Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Practicing Kata - Slow

When learning the pattern of a kata, we are accustomed to executing the techniques at the same speed. The kata is monotone. Called out by the instructor, we hear and follow the count "one, two, three" or "ichi, ni, san". It is similar to the beat of a metronome. When I teach a kata, I start off by describing the technique "kosa step --then step out in nai hanchi stance with a right hand strike". Once the students can follow along with the pattern, I use a count. If the students know the pattern, a count is no longer needed to keep pace in a group.

In the dojo, we practice kata in several ways: technique, power, speed and kime. Last week in the dojo, we practiced our kata very, very slow. We worked on the kata Pinan Nidan. It was a kata that everyone knew and covered many of the basic blocks, strikes and stances. I wanted the students to watch and feel their techniques. We performed the kata slow and deliberate.

It was an excellent drill. One of the hallmarks of Okinawa Kenpo is rotation. The blocks and strikes rotate during the last six inches of the technique. When we performed the kata at a very slow pace, proper rotation and hand position could be observed.

The students perception of a technique can vary depending on where a student is standing in the dojo in relationship to the instructor. A student often gets the beginning position and the end position of a technique correct. It is the middle position or how we get from point A to B that sometimes gets confused.

Take for example a right knife hand block. In Okinawa Kenpo, the beginning position for a knife hand block is elbow to elbow, right hand high palm facing the ear, left prep hand pointed to the direction we are moving with palm facing down. The end position has the left prep hand withdrawing palm up and the right blocking hand facing palm out clearing the body, arm bent at a ninety degree angle with a fist distance under the arm.

But...how did we get there? How does the hand move from the beginning position to the end position. Doing the kata in a very slow manner allowed the students to closely examine the middle position. The hand is supposed to cross center line as the right hand moves across the body. Think "windshield wiper".

In some cases, the students discover they were using a "slicing" motion. The right hand sliding down the left prep arm, flattening out and rising to the end position. Think "the letter U". The beginning position was correct. The ending position was correct. However, the middle position was functionally incorrect. Moving the hand in this manner from point A to B does not cover center line and will inevitably result in getting hit.

It was a useful exercise. However, as we continue our kata training, we need to leave behind the count and the monotone. We each need to find our own kata rhythm that reflects our personal experiences, body type and bunkai.


Rick said...

The late Chinese internal martial arts master, Rose Li, advocated practicing the form very slowly.

I've done that myself, and it's very hard to do. It's hard to keep a slow and even pace. We tend to want to leap ahead.

It's a very useful type of training.

SueC said...

It's interesting to learn about different methods of teaching kata. We do occassionally perform a kata very slowly in order to perfect the details of technique but we've never learn't kata to a rhythmic count or though I can see some merit in doing so to start with. We are taught kata individually or in small kyu grade groups by following sensei. We are then encouraged to practice the kata at our own pace on our own - we don't often perform the same kata as a class activity. Even on the occasions that we do all perform the same kata together we still do it at our own pace.

There's clearly more than one way to 'skin a cat'!

Rick said...

An element is practicing slowly with a group is having to constantly adapt to the speed of the group.

Hack Shaft said...

I often find rapid tempo, thumpa-thumpa music accompanying extreme kata in competition somewhat annoying for this reason.

It's just too fast to judge any movement other than fancy gymnastics.

My rule is this: if you turn off the sound, does it still look good?

I'm more impressed by the side kick that hangs for a few seconds completely motionless than the 540-trick-flip.