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Karate Refinement

There are different aspects to learning in Karate. During the early stages, a student learns the basics, kata, pairing off drills, and kumite. After a few years, a student may know quite a lot. However, he eventually reaches a stage where simply training more and learning more will not produce good results. This is where the student enters the stage of refinement.

Let me try to create an image for you. During the first stage, the student is like a clay figure. The Sensei builds up the student's knoweldge, like lumps of clay piled on, molded, and shaped to make a statute. Each piece of knowledge is like a little lump of clay. A little here, a little there, and gradually the student grows.

But after a while, adding more is not the solution. Refinement requires the stripping away of the excess to reveal the true student within this mass of clay. Here the Sensei become a sculptor. Michelangelo started out with a large block of rough marble, and cut out the beautiful statue of David. He revealed the David that was hidden within the raw marble. It took his eye to see it and his talent to reveal it.

Once a student reaches an advanced level, the Sensei strips aways bad forms, unnatural movements, bad habits, and inefficiences, to reveal the pure student. Of course, the student will be an active participant in this process. The Sensei can only guide the way. The student must make the actual refinements.

But it takes a good Sensei to understand this process. Once a student reaches the critical level, only refinement will lead to improvement. If the Sensei instead, continues to add new kata and techniques rather than working on refinement, the student's errors will only increase. He will become like a big glob of clay.

How many people do you know that know dozens of kata but can do none very well? What use are kata if the meanings of each movement are not understood?

It is better to know a few kata well and to work on refinements, rather than to know many kata in a shallow manner. In my style, some Sensei have told me that only three kata are really necessary: Naihanchi Shodan, Fukyugata Ichi, and Chinto. Perhaps the particular kata will differ, but the idea is this: with a few good kata known very well, a student can reach the critical level where refinement can begin. It is almost like critical mass. Once critical mass is reached, nuclear reactions can begin.

Kata are like the fuel for the Karate nuclear reactions. When the kata are pure and tightly focused, something amazing begins to happen.

Tonight in my dojo, the advanced students spent most of the evening working on just one kata, Fukyugata Ichi. And essentially, they were working on just the first movement. These students know many kata, but the idea is that if they can perform the first movement of Fukyugata Ichi correctly (from the standpoint of timing, weight distribution, body dynamics, koshi, body alignment, striking point, recoil timing, etc.) then they can perform all movements in the kata, and in all kata they know, correctly. Refinement improves everything.

Sometimes more is not better. Less is.

Remember that doing one movement well (actually exceptionally) is the key to doing all movements well.


Charles C. Goodin