” and practice a kata of my own.

As a person of intellect and rational thought, I am convinced, it is the logical thing to do.

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