Several years ago I had the privlege of stuyding Okinawan Goju-ryu Karate with a local sensei. With little to no interest in physical activity I found this to be a great way to get some exercise for both my body and mind.
While learning katas – or series of movements – we would practice them as a group. Quickly sensei would realize those who knew the katas and those who did not. The ones always looking around at another student were the ones who may not have studied the kata sufficiently. It resulted in a klumsy attempt at executing the moves. Possibly, the moves looked worse than the student individually moving through the kata even with an incorrect move or not.
The advise from sensei was always to “do your own kata”. Sure there would be outright mistakes or small opportunities for improvement. In fact, there are always opportunities for improvement. One can spend a lifetime perfecting the simplest of katas. I’m reminded of the very isometric Sanchin kata which is the first kata I learned. Each and every belt test – after we were completely exhausted – we would always go back and perform this kata.
There are some takeaways from this portion of my karate experience:
- Preparation. In order to be proficient in our tasks as professionals or other roles we play in life (e.g., spouse, parent) we need to do the homework. We need to nourish our minds and bodies with the right intellectual nutrients in order to perform at our best. Doing the homework builds our confidence and ability to perform with intentionality and precision despite nuanced flaws which may appear. And may appear only to ourselves
- Focus and Self-reliance. After doing the homework we need to be able to execute independently without “cheating off of someone else’s paper”. When we perform in a group or team setting our contributions do need to mesh with others. But like in the dojo (e.g., belt testing) there will come a time where we need to perform on our own such as an public presentation or interview. This is where we “do our own kata”.
Pivoting a bit within the martial arts, I’ve recently tried a few Tai Chi classes. While considered a martial art, its much more like moving meditation than karate. The movements are still derived from self-defence and offensive moves. However, the movements are slowed dramatically which helps build muscle and mental strength. All my Tai Chi practice to date has been in a group setting. It is rewarding to see several of us with varying ages and health execute the moves in unison.
There are times where we must perform on our own. And times we must contribute to a larger chorus of movement. In either case, preparation, focus, and self-reliance all play an important role in the final outcome.by