The power of Kata

Photo: Aldo Schumann

In Aikido (when I used to train), we’d regularly do 1,000 straight sword cuts. There was a certain way to do these cuts. They were prescribed and choreographed. And we did them over and over again.

This is what the Japanese call, kata (translated: ‘form’). Kata is the cornerstone of a lot of classical martial arts. It seems stupid to the skeptical western mind, (“That’ll do you no good in the cage, broooo.”) but there’s a definite method to the Japanese madness here.

What’s interesting is watching the mind’s chatter during this long, repetitive series of sword cuts. Here’s, generally, how it goes…

For the first 100: This is so easy. Why are we doing these?
Cut # 200–349: Did I pay the cell phone bill?
Cut # 350–449: Alright, my shoulders are getting a little tight.
Cut # 450–549: Damn it, 550 more to go.
Cut # 550–686: Oooh, the pain. Gotta relax the shoulders. There we go.
Cut # 687–724: Feeling it in my back now. Gotta relax and use the hips.
Cut # 725–800: Just keep breathing.
Cut # 801–100: (Radio silence.)

See how, through the series, the mind starts off loud and rowdy but slowly starts to peter out? That’s it. That’s the power of the exercise. Those last couple hundred cuts are pure, focused bliss.

Try it yourself. It could be sword cuts. Could be golf swings. Could be chopping wood with an axe. But preferably something physical. Something you can put your whole body into. And something you’re already decent at. We don’t want to be figuring anything out here. Just doing and repeating a high number of times.

This is the meaning and power of Kata. There’s nothing quite like the power of focused repetition

Wax on. Wax off.

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