Mind & Kata

KC Shotokan Karate
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Kansas City, MO 64108

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Revised Aug 22, 2011


March 17, 2002 Chicago Yodan Dominick Pizoli posted this message to the SKAdojo@YahooGroups.com forum:

"Hi guys I was wondering what goes on with "you" while you are doing your favorite kata?  What are you, thinking, imagining, wondering, hoping, feeling... How do you breath, move, see, hear, experience... The big question what happens to your ATTENTION?

-- Dominick Pizoli, yodan"

There were some pretty interesting responses from other members (which have been freely edited):


"A monk asked Joshu, "Does a dog have the Buddha nature?" Joshu retorted, "Mu!"

We might interpret the answer to mean, "Your question cannot be answered because it depends on incorrect assumptions". It's also meant to deflect verbal-analytic inquiry away from where it has no power. So maybe your question about kata can only be answered depending on the level of the practitioner. In the beginning, our monkey minds probably think and feel just about everything during kata practice. However, after 50 kata the mind becomes more quiet. After 50 years, maybe mind disappears entirely: mu-shin!

-- Jeff Borchers


Doing my favorite kata (on a good day) I see opponents. They move like they are supposed to and lead me to the movements in the kata. At times in the past (and I'm sure in the future) those opponents haven't behaved themselves, so I was forced to spend some time looking for more realistic interpretations of what is happening in the kata.

On other good days, I try to feel what the people who originated the kata felt like when they made the kata. Sometimes I think I might have a clue.

Sometimes I pay attention to movements and connections in my own body, trying to figure out how the technique is supposed to work. Especially when I do slow kata. One of the things I do here is to imagine the move already completed and then have my body follow the path of the imagined movement. When I do that, it somehow feels like there is less resistance. It's like my mind cleared a path through the air and it's easier to move my arm along the path.

On normal days I pay attention to various aches and pains and try to figure out how to move so they don't hurt. Then I get back to the opponents.

On bad days my mind goes a hundred other places. I try to focus on opponents again.

-- Tom Blaschko, sandan



Try this to help you visualize your opponent. Practice each of the techniques of your kata with a partner. This will help you to understand the meaning of the movements. Some are easy to understand but many are not and often have multiple meanings. Doing your techniques with a partner will force you to search for that meaning.

It will make you to think and rethink everything you are doing. It will also make you ask a lot more questions which hopefully will gain you more pieces of the puzzle.

Test your answers by trying them out with your opponent to see if they work. Then repeat these applications with your partner until they become automatic. After you do this for a while you will find that when you practice your kata alone and you have done it enough times your conscious thoughts will evaporate. Your body/mind will have a stored memory of facing an opponent in this exact situation and your state of mind should be something like it is when you are doing jyu-kumite.

-- Mike Duray, yodan


When Bodhidarma was sitting in his cave for nine years, making sitting

form, a wannabe follower appeared, who later became his first disciple. Again and again, when he asked Bodhidarma to teach him, the master refused to even speak to him. Finally, as a demonstration of his total sincerity, the would-be disciple cut off his own arm and appeared in the snow at the mouth of the cave to present it to the master.

I'd imagine Bodhidarma was getting pretty tired of this guy bugging him,

(and at this point had to be wondering if he was some kind of nutcase), so he finally decided he'd better have a word with him. So he yelled something cosmic out the opening of the cave, like "May I help you, sir?"

The disciple, shivering there in the snow with his own hacked-off arm

in his remaining hand, said, "Master, it's my mind. I cannot seem to pacify my mind, blah, blah, blah..."

So Bodhidarma, never one to miss a chance for a good laugh, said to the guy, "Well, then, bring me your mind (instead) and I will pacify it!"

You guessed it! At that moment the guy became enlightened (and likely started to rethink the wisdom of his previous approach...)


Almost every time we see Caylor Adkins, he tersely reminds us that, call it any fancy name you will, the essence of what we are doing remains "fighting, " pure and simple. At the risk of appearing a simpleton, I'd say that the most sensible response to your koan which I have seen in this round of discussions was Mike Duray's advice that we try to make kata real by repeatedly drilling applications with as real an opponent as our current level allows. Then, when we perform without the partner, our movements take on an entirely different dimension.

My own two cents on the matter is this: I think we would all agree that kata practice involves both "swordmaking" and "swordfighting," so to speak. Obviously, one's mindset when engineering, analyzing and manufacturing swords is different, much more conscious, than the mindset for fighting with them. So it is important to understand which you are doing in a  given practice session.

In terms of the analogy above, I consider the term, "practicing kata," to mean "swordfighting." As such, what is most important is not our conscious thought, but our subconscious and super-conscious. When the opponent comes to attack, you must defend with whatever sword you have at hand. The time for engineering and analysis is over. 

What I try to do, every time I actually "practice kata," is to set my mind to the channel it would (hopefully) flip to in the event that I was suddenly confronted by someone who was really intent on hurting me, what you have refered to as "one of the bad guys," not in the dojo, but out in some dark alley of the real world where no one could watch, much less criticize or help me. As such, this practice is first and foremost an exercise in deep imagination and emotion, not conscious thought or technique. Try to make yourself get it up to really fight for your life seven days a week, even when you are so tired you'd rather not even make it to the dojo, and see what happens, not only to your mental power, but also to the technical aspects of your practice as well.

Anyway, Dom, I hope you will be thinking as many cosmic and introspective thoughts as possible the next time we face each other. As your opponent, I would need all the help I can get, and I'm sure that these mental preoccupations and ruminations will be a better defense for me than any I can muster on my own.

-- Bodhimike :')))

P.S. You need only cut off a small fingernail clipping and mail it to me with your name and address in exchange for full authorization to do with this wisdom what you will.

P.S.S. Somewhere, I'm pretty sure that Master Funakoshi said that what is most important is to practice with "heart and soul.

-- Michael Schuler, yodan


I've read the responses from many seniors of the mindset that they impose upon themselves as they perform kata. Each was very interesting.

To me, kata has many facets. The honing of the technique through many hours and many repetitions of the kata. Then there is proper breathing. Also of importance is the focus of the spirit . Then there's the connection of the mind, through the breath to the body. The practice of body shifting and movement of hips through the feeling of oneness. Another aspect is the rhythm and timing of techniques, and finally Zanshin, remaining mind. So many things to "think" about!

I think I approach kata a little differently now than when I was younger (forty or fifty). Lao Tsu said, "true stillness is not found in stillness, true stillness is found in movement." I think the kata is Daruma's gift to us to find Mu-Shin (no-mind). To try and analyze all of the above would be a monumental task to say the least. My approach is simply to clear my mind and, through proper breathing, allow my body to move without any preconceived thought or notion. There is another Zen saying, "Mizu no Kokoro," which literally means, "mind like water." It implies that a body of water can reflect even the slightest image standing before it, clearly. But if a small pebble is thrown into the water it is distorted with ripples and reality is lost. Mu!

-- Jon Beltram, godan



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