|Training kobudo in Okinawa|
with Matayoshi sensei and
students from UMass.
This was often the way people trained in Okinawa, Kimo sensei explained, because the dojos were generally much smaller than they are in America. But the real point, he said, was so that each person could watch and learn, not just from one’s seniors but also from one’s juniors. The idea was to have an opportunity to check oneself. If one saw a mistake in someone’s kata—perhaps the elbow hadn’t been kept down or the shoulders were raised or tense—one was supposed to use that opportunity to check one’s own technique. It was the teacher’s job to correct the student, but it was each student’s job to correct him or her self. This was, in fact, the way Kimo sensei taught; I never heard him correct an individual student’s mistakes in front of the class. He would always comment to the whole class. “Check your feet.” “Don’t forget to breathe.” “Elbows down,” he would say, even if he had noticed only one person making the mistake. And I would always check myself to see if he was talking about me, and thought everyone else did as well.
|Doing Sanchin in Gibo sensei's|
dojo in the '80s.
There’s a video I used to watch a lot of a guy doing T’ai Chi saber form on YouTube. His movement was so incredibly natural and fluid that it was hard to tell where one technique finished and the next one began. You couldn’t really see his intent or the moment when the muscles required for one movement gave way to the muscles required for the next movement. In some way it reminded me of something Picasso had reportedly said about painting, something to the effect of, “It took me four years to learn to paint like Raphael but a lifetime to draw like a child.”
|Practicing sanchin dachi|
and stepping with the log.
I can remember when I first started to train Goju. I would go home and practice walking in sanchin dachi, focusing on balance and grounding and using a crescent step. It felt so unnatural but I was committed to practicing it until it felt good. Nowadays I try to make all of my movement natural, but it doesn’t look very much like the demonstration kata I see at tournaments. There’s very little locked down movement, labored breathing, rigid holding of postures. Some would no doubt say my kata is “sloppy.” Where are the punctuated, staccato movements? the dynamic tension? the deep stances? the loud breathing? the scowling look intended to intimidate the meek? But kata, it seems to me, is not a performance piece, and we’re not role playing. If anything—and if it’s even possible—we’re trying to demonstrate our understanding of kata applications, or bunkai, every time we do kata. That’s hard enough. Oh, and then trying to move naturally. You see, there it is again, Nature. It's always at the heart of things.