Paired Kata – What I Learned
In the Code of Karate there are two sayings, which came from the Bubishi.
The eye must see on all side.
The ear muse listen in all dirctions.
I wanted to make them ever so much more to my students studies. Not as words to memorize, but as experiences to use and build on.
What follows is the journey to do just that, which happed over my decades ass an instructor.
This story began when I was a Yellow Belt in Isshinryu and I had just learned my new kata Seiunchin. At that time I knew nothing of it’s history or why it was included in Isshinryu, I just knew I had a lot of work to do to get it right (of course what I thought of right was what a yellow belt thought of as right.)
At that time Lewis Sensei was preparing for a local demonstration and part of that demonstration was to have a yellow belt team show group performance of Seiunchin kata done to music. (that was a new thing back then).
So he took charge of the group preparation and drilled and drilled Seiunchin as he wanted it into up. Over and over, class after class. Eventually we began to move in unison. At that point the music was added, it was a popular tune back in those days. The song was ‘The Hustle’. We did the kata with the music playing, but the kata was not timed to the song either. We just did both together.
Then the demonstration came, and it went well and then it was done. Never again did I do the form to music.
Training moved on, and I moved on with it. But because of that intensity, the manner in which our performance incorporated Slow intense movements with heavy breathing, and fast quick movements with normal breathing, Hard and Soft at the same time, forever that would remain my Seiunchin performance.
A decade later I was also showing my young students, as they advanced past Seiunchin, to perform the kata also as a team performance. I wanted them to move to a higher level of performance. And to develop the use of their eyes and ears to keep track of what was happening around them, both for performance, and to move toward reaching self defense skills through their training.
What I found the group kata practice as students were advancing through the kyu ranks was also a powerful way to teach all of them to use more advanced energy in their practice. Not that was the end goal, just one more step appropriate for where I wanted students to move towards, a foundation for later dan studies.
Then slowly, step by step, I worked on other ways to expand the process.
I now began students on a supplemental kata, our Sho (which was an Isshinryuized version of Matsubayshi Fyugata Sho
One example, new students who knew the form they began with, would often lack the focus to perform their form when standing in front of the class alone.
But if I then placed them in the middle of two brown belts, or two black belts, they would show they could to a much stronger performance. And even look like they knew the form at a black belt level.
That showed them they were much better than they imagined they were.
And makes a point how the black belts were also sharing there energy while doing the form. (A thing I learned from that group Seiunchin performance.)
I then incorporated another practice. Paired Kata Sho.
Where both students stood squarely before each other and 2 people did the kata in opposite directions at the same time. When they got used to it, they did so closely even to having their down block in the kata, striking into each other’s arm at the same time. Again requiring them to use their sight and hearing for that level of performance. Many things happening at the same time. All of them beneficial for developing what I saw student karate to be.
One level of paired sho performance
There were other ways I had the students use Kata Sho, beyond just performing the kata.
Perhaps the most apt inclusion would be that of a very close order drill.
Where students as a group stood shoulder touching shoulder of those beside them. And with other rows having students behind having their chest against the back of the row in front of them. The students would then try to do the kata Sho with the smallest, tinyist movements they could possibly make, and to stay together as a group. It was for fun, but also made them more aware that to attempt to do it, they had to remain aware of what was happening around them. Always a lesson.
Then when students had learned Seiunchin, some time later they were added to the kyu Seiunchin team practice. Then the drilled the kata, as I had learn it, over and over. Working to get to the flow and energy release I was looking for. Not for public performance, just to move them to a higher level of performance.
One year I had one of my friends in for a private clinic, Other friends were also there to participate, My friend showed so much I decided to give him a break from his demonstration. So I had the different instructors demonstrate their own kata, I decided to do Seiunchin kata, and grabbed my son to help me. While I was his instructor, we did not train together. What follows is just us doing the form, his timing and flow just what I had the team do in class. Of course it was exactly as I had been shown.
Other times I would have 6 students stand as if on a circle, as 2, 3, 6, 8, 10 and 12 o’clock. Their backs to the inside of the circle. Then they would do Seiunchin kata, attempting to keep in unison during the performance. Further challenging their use is sight and hearing to accomplish this.
Much later after a student was well past learning Wansu kata, came another drill. They would stand before an other student, the tip of their right shoulders aligned and then perform kata Wansu in opposite directions staying in close order. Having to not become entangled with each other during the ‘fireman’s throw’ section. A much more advanced exercise in awareness, pushing sight and hearing to higher levels of awareness.
One of the things I insisted it that all brown belts work on Chinto kata, learned at green belt, to work toward perfection. Tirelessly I drilled on this. In the days we used tournaments as an occasional practice, Chinto becamd the mandatory brown belt kata.
It was at this level another paired practice began, that of 2 brown belts performing the kata in opposite directions, maintaining there staying in unison. A much more difficult practice. When Mike Cassidy and Young Lee were brown belts that was one of their practices. Even 30 years later, no longer drilling together, they retained the ability they acquired to remain in unison.
Even at black belt there were partner practices. This time using Naifanchi kata. And this time done in a stack formation.
Naifanchi as a Row drill
Long ago I read in some magazine that Seniors on Okinawa would perform group kata from time to time. The goal to remain together. And when doing so one might change the pace unexpectedly to see if the others would match it. Then another might do the same. A sort of polite Masters Duel. Seeing is they still used their eyes and ears.
Of course this is just what I have done. Now for my students, now instructors to choose to follow what they experienced for their own students.
How you train does determine what you are!
The eye must see on all side.
The ear muse listen in all dirctions.