型 Kata

The Japanese character for the word “kata” shows two hands linked together using an implement, like a knife or a sword, to cut into the earth. 

To build a house you might pour a concrete foundation. Before you pour the concrete, you dig into the earth and build a form, out of wood, to hold and shape the poured concrete. Once the concrete is properly formed it will make a strong and stable foundation for your house. 

The wooden form you build to form the concrete is a kata, a form, in Japanese.

Concrete continues to increase in strength for many years after it has been poured. People who use kata for training also increase in strength for many years.

A well-made form will serve its purpose. A poorly made one will not. The result of the work will depend not only on the quality of the form, but of the quality of the material put in it.

As traditional practitioners we use kata to perfect our combative skills and to refine our bodies and minds. We pour ourselves into the kata every day. Not once, but again and again.

It is not a matter of becoming rigid and fixed like concrete, or becoming like a robot or a machine, repeating the same thing over and over. By pouring ourselves into the kata fresh, every day, we transform our lives. We enter the kata in an immediate way, with the living material of our bodies and minds. By entering the form, by repeatedly trying to fulfill the ideal of the form, our substance transforms. The same kata produces different results as time goes by.

The metal used to craft a fine sword blade is smelted from ore. Once it has been purified and prepared, it is melted and poured into a mold. The mold shapes the metal. In Japanese that mold is a “kata.” 

Shaping the metal in the mold is one step in a long process. Heating and cooling, adding layers of material, removing impurities and imperfections, grinding and polishing are essential, as the form is refined and perfected. 

No matter how good the quality of the metal, if the form was flawed, the process will not succeed. The strength, sharpness and resilience of the finished blade depends in part on the kata in which it was formed. 

Some practitioners who use the Mountain Karate blog to deepen their understanding, or to prep their own site content, will find this perspective new. I hope it will be helpful. But it is not new.

As a “template, a style, a pattern, a mold, a form, a posture, or a standard procedure” we have a practical sense of how the word “kata” is used and understood.

But in Dogen’s Genjokoan we have a transcendent one. We karateka practice genjo kata – fully alive where we are, as we move, every moment, every day, for as long as we practice, for as long as we live. 

Chojun Miyagi’s motto “Oku myo zai ren shin” – “Deeply hidden reality arises in training the heart and mind” – is at once a practical and transcendent presentation of the idea. It is at once a command for action and a template for contemplation.

The relationship between form and content, between change and continuity, between life and tech, between pattern and spontaneity – the reconciliation of all these apparent dichotomies – challenges the way we think and live. Its penetration is essential for sincere practitioners. 

This was hard for Empress Wu to understand.  Fazang explained it to her, using the metaphor of the Golden Lion. Gold is molded into the form of a lion. We can recognize the lion. The gold was gold before there was a lion. It will be gold when the form of the lion is gone. Forms are real but temporary. Something continues and takes on new form, adapting as conditions change.

We use kata to prepare for combat. We use kata to get strong, fast, resilient, explosive, patient, peaceful and ferocious. 

The form, function and material of our lives are not separable. 

We use kata to condition our life.

***

Post Copyright ©2020 Jeffrey M. Brooks author of  “The Good Fight,” available on Amazon.

Photo by Thao-Le-Hoang via Unsplash

1 Comment

  1. Jeff Moriber says:

    Dear Sensei Brooks,

    Thank you for articulating so beautifully the depth and beauty of karate training. When I read your words, I cannot help but feel in my body and mind emersed in kata.

    Arigato,
    Jeff Moriber

    Like

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