Kata and Martial Zen

In 1973, in college, a friend and instructor taught me Kusanku dai (Shotokan Kankudai). In our 20's his form was explosive and strong. I practiced to match his power and form. Since then, we've gone our separate ways and now he's a high ranking (not sure if he’s hanshi, but he’s close). He emailed me out of the blue and said that he still trains with others in our old group (they’re in their 60's and 70's) saying that the guys (like me) suffer from arthritic joints and muscle loss due to sarcopenia (old age syndrome – go ahead Google it). I remembered him being limber and that stretching was easy for him. So when he said that he still practices Kusanku Dai and his power more explosive than before, I believed him. Though I still incorporate Shroinji Ryu, Goju and Shotokan kata's with taijiquan and qigong each day, I can't say I share his genes as the explosive power of my youth has somewhat diminished; however, I can attest that my form is still true.

Remember, "kata" means form. Etiquette, respect, culture, history and a whole lot more are represented in the practice. Dojo kun "seek perfection of character, endeavor, be faithful, respect, refrain from negativity" all fits within the spirit of kata.

Years ago when we struggled to first learn kata, our minds were limited to executing techniques properly. Once learned, many used it as a way to fill their walls with trophies. Truth about kata is that it was created for the practitioner to achieve martial zen or "perfection" of mind, body and spirit. Of course, I know that many of you feel I’m full of it, but to test this thinking:

First view old iado masters performing sword katas. As you see there are less than 10 movements in each form. Though many are advanced in age, their attempt is to execute each and every technique perfectly.

Now for your experiment.

Go to a quiet place, doesn't matter where there is no distraction, no one watching, you're alone, completely alone.

Select one kata, again, it doesn't matter, emulate the intent and spirit of these sword masters and perform it with only one thing in mind:


Forget about being pretty, powerful, or explosive. Think about executing each technique perfectly with no mistakes, each fist, arm, back, leg and foot placement where they need to be, in sequence with now flaw. It is important that when you attempt this perfection that you don’t criticize yourself, your weaknesses or limitation. As you continue to better your form, you will find that this event will bring you to a different and higher level of consciousness.

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