Kata can pose interesting training conundrums.
Some kata are very evenly weighted on their use of both sides of the body for the majority of the form, while others can be very singular in their distribution of movement.
In general this does not bother most practitioners; after all for those that follow the line work model of training for their kihon, all seemingly core techniques are trained equally in both sides. The same is also generally true of kumite drills.
So is there any benefit in mirroring kata on occasion? Keeping the same order of techniques but stepping out on the opposite side to normal and continuing in the same vein throughout the whole form?
I believe there is.
Although I prefer to work my kihon through impact training drills with partners rather than line work, my kumite drills are formed directly from my bunkai for the core kata I practice. In theory therefore I am practicing a version of every movement from the kata on both sides. Surely there should be no need therefore for me to mirror my kata?
Reality is quite different.
In initial practice certain movements feel unnatural.
This applies less to common core movements such as Gedan Barai, Shuto Uke etc and more to those little hand and arm transitions or turns that are not always found in line work and yet form such an important part of good application. I can do these movements with a partner, but in solo training they feel forced, less comfortable, and that tells me that more practice is needed. The solo training has given me a form of feedback that my paired training has not: I am weaker on the other side.
The transmission of the kata on one side only does not mean that is the only way to practice it. It is not practical to teach the form on both sides on a regular basis. To do so would result in an undue focus on solo training time that is inappropriate in a combative discipline.
Switching sides in the kata in class is not an attempt to fill time, or to be perverse. It is a worthwhile exercise in highlighting where we are weaker, what we don’t know and what we cannot do. It is something that we should attempt to replicate in our own training rather than solely under the supervision of our instructor.
The mirror not only shows what is there but also reveals what is missing.
The Malta Karate Federation (MKF) recently invited Dr. John Titchen, Chief Instructor of the Practical Karate Association , to conduct a weekend seminar on Applied Karate. This seminar forms part of the MKF’s strategy to promote and improve training in all aspects of Karate amongst its members.
Sensei John delivered a remarkable seminar, leaving us with a deeper understanding of the 5 Shotokan Heian Kata. His knowledge on the subject is staggering, spanning some 25 years of training. His teaching method was structured and pleasant and kept all of us involved and interested throughout. It was a fantastic experience for all who took part.
The seminar was based on Sensei John’s trademark Heian/Pinan Flow System, which examines the practical, combative application of the 5 Heian Kata against common acts of violence from a close combat point of view, integrating traditional ballistic impact techniques with locks, throws and holds and combining these into numerous seamless flow drills to simulate real time unpredictable fights.
Interestingly, the Heian Flow Drills trained were not the traditional back and forth flow drills that go along fully predictable lines, but rather the seamless transition between ranges, and ballistic and grappling techniques, spinning in and out of different parts of the 5 Heian Kata “mesh”, depending on uke’s response. The emphasis in this kind of training is on “shutting down” the opponent as quickly as possible.
This Heian Perspective of Practical Karate compliments nicely the Tekki/Naihanchi Perspective being developed by the MKF in collaboration with Sensei Chris Denwood, of E.S.K.K® Martial Arts & Fitness , who also visits Malta from time to time as a guest instructor of the MKF. This area of training also ties nicely with the other valuable technical work delivered to us by Maestro Santo Torre and Maestro Giuseppe Bartolo , offering the MKF members a truly unique, complete karate package.
The seminar truly delivered what it claimed: “Dynamic and alive training drills that take kata practice and self defense skills to another level”.
The enthusiastic Maltese practitioners were left with a huge reservoir of practical and useful training material, which will be developed further over the coming months to help reinforce further the foundation laid for this area of practice within the MKF.
“Truly an amazing experience for us all by a gentleman Sensei who not only shared with us openly an integrated system of Heian applications to make our Karate more complete, but also taught us invaluable life lessons with his example, attitude and indomitable spirit. Thank You Sensei John.
Thank You also to the Executive Committee of the Malta Karate Federation for continuously supporting this aspect of training, in particular the President, Kenneth Abela, and Jesmond Schembri and Damian Vella Lenicker. Thanks also to my assistants in this venture Frank Vella, Charles Axiaq and Anthony Gauci.
Thanks also to all participants and their families for making this event a huge success.”
Sensei James Galea
Technical Director MKF
Have you ever walked down the street holding the hand of a small child, or noticed in passing another adult doing the same?
If the adult is not fully focused on the child, but on getting to their destination, they will tend to automatically adopt their normal stride. Alongside them, making many more shorter steps at higher speed, the child keeps the same pace, but working a lot harder to achieve the same aim.
I see this a lot in the martial arts. In this example we see an analogy with regard to the difference between more experienced practitioners and learners, between teachers and students, and the nature of goal setting for improvement.
What looks flowing and natural in experienced martial arts practitioners does not come naturally, even if the movements themselves are based on natural actions. They move freely because of the hours of practice that iron out the stilted steps of childhood into smooth transitions. Like a child growing up the less experienced student has to try much harder and make many more repetitions over a period of time in order to move in the same way as the adult.
The many small steps that a child must make to keep up with an adult is a reminder to those of us that teach that what seems easy now, and one simple unconscious movement, is actually made up of many more small steps for the beginner. To help them reach where we are now we must remember where we started and help them identify and make those early steps.
As students we look at other practitioners around us making those adult steps and we try to emulate them. It’s important for us to remember that to get to where they are we need to go through the small step process. We can try to hop, skip or jump the same distance they are walking, but it isn’t as efficient or as sustainable. Progress is predominantly achieved through the repetition of many small steps that, as we grow, become fewer and bigger, until they are no different to the ones we tried to mimic.
Training, just like life, is full of Big Steps and Little ‘Uns.