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Your Brain On Kata

Have you ever watched a technique or kata demonstrated and when the teacher says to go try it you stand there and have no idea where to begin? Or you try it and the results are nowhere near what was demonstrated. The problem may be that your brain is tricking you. What you see may not be what was actually demonstrated.

Functional MRIs are providing science with amazing new understanding of how our brains work. The brain has for lack of a better word, filters, that it uses to put things in place in your mind. These filters however can cloud your perception of training.

For instance while you are watching a kata being demonstrated your brain is searching what you know already in order to put the new information it is seeing into context. So your inclination is not to try something new but to use what you already have learned. The first problem with this is that training is about discovering what you don’t know not confirming what you do know.

The next problem is short-term memory only lasts for twenty to thirty seconds. So as you’re watching what you ‘think’ you saw, you’re probably only going to remember the last thirty seconds of that. This is that feeling you have training where you can’t remember how the kata started.

Then when you go to practice the kata you physically do, what you thought you saw, with your cultural filters of kinesthetic movement stored in your Basal Ganglia. What does this mean? How you move, how you use your physical body has been shaped by your cultural upbringing.

Right now aggressive strength based fighting is prevalent in the media so when new students attempt to practice a kata they unknowingly apply this strength based cultural response. The problem is To-Shin Do has roots that travel through Japan and our taijutsu, how we move our bodies, reflect that very different cultural physical response.

In order to bypass these natural inclinations of our minds and reprogram the Basal Ganglia with new habitual motor responses that use taijutsu you can follow a simple formula when studying kata. This formula is based on continued training and understanding of taijutsu kamae or how to use your body structure in gravity efficiently.

First when you watch a kata being demonstrated look for the starting kamae and ending kamae in each part of the kata. Usually the parts of a kata can be seen at the moments that kamae change (remember striking if done correctly is a kamae).

Second what was the goal of each part of the kata or in other words what effect did each part of the kata have on the attacker? Did they lose their balance, were they knocked back, what happened to the attacker?

Then the final step is to stay connected to each of those individual moments with your training partner within the kata. Can you stay present in the moment with the map showing the change from kamae to kamae and the goal of each of those changes?

This formula, taking control with kamae, in order to accomplish a goal, in a specific moment in time, allows you to search for the principles within the kata, to learn from the kata instead of just learning the kata.

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