We all know that karate is good as an overall system for self-defense, exercise and good mental and physical health. And, because of the various techniques and combinations of techniques, karate is a good tool to help with concentration. But, did you know that karate is a great way to meditate?
In general, karate, especially Shotokan karate, is a fast, hard martial arts form whose strategy focuses on quick, straight direct strikes. And, like most traditional martial arts, there are preset forms that incorporate techniques to simulate fighting situations. These preset moves are called katas. In Shotokan karate, there are twenty-six formal katas. As the student learns the katas; the need to think about the stances, twists, punches and kicks becomes part of his or her muscle memory. So, it is always essential to practice.
In training, variations on the twenty-six katas helps the student open their mind to possibilities. This also helps the student understand possible applications of the kata or what’s called bunkai, But, what happens when you slow down the first five katas, known in the Shotokan sytle as Heian katas to a very slow and steady pace.
As in the book, Moving Zen, the martial spirit is that of quietness. Practicing a slow form of the katas can enhance that quietness. Slowing down the katas and focusing on precise breath control, muscle control and mind control can move the student into a form of moving meditation.
As in all meditation, the development of a quiet, restful mind is of primary importance. Without getting into discussion about energy flow, organ and meridian alignment, etc., we’ll just focus on the use of slow, flowing movements combined with steady breathing to use as a basis of using katas as a form of moving meditation – a means of relaxing both the body and mind.
Tai Chi and Qiqong, are two martial art forms that turned the martial movements into slow flowing movements, while incorporating breath control and the quieting of the mind and became a type meditation that students of all ages can do. Taking that same example, by slowing and smoothing the delivery of some of the punches and kicks found within the kata, we are able to apply some of the meditation principles found in Tai Chi and Qiqong.
To begin, stand in a natural stance, with your feet approximately should width a part. Let your arms hang loosely to your side. Now, inhale naturally and on the exhale, slowly move into the first move of your chosen kata, ending the exhale at the end of the movement. I would suggest starting with the Shotokan kata, Heian Shodan. If you study another style, there may be a beginner kata in your system that is similar. Try to work up to breaking each move into a natural four to eight-count movement; inhaling between movements and exhaling during the execution of the movement.
Initially, you may find that your focus is on executing the movement within the ten-count. We get so used to performing the kata fast, that it really becomes a challenge to slow it down and literally stretch it out to such a degree. As you work up to the four to eight-count, you may notice that your muscles are working a little harder, it takes a little more concentration to remain relaxed and you are inclined to hold your breath.
You may find that when you complete the kata, you will feel like you’ve had a full workout – sweat and all. It may take some time to work up to the ten-count between moves, so don’t push it too fast. You may have to start with a two or four-count between moves. Your goal is to relax your mind and your body. The mind is being relaxed initially by focusing on the slow, smooth movements of the modified kata and then on the breathing throughout the kata. The more natural it becomes, the more you will notice that your mind becomes clear and you’re totally in the moment.
Something else you may find, is that by practicing the kata slowly and more deliberately, when you return to performing the kata at full speed, your mind remains clear, the stances remain firm, body placement is correct and you have a different sense of confidence in your execution.
The beauty of combining kata and meditation is that there’s only an up-side. So, give it a try.