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The Point On a Mountain in China

"For all the talk you hear about knowledge being such a wonderful thing, instinct is worth forty of it for real unerringness."
-
Mark Twain, Tom Sawyer Abroad

 

I

 trained for 35 years on a mountain in China.  In the solitude of my unheated training hall, I studied the ways and methods of the ancient kata until I reached enlightenment.  With shaven head and yellow robes, I headed to America and was greeted with open arms by the Westerners, who upon hearing of my austere training, realized I had become a modern day guru.

"For all the talk you hear about knowledge being such a wonderful thing, instinct is worth forty of it for real unerringness."
-
Mark Twain, Tom Sawyer Abroad

 

I

 trained for 35 years on a mountain in China.  In the solitude of my unheated training hall, I studied the ways and methods of the ancient kata until I reached enlightenment.  With shaven head and yellow robes, I headed to America and was greeted with open arms by the Westerners, who upon hearing of my austere training, realized I had become a modern day guru.

     OK.  Would you believe I couldn't find a school I liked, trained in an unheated garage in Illinois, hair is falling out and  own a yellow tee shirt?  What you say, how you say it, who says it and where it's said all influence its perception. A withered Chinese man offering martial wisdom is more likely to be accepted than my perception of things.

     Experts, and I use that term loosely, say how one must study the kata to realize the depth and profundity of its message.  There is a problem with that line of thinking.  Many labor for decades and just never get it.  Others speak in circles about how they truly understand, but for some reason cannot articulate their discoveries in a logical way.  Most head down a wrong road and never quite realize it's the wrong direction.  And men never ask directions.

     So, do I know the "way?"  Nope, not even close.  I am still learning and will until the day I die.  The only thing is I have is enough sense to realize these shortcomings.

     Are all the techniques of a style contained in the kata?  No, probably more like the Reader's Digest version;  the key concepts are demonstrated by example and nothing more.  Will practicing the kata incessantly make me skilled?  No, it's just a guideline.  Repeating a pattern over and over will make you skilled at that pattern only.  The longer you train that pattern, the less adaptive you will become.  Martial rigor sets in and you can't move any other way.  Not the best training for combat which is ever changing and fluid.  Is there great depth and profundity to the kata?  Most likely, it's just a clever way to demonstrate principles and strategies.  Like Bruce Lee's remark about not carrying a boat on your back for the rest of your life just because you needed it to get across a river.

     But, we aren't Bruce Lee.  Without structure, most will get nowhere.  Without the instruction manual we can't make the thing work, so we refer to the manual constantly, hoping enlightenment will come.  Does reading the same book over and over make you more knowledgeable? Perhaps.  That is how some approach the Bible. Read it again and again.  Trouble is, we end up with different interpretations of the Book's meanings by scholars.  For most books, it's a read once - I've got it thing.

     Many modern day "masters" criticize the practice of kata.  Are they correct?  Again, beats me.  I have always practiced kata and will continue to do so.  My reasoning is the ancient masters weren't fools.  If they saw value in them, there surely must be.  The human body moves the same way it did many hundreds of years ago.  It seems logical to practice the kata just to cover all the bases. Besides, there is something special about the kata.  It links all those who practice, with all those who preceded.  It forms a lineage from the ancient warrior to the modern day wannabe.  It is a record of wisdom, much of which was learned the hard way.  And those records should be treated with reverence.

     I wish I could say I've made learned insights through diligent study of the kata, but I'm more like Homer Simpson swinging his arms in a dark basement and accidentally finding the pull chain for the light switch. 

     I was contemplating covering my dojo floor with vinyl flooring and wanted a pattern that would remain timeless. I thought about a black and white checkerboard pattern, when it hit me.  Was the creator of Saifa a chess player?  Were the foot patterns a way of teaching strategy which mimics the ancient game?

     Another time, while waiting for the microwave to beep, I did a short version of Saifa around the kitchen chairs and table.  Was Saifa designed for a crowded inn or a wooded area?  Do we pull and push the opponent across and into obstacles? Studying and deciphering kata from a hardwood dojo floor skews its meaning.

     If Seiunchin kata is against a grappler, why does everyone demonstrate bunkai against a standing opponent?  Put the opponent on one knee and suddenly you have a nice fit. The opening yoko uke is now a reverse haito to the neck - palm roll to a hair grab and a palm up nukite to the throat as you pull inward.  It's comical how many grappling movement were "discovered" in kata when jujitsu became popular.

     But this is why one will learn as long as he never believes he "knows."  You do something for decades and suddenly a flash of insight happens.  "Oh heck", you think to yourself: "Why didn't I see this before?"  It's like Helen Keller finally making the connection between signing and communication.  It keeps our practice interesting.  But it also shows us how little we have progressed in our study. 

     Arthur Jones, the founder of Nautilus and Med-X once said the truly intelligent will take what they have learned from one area and see its application in another to gain new perspective.  Miyuki Miura, a former All-Japan Champion said he could never grasp the concept of rounding ukes until he saw two children playing with spinning tops crashing and bouncing away from one another.  He suddenly understood.

     And that's where the most valuable lessons are learned.  Not from experts or gurus, but by chance.  It can happen in the dojo, the kitchen, playing with a grandchild.  It doesn't have to be a majestic mountain training hall.  It's under one's nose