WEEK 26: Kata Nine Tails

WEEK 26: Kata Nine Tails


It’s October. I’ve now being doing karate for six months. Let’s have a recap, shall we? I’ve moved up two belts in that time and learnt how to do a pretty good kata kihon and heian shodan – those highly stylised blocking and punching routines around the floor of the dojo. I can deal with the hard exercise and despite sciatica, which some weeks can be downright unpleasant, and an occasional twinged back, more from tennis than karate, I’m still in it. Six months!

If there is a downside, it’s that I’m the Nottingham Forest of the group. Bottom of the table. Not bad on my day, but prone to losing my way, becoming confused in the technical sections and generally unable to keep up with the pace of the others (average age: 12). The fact that these just-teens and pre-teens can pick up and remember moves almost at will is the biggest challenge I’ve faced. All the things I’ve done and experienced in 51 years – yet I’m not as good as a kid who’s only recently started comprehensive school. And my weight has gone up! Thirteen stone 4 now. What the… huh?

But do you know, I’m OK with all this. I’m a dad with two kids and two stepkids. I want these four boys to do well – and I want all the lads in the dojo to belt through the belts. The fact they’re taking this so seriously and not focused on a screen is great to see.

So, confession – I did no home practice whatsoever this week, and there was only a single karate session, not two. I took my youngest son away for a night at the weekend to discuss a few school issues and his need to put in a bit of extra work in his final year. We chose Woking of all places – cheap-ish and only 40 minutes out of London, and, of course, the home of The Jam.

Without doing the place down, the first thing I saw when I looked out of the hotel window was a man taking a dump in the street. That was a first in my personal I-Spy. Then, of course, there was a train strike and the next day a rail replacement bus service. By the time I got home on Sunday, all I wanted was a glass of red wine and not an hour trying out the new heian nidan moves. No point moping about it now but with grading in the not-too-distant future, I have to carve out some time otherwise I’ll be stuck with a red belt… for the rest of my life.

I’ve become a very tough critic of myself in karate – there’s a sort of martial arts Brian Clough manager in my head (more Nottingham Forest mentions!) and in this week’s session I was, “Rubbish! Bloody rubbish!” A sequence of five moves in a kata brings my thinking shutters down: “Sorry, we’re closed!” Is that because I feel blitzed from work?

The only way to deal with this is to get the moves correct on my own at home. To go in prepared. Am I too tense in the dojo because I’m lagging behind children or is this merely “what I’m like”? Is everyone asking themselves such deep and meaningful questions at this six-month mark? Is this a natural progression? And as you’ll see from the main image this week… here’s Cloughie in my living room. He’s always watching over me.

The heian nidan is basically vogueing with a couple of tricky technical switches. Madonna would get the gist of it while I was still trying to figure out what stance I should be performing on the opening move. As Clough might say, “You can get through this by vogue-iiinnng, young man.” Everything in a kata has a purpose and occasionally we’re asked to describe why these moves have significance in a bunkai – an analysis. Every kata move has a practical use and part of me thinks, “Well, vogueing could conceivably be given a combat purpose if you thought long enough about it.” Bunkai is a particular problem for me – and something that needs switching from a negative to a positive.

This is how the bunkai went… “Why do we do this part of the kata, Lee? Where do you want me to move? What do you want me to do?” “Err, thump me in the chudan [chest].” “OK, then what?” “Err, let’s cross that bridge when we come to it…” Daft throw-away comment; silly. You’re marked on bunkai in grading and attempts at humour would fall on very deaf ears. I’m going to ask to go heavy on bunkai, to work on my weaknesses – I’ll ask on Monday… I’m suffering from chronic bunkai-itis.

Despite the Ol’ Big ’Ead routine with myself, there are, of course, major plus points after being in the dojo. Surviving another rigorous session is one of them. I’m feeling fitter – there’s no question about that. What’s great is that you think of nothing else when training – you’re completely focused. And surely if you really want to improve, improvement will come. There’s some hard work to come because I really want that yellow belt, but even if I don’t get it, karate is an unbelievably mega-good match for me. I love it – I love the discipline, the concentration and the performance art of every single move. You are compelled to make personal strides forward. Be seeing you!