I have always taught there was two aspect of training in karate when in fact, there are three. I have never illuminated the third because most practitioners never fully master the first two.
The first two are the tangible ones and a lot easier to understand. When we refer to the mind, body and spirit we are also referring to the three aspects of training. There is kata, kumita and philosophy. Each one of these aspects dealing with another avenue of training. All of them contribute to our mastery of the arts.
Through kumite we develop in many aspect of the body. From all the physical contact, we toughen our body and condition our mind to accept the pain associated with fighting. We learn about our abilities and limitations regarding our speed, strength and agility. We also learn not to underestimate the ability of others and to always be on full awareness. Most important of all, we develop timing and positioning according to our own fighting assets and weaknesses.
We should always be proud of our personal accomplishments but never discount the training and abilities of others. I always say: “He who knows everything can learn nothing more.
Who among us knows everything? I teach and encourage the three speeds and levels of kumita. Slow speed is what I consider to be the most valuable. At slow speed, we have a tendency to inhibit less fear of being hit and very little chance of being hurt. This would allow us as practitioner to relax and go through intended combinations and formulate proper muscle memory and technique. I find the best fighters are the ones with the most efficient techniques. I remember a quote from Bruce Lee saying “I don’t fear the man with a thousand techniques. I fear the man with one technique and who practice it a thousand times.” I call this the training of the “Dragon”. Slow movement to find perfection.
Those who cannot find the control to maintain this speed will never be able to fully control themselves.
Training kumita at middle speed allows us to feel the flow of a movement. This is the training of the “Crane”. When there is flow in our movements and minimal snags and rigidness, our techniques becomes quicker and more effective. We feel the proper rotation of our body which grants us better speed and power. This will improve us more as fighters.
The third speed is that of the “Tiger”. As in kata, the Tiger speaks for itself. This aspect is all about power. I suggest you wear protective gear while sparring at this level. Every strike and movement should be performed at 100% except for the head which I suggest should be at 30%. I would also suggest you wear head gear at this level. I also insist attacks to the head must be controlled. The head gear is to insure against accident which always happens. We must be ready to forgive our training opponents for such incidents. All strikes to the body should be performed at 100%. All head strike should be controlled and striking at 30%.
The second aspect of training is kata. This is the aspect of the mind. Kata defines us as who we are. A student of Tiger is such because he trains and fights with tiger style techniques. Such is true with Cranes students, Wing Chung student, Tai Quan Do students, and Shodokan students and so forth.
We are Uechi-Ryu students by virtue of the techniques we learn from performing our Uechi-Ryu katas. I have heard from many instructors that kata is just kata and kata has nothing to do with fighting. If that was the case, why do we perform kata? If kata was just to enhance movements and balance why don’t we just learn to dance the cha-cha or the tangle? There are a lot more movements in dancing than in a karate kata. There is even more cardio contribution in dancing because a kata sometimes last a full minute and a song for dancing last a minimum of two and a half minutes. Some senseis have told me they teach the movements as fighting techniques but they do not perform these movements in kata as if they are fighting an opponent. I’ve always asked “why not?” Is it better to use a screw driver to hit nails or use it to turn in a screw? Is it more beneficial to perform and train our fighting techniques in a fighting situation or should we simply go through meaningless motions? We all say the more kata we perform, the better we become. Is that really true? What are the purposes of kata? Many refer to kata as “shadow boxing”.
I teach that during kata, we concentrate on our intended opponent. That is why our eyes must remain straight and focused on our target. As we fight our imaginary opponent, we develop muscle memory for either the attack by us or a response to the attack of our imaginary opponents. The key word for kata is muscle memory for our fighting techniques in a certain situation. Is it more beneficial for use to perform our movements with an opposing fighter or going through movements just for the sake of moving? This is precisely why I dissect each movement when I teach kata and tell my student to move as if they were fighting and performing each technique to overcome an opponent.
The last aspect of martial arts is of the philosophical nature. We all have a philosophy rather we know it or not. This is why the spiritual aspect of our training is so elusive. What is our purpose of studying martial arts? Why do we prefer Uechi-Ryu? Is Uechi-Ryu a defensive system or is it an offensive system? Do we understand the implications of the original 5 animals or even what the 5 animals are? Why did Grandmaster Kanbun Uechi pick only 3 of the original 5 animals?
Although the answer is staring us right in the face, most of us do not understand the benefits of that knowledge. This knowledge affects our training and our state of mind while we train. We evolve to be at comfort with whom and where we are. Our hair does not stand on ends when we are offered critiques by others. We are not offended when others do not align with our opinions. Can we walk away from an aggressor and feel at peace with ourselves? How many of us are there? How extensive is our philosophy?