Yes, Kata is useless...but let me explain.
After posting yesterday about Bowing in I began to have more thoughts about Karate practice as Zen practice. My post today is to help you understand how to keep your Karate practice a Pure Zen Art and not just a means to defend yourself, get in shape or develop inner discipline. Zen practice is not about those things.
Zen Master Dainin Katagiri would often talk about how useless Zen is. Whenever I heard or read this I would ask myself, "Then why do it?" After practicing Zen and Karate for some time now I sort of understand what he is talking about...and he is right! I then could also see how Karate's Kata are also useless.
For most of us, we come to Karate to improve ourselves. We want to develop a set of self-defense skills or we are seeking inner peace. We then end up using Karate and Kata as a means to an end. For instance, most styles of Karate have many kata, and to get your next color belt you have to learn a kata. So, the kata is a means to get your next belt. It is a means to an end. Same goes for Zazen, or Zen meditation. People who meditate are using Zazen in hopes of obtaining 'enlightenment' or lowering blood pressure or just seeking some inner peace.
To practice these forms as a means to an end is impure practice of your -Do. If you practice Goshindo, Karate-do, Judo or even TaeKwonDo, with the purpose of getting something, like your Black Belt, your practice of these arts is actually impure and not in line with ancient wisdom. Ancient Wisdom is about realizing inner peace...relief from suffering. It cannot be done with a split mind. I want to point out I did not say 'obtain' inner peace. It is not something you go and get like milk at the grocery store. I used the word 'realize'. It is an unfolding of what already is.
Pure Zen practice is to be aware and mindful of whatever you are doing with full undivided attention! That is it.
Zen and Kata are to be practiced this way. To practice Zazen is to just sit with full attention of your breath. That is it. Whatever happens happens. You then take care of what happens next, until the next happening and so on. Same with Kata. Practice Kata with full attention here and now. Your next belt happens...or not. But to practice with one eye on your kata and the other looking for your result is not pure Zen practice. Your mind is divided and your practice is impure. When your mind is divided your life actually becomes complicated and you suffer. Why? Because it creates the illusion that achieving your future goal is better than where you are now.
For instance, what happens when a football player turns his head to look up field to the end zone just before the thrown football reaches his hands? He misses the ball and doesn't score, right?
He now suffers (and so do the fans). His mind was divided between catching the ball and scoring a touchdown. The proper way is to keep the eyes on the ball, catch it, then run. Maybe a touchdown happens. How many times have you heard football coaches say, "Just take care of the ball". Very Zen.
Remember the 'Kara' of Karate from my earlier blog? Kara or Emptiness is to have the 'Sky Mind' of just watching. The Sky is not bothered by the passing clouds. We pay attention to what is here and now and take responsibility for what is in front of us, whether it is comfortable or uncomfortable. We are just here. Looking to 'get' something from your Zen or Kata practice is to miss the point of your -Do. And you will suffer.
Just be here. Now. Make your Kata useless for 'getting' something in the future. Do not make it a means to an end. Your Kata is it! It is the gateway to realizing all that you have been seeking. But don't seek it. Just do it.
Hands palm to palm,
ps...for my direct students. Why have I centered you on Sanchin Kata all these years? Maybe a good Black Belt test question.
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