Uechi-ryu: “A Lifetime Activity”!
A good friend and Uechi-ryu teacher called me recently, asking advice regarding a gifted student he had, who was “breezing” through the Uechi curriculum in record time. The teacher’s question involved rules regarding speeded-up promotions and how to teach this individual, who could memorize a kata every couple days.
Wow, as teachers, we should all have such problems.
I thought about this for awhile, as in my nearly 50 years of teaching, I too was blessed with a couple of students who had what Bobby Campbell used to describe as “Stealing” eyes. (what was seen, could be repeated) Since Bob was one of those remarkable students, I was always challenged to keep his interest in working out, while focusing his attention on areas of training that were quite unorthodox for a fighting system like Uechi-ryu, where the kata were few and relatively easy to memorize.
Gifted students like Bobby, became the target for coaches in better known sports such as basketball and football. It was hard to focus his attention on an activity where achievement was recognized by a thin colored belt rather than the adoration of cheer leaders and a supercharged crowd of fans.
The challenge to retain students, whether gifted or garden variety klutzes, who after a year or two, become gifted, remains the same. The teacher must present the martial art material with goals that are different than what Western sports and activities normally attempt to achieve.
I pointed out to my friend that “Dancing with the Stars” (Popular TV reality series… if you are living without a television) demand that contestants memorize and be capable of performing complex dance movements, far more difficult than most kata, within one week’s time. If this is possible, then why should a typical karate student not be able to learn and perform a new kata every week?
A teacher must differentiate between learning a kata and “mastering” a kata. In “mastering” a kata, a teacher must know what each kata was designed for; what it was capable of “identifying” within the student and finally, the process of making those attributes of the kata, part of the student.
Most newer teachers and their students loose confidence in their training when they expect the “mastering” of a kata to coincide with the simple act of mimicking the movements of the kata. With this superficial understanding of the training, the colored belts and motivational talks become poor substitutes for the appreciation of what the martial arts was originally designed to accomplish.
Keep your workouts interesting and varied, but don’t loose sight of the fact we are teaching a martial art, not “Dancing with the Sensei”!
Tomoyose Sensei said it best: “Uechi-ryu kata are few. Only three that are very important. These kata are very ‘deep’ in content and require a lifetime of study and practice“.