Kata Lab # 1240: Kata – A Flowing River

28 Mar

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“You could not step twice into the same river; for other waters are ever flowing on to you.” – Heraclitus


This is the only Kata Lab that will be be able to complete. You will fail at the objective. Not for lack of skill, or desire. It is utterly impossible to perform this Kata Lab.
There is a maxim in karate-do, “Perfect your kata.” Many teachers and masters utter this to their students who do no more than nod their head like a bobbled head on a car dashboard. The students then go and set about to perfect their kata. What rubbish. I submit that you can never perform the exact same kata twice. Thus, a kata cannot be perfected. You can perform a reasonable facsimile of the same kata. “Top-rated” tournament kata practitioners may achieve a level of performance similarity in their chosen one or two tournament kata. But, they too, will fail in trying to perform the exact same kata twice. The unsophisticated kata practitioner, particularity those that train one or two kata for tournament similarity will disagree, perhaps vehemently with my statement. Why? “Does not the fact that they consistently win trophies with their few chosen tournament kata demonstrate that their level of performance is homogenous? Perhaps, but only to those who only understand kata superficially.

If you understand kata within the context of the three aspects that I submit are present in kata, then you can see how it is utterly impossible to perform the same exact in the exact same manner twice, even in a lifetime. Also true is the idea that performing a kata that is mostly (90 percent or more) similar is a profound accomplishment.


You may wish to video tape yourself performing this experiment. After your practice, you can then refer to the video and take notes as to each performance. You should note any dissimilar areas during each performance. The less dissimilar areas, the closer you are to having performed the same kata twice. (Alternatively, you may wish to take notes after each kata performance for your later review.)
Select your favorite kata to practice;
Over a period of a few days or a week, practice the kata two or three times, trying to perform a kata exactly the same way;
After doing so, analyze each performance. Take notice of those areas of the kata that differ from one performance to the next. How close did you get to performing the same kata twice?

Regardless of whether or not you notes indicate that you came close to performing the same kata in the exact same manner (very few notes as to dissimilar areas). You utterly failed this kata lab. Worse is if your notes indicate that all areas of the kata were similar on at least two occasions; for you truly do not understand my three levels of kata.

First and foremost (as my father would say), “I bet you a dollar to a donut” that your list only addresses the physical movements of the kata. A block or strike that may have been off target, a stance that was less than perfect or a kata cadence that lacked the correct timing. As such, you only understand and thus, addressed one-third of the overall kata experience. (You may wish to pause and refer to my article on the three aspects of kata using this link: https://senseijohn.me/2013/05/20/kata-lab-101-three-states-of-bunkai/

Second, my spiritual aspect of kata (the manner in which kata affects your state-of-mind, emotions and psyche and vice-versa) is fatal to your performing the exact same kata twice. Our mental state is too much in flux to maintain it through various kata performance. Yes, you may convince yourself that during your kata you maintained all the applicable martial arts mind states. Sure, you may feel you achieved, Mushin, Zanshin, Nenjuushin and all the other “shins” of kata. But, you’re fooling yourself. Your emotions and psyche change from one moment to the next within a single kata performance, let alone from one kata performance to the next. (Endnote # 1 describe an example)

Third, my environmental aspect of kata (how the external environment affects your kata and vice-versa) will frustrate your attempts to perform this kata lab. If you practiced your kata in different locations, then by definition, you did not perform the exact same kata twice. If; however, you performed this lab in the exact same location, you still performed in in a different external environment and therefore failed to perform the exact same kata twice. You cannot control the temperature, humidity, dust and dirt on the floor, clothing (yes, different clothes affect you kata, even your gi, which may be dry at the start of practice and soaked with sweat at the end will produce a different performance).

Now, having the benefit of the above, try to perform the exact same kata twice and see how utterly impossible it is.


You can perform the same kata twice, but no two will ever be exactly alike. This is not an error, but a unique phenomenon of kata. Thus, you can never perfect your kata. You can; however, achieve a goal set by Coach Vince Lombardi for his Green Bay Packers football team, “We will strive for perfection knowing full well we will never achieve it, but in the process we will find excellence.” So, rather than perfect your kata, excel at your kata.

In a lifetime no kata will be exactly the same.
To perform a kata the exact same way twice, you must repeat, without change all three aspects:
physical aspect – all movements performed with kime intensity, speed, tempo, etc;
spiritual aspect – all movements performed with the same emotion (at the same point in the kata each time), with the same state of mind, with the same transition from emotion to emotion or state-of-mind to state-of-mind (this may even be required by the specific kata)
environmental aspect – the environment within which your kata is performed must remain constant (absent a “clean” room) this is impossible – air changes and flows, light changes, temperature varies even slightly. Even if such factors are “controlled”, nature will win out (for example, it takes 8 seconds for a photon of light to leave the Sun and reach earth, therefore, lighting for each kata will be different.

The key of this Lab is to understand that each and every kata performance is as fleeting and rare as each and every moment of life itself. You cannot take a kata for granted. The same is true of each and every moment of life.

Please remember, the mandate of the kata laboratory is

Cum superiorum privilegio veniaque (“With the privilege and permission of the superiors”)

Sensei John Szmitkowski

Featured video from my “Underground Bunkai” series:

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