Moving Meditation: Kata/Forms/Patterns

It’s often been said that performing Kata/Forms/Patterns (Kata for convenience) is like moving meditation; but what exactly does that mean?

Well first let’s look at meditation then see how performing Kata can be similar. Meditation is a practice which (amongst other things) aims to silence the mind and help focus the intention. There are many variations, but (put very simply) one of the most common methods of meditation is simply to sit and focus all your minds attention on the breath so as to “distract” the mind from other thoughts. With time and practice, you get used to distracting the mind till it gets used to becoming quiet and absent of thought.

Generally speaking, many of our reactions to given situations (including what we would call “thoughts”) are just conditioned responses based on our upbringing and previous life experiences. We often respond to many situations with automatic responses, which have little or nothing to do with actual logical or rational thought or informed choice. Yet the self talk we hear in our heads makes us feel that we are actually thinking rationally and choosing our responses when we’re not really.

A Neil Genge1busy mind with a lot of internal “self talk” can be distracting, cause stress (as self talk is usually negative) and often has difficulty thinking straight. Quieting the internal self talk with meditation can be useful for attaining calmness (cutting out negativity) and helping with the clarity of actual rational thought (cutting out distracting thoughts which don’t help).

There are also spiritual connotations as many people believe that you can connect to higher spiritual parts of yourself (usually called higher self or inner being). Now I know some people will believe in this and others won’t and it is beyond the remit of this post to argue that case either way.

However, without doubt, it is known that we only consciously use a small percentage of our brain, most people say about 10%. By silencing that 10% that we do have direct access too, we slowly learn to access some of the other 90% (our subconscious). This part does not usually speak to us directly with words or thoughts; but with feelings and intuition which guide us. This can be in a self defence situation, our job, relationships or any part of our life.

Furthermore the human brain takes in enormous amounts of information, most of which our conscious mind filters out (as it would be a burden to be aware of so much insignificant detail every second). However, when we have a problem or seek an answer, the subconscious which has absorbed this vast amount of information can sometimes give us an answer from this vast amount of information, which the conscious mind has filtered out. But we need to quieten our conscious minds long enough to become aware of it.

Now whatever your paradigm (higher self, inner being, subconscious mind); it all works basically the same way. Therefore it’s not worth arguing over which is right or wrong, all that is important is that by silencing the conscious mind we can access a higher level of intelligence/intuition.

SoFunikoshiooooo, back to Kata! Try observing your mind for a while (without meditating). High grade martial artists should have fairly quiet minds already as it is a side effect of our training, so this may not work too well with experienced martial artists. However, you can get your students to try this. Normally, after a while you will notice a certain amount of self talk inside your mind, this is natural.

Then choose a Kata that you know well and can perform without having to think or concentrate on. As you perform that Kata, put just a small part of your attention into observing your own mind. If you know the Kata well, you should notice that your mind falls silent as you flow from one movement to another to another, without the need for thought. The use of breath in meditation for distracting unwanted thought is replaced by the well rehearsed dynamic, fluid and powerful movements of the Kata. Instead of conscious thought there is intension, focus and a sureness of purpose. Ironically, some Kata movements can be quite complex, detailed and demanding; yet rather than thinking about them, we shut of thought to perform them!

The same is true of course of basics, but they are generally shorter, giving less time to gain the benefit.

If we can perform complex movements and turns; with power, grace, speed, balance, accuracy and poise better without conscious thought than with thought, surely that’s a lesson for other areas of our life. I’m not suggesting that we stop thinking altogether, but silencing the mind can bring benefits to many other areas of our life. It does actually help us to think more clearly and to an extent helps us overcome our automatic responses to situations where we respond from conditioning rather than from any rational thought.

Imagine a situation for example where one person picks a fight with another. Often the person being picked on (especially young men) will respond with a conditioned response such as, “who’s he think he’s talking to” or similar and actual clear rational thought has nothing to do with it. Being able to clear away the “who’s he think he’s talking to” self talk actually allows us to take the ego out of the situation, think more clearly and find a way out without having to resort to a pointless fight. With rational thought rather than conditioned response, we would usually observe a fool trying to intimidate us and why on Earth would we value the opinion of a fool? If we do not value the opinion of the fool, then it is easy to walk away and NOT be provoked by it! Why would a fools opinion be provocative? Isn’t that very rational and logical?

This is not an overnight thing, but slowly over long periods of time, we gain access to the deeper parts of our mind and intuition.

There is of course a lot more to it than what is covered here, but this is just a blog post and this subject could take a book. Please leave your comments below and let me know what you think?

Moksu: Does It Actually Have A Martial Application?

For those not familiar with the term, Moksu it is Japanese for the kneeling meditation at the beginning and end of a martial arts class.  It is often seen as just clearing the mind from the day’s ups and downs to prepare you for training.  It does of course do that, but it can actually represent a lot more in the long term.  Apart from just clearing the mind, when practiced regularly it can over time help to completely silence the mind.  Silencing the minds usual internal chatter has a feeling of peace and tranquillity (a bit like the sudden quietness of turning off a factory air conditioning system).

This can sometimes be achieved quite quickly, but sometimes it can take years.  How often have you knelt there thinking “my knees hurt”, “how long is this going on for”, “I hope we do sparring tonight” or “I hope we don’t do sparring tonight”, whatever!

Moksu is as much an exercise for the mind as a reverse punch is for the body, but it is often underrated and its potential overlooked.  We are not simply looking for peace and tranquillity (though this is a worthy achievement in itself), we are also looking to directly take back control of our own minds so that it does not undermine us at crucial times.  It is about being able to silence at will that voice in our head which undermines us.  The voice that says “I can’t do this”, “he’s bigger than me”, “I’m going to get killed here”, “he’s always picking on me”, whatever.  Gradually, bit by bit, we take this quietening of the mind more and more into the rest of our training.  It is often said that combat is more mental than physical, well Moksu is actually a practice for the mental side.

When we can free the mind of it’s internal clutter, then we can use our mind more efficiently.  We become more conscious and more aware of whatever our present situation is.

It is almost like we have 2 minds; one which is a powerful tool that we deliberately think with and one which almost acts independently of us and usually undermines us.  This undermining part of our mind is often referred to in many self development/spiritual texts as the “ego”.   It relies on past experience rather than original thought, therefore it keeps us where we are rather than allowing us to move forward.  It acts to cover up weaknesses with a false show, rather than face and conquer the weaknesses.

Unfortunately both “minds” do not work well at the same time.  When the ego is in full flow giving us negative thoughts, we find it very difficult to access the power of the deliberately thinking part of our brain or our intuition.

When facing an opponent (whether sparring or for real) we need to be able to think tactically, yet at the moment of action we need to let our intuition take over and react according to how our opponents moves (or doesn’t move).

This can of course apply to almost any part of our lives, whether it is our job, driving, relationships, school or whatever.  We always function better when we can silence the ego, think more logically and engage our intuition.  The ego left unchecked can rob us of access to these facilities, which is why people with low self esteem or those who worry a lot seem to be unable to find a way out of their situations; whether in training, street attacks, or in any other aspect of life.  You are more capable of finding solutions to problems within any area of your life when you can think clearly.  You always think more clearly when you can silence the ego.

Just to clarify, I refer to people of low self esteem above, which might on the surface at least appear to be the opposite of what we normally consider to be a person with a “big ego”.  We tend to see what we consider an egotistical person to be somebody who brags, boasts and puts on a show.  However, this kind of egotist putting on a show is in actuality usually a person of low esteem, but is putting more effort into hiding their own perceived weakness rather than facing and conquering them.  A person of low self esteem (whether they are depressive or showy) is usually focusing a large part of their conscious thought on their past experiences which they cannot escape.  They are in many respects living in the past as they measure all new experiences/challenges in terms of their previous experiences.

Now this is a very human thing to do and is very common.  But silencing that inner voice, accessing your intuition and higher intellect are the best ways to escape that cycle of living in the past and to become more conscious of your present situation (living in “the now” as some people say).  Solutions to problems (both in self protection and everyday life) appear much more readily when you are focused in the present then when you’re being held captive to your past experiences by the ego.  Moksu (or any form of meditation) is a great tool to help with that and ideally should really be practiced more often than just at the beginning and of the Karate class.

Do you practice your kicks and punches at home?  Then why not practice Moksu at home.  It may take time to produce noticeable results, but it will in time allow you to access higher martial skills by engaging intuitive responses as you stop your own ego getting in the way!