If there is one kind of exercise I love doing, it’s martial arts. When it comes to the art of fighting, I’m in it to win it. I love martial arts so much, that I am also willing to do Taiji even though it’s still too slow for me.
I also like my current workout as well, which is the old Canadian Air Force program with some martial art moves. The only “complaint” I have with it is that it feels more like a cardio kickboxing workout than an actual martial art one. To me, a martial arts workout is more than just calisthenics and body weight exercises. Martial arts is about working on one’s fighting techniques in every form or fashion imaginable.
One of the practices I have been missing is kata practice. Kata is a Japanese term that denotes a “martial dance” one practices. I use the term kata as its more well-known, but it’s also referred to as taolu, poomse, or tul depending of which art one practices. The concept of kata is part and parcel to many Chinese, Vietnamese, Korean, and Japanese martial arts.
I have written before on my thoughts of the martial arts kata vs. Walter Camp’s Daily Dozen, of how I should have kept up with kata practice even if I wasn’t doing anything else as a way to maintain my “fighting shape”. Since I haven’t been able to practice martial arts in a more proper setting, I decided to get started with kata practice at first. Also, since I haven’t been able to do actual kata practice for a long time, I should start with the basic, pre-white belt versions.
Now these basic pre-white belt forms are not universal. Some schools practice them and some don’t. I’ve practiced one of them before, but then I got into the school’s actual curriculum. By then I discarded that one particular pre-white belt form. Either way, I felt it was best to start back from the beginning.
So I first went to this one Taekwondo site to see what beginner forms they have. I also consulted my favorite Taekwondo manual as well as my favorite Karate one. Obviously, I also went on Youtube to see what else is available. All in all, I compiled a list of 14 low level kata. It seems like a lot, but they should be simple to do.
Before I continue on, I would like to brag about my experience in the marital arts. I got a second degree black belt in WTF style Taekwondo, the main style from South Korea. While I am technically a white belt in Tang Soo Do, my master was training me with the hopes I “jump” to black belt. It didn’t work out that way, but I enjoyed the training nonetheless. I would call Tang Soo Do and Koreanized version of Shotokan Karate. Also, when I was in university and in China I did some Longfist Wushu forms. Last time in South Korea, I was trying to learn Sunmudo.
With my experience in the martial arts, I should be able to breeze through these beginner, pre-white belt forms.
Last night, I was about to find out how wrong I was.
I did okay when it came to my hand techniques. The blocks and punches, for the most part, were on point. Were they as powerful as I’d like? I will have to say no. Sometimes, I would try to execute a punch only to move my hips and waist in an awkward manner.
Then, there was the footwork. In martial arts, moving your feet in the correct fashion is what helps generate power in both your punches and kicks. Yet, here I was, tripping over myself half the time as if I didn’t know how to walk. Not only was I tripping over myself and acting all clumsy, my legs were shaky.
I also couldn’t seem to keep my body level. Usually when doing the kata, we should keep our stances low and our head in the same level from one step the next. The only exception to that are the people who do the ITF style of Taekwondo, where they go into a normal walking stance in transitioning from one step to another.
After I did the first kata, I just had to keep on reminding myself to slow down so that I wouldn’t get sloppy in my body mechanics and technique.
The weirdest part, though, was after I was done with each kata I had to catch my breath and my heart was beating quite fast. It could be that I am out of shape more than I thought. It could also be that I was just done doing my regular workout and didn’t rest enough. Either way, it was another blow to my ego.
That was when I really regretted neglecting kata practice for a long time.
But wait! There was more!
Through my research, I found that the Kyokushin style of Karate have their own unique set of beginner forms in which they do nothing but kicks. When I saw the forms, they seemed easy enough. Yet, once I stared all the forms, I found myself being dead wrong.
In my defense, most Taekwondo kicks are usually practiced in a normal walking stance. Whenever the kicks are done in a deeper stance, they are meant for kata practice and are usually the beginner kicks: front, roundhouse, and side.
Most of the kicks I was doing weren’t beginner kicks. The front and side kicks were easy enough. The ax and crescent kicks got me. The worst were the spinning back side kicks. Not only was I tripping myself over with bad footwork, I almost fell down through attempting spin kicks in a low stance.
After I was done with all the forms, and I was catching my breath, I had a bit of a flashback.
The dark side of martial arts practice is ego. Lots of guys (and girls) feel like they have to put other people down for not being as talented as he or she thinks he or she is. Also when it comes to the so-called traditional martial arts, as in anything that is not MMA, people treat their styles as a religion. If they find out you do a style different from theirs, you might be hated or ridiculed for it.
Actually, the same goes with some MMA people.
I used to write a lot about this Aussie Ninjutsu instructor I used to work with in China. There was a Wong Kiew Kit fanboi I knew back in college. I also knew a Wing Chun dude as well. There was a Japanese Jiu-Jutsu teacher I knew. Another guy did Chinese internal martial arts. I even had an entire Wushu club after me. What was the reason for all of this? Because I did, do, like, and love Taekwondo.
I was imagining them looking at my flaws saying things like, “Aha! I knew Taekwondo is a fake martial art!”, “Look at what you did there! This shows Taekwondo is useless!”, “Of course, Taekwondo is a waste of time. That’s why you can’t do that simple move.” With a theological ax to grind, any mistake is proof positive that my style is inferior to theirs.
I also had a few frenemies in the Taekwondo circles. I imagined them going like: “You suck at this, just give up.”, “You don’t have what it takes to master Taekwondo, you loser.”, “I thought you have a black belt, jackass.” With an egotistical ax to grind, any mistake I make is proof positive that I’m a complete schmuck.
I must be sounding sad and bitter right now. Quite the opposite actually. In fact, my runaway imagination has inspired to write this article to hopefully people like you to persevere in whatever pursuit you have on your mind. Of course, I will be speaking a lot more on martial arts.
I did have some regret that I didn’t start practicing kata sooner, especially when I did have time to do so. Of course, back then I didn’t think kata practice was worth it if I wasn’t doing anything else. Now I know better.
After all, making mistakes is all part of growing up and we never stop growing up.
Also there is this proverb that states: The best time to grow a tree was 20 years go. The second best time is now.
While my lack of proficiency did do a number on my ego, I am glad that I found out I needed to work on my footwork now rather than later. In all endeavors, understanding and facing one’s imperfections is what leads one closer to perfection. Therefore, it’s better to keep training to overcome my flaws than to quit and save my ego.
For that matter, conquering personal challenges is what leads to a stronger mentality. Those who get out of their comfort zone can do anything in the world and I mean anything.
What about those people I have met? The haters who went out of his or her way to insult me for doing Taekwondo or for not being up to par in their minds? Every morning, I recite the Optimist’s Creed by Christian D. Larson in which one of the lines read: “[I promise] to give so much time to improving myself that I have no time to criticize others.” You know who also likes the Optimist’s Creed? Chuck Norris.
That’s the crux of the whole issue. Those who go out of their way to trash talk other people and their martial art do so because they are not training hard enough. They are only getting by with minimum requirements and not challenging themselves enough. They are not looking into improving their techniques, forms, or even fitness. Even if they can’t physically train all the time, there are plenty of books to read and videos to watch to help deepen the knowledge of one’s chosen art. If he or she is actually putting the work in, then s/he would never have enough time to go out and insult others. To drive the point home: the more time one spends berating others, the less one spends training and improving one’s skills.
One last thing I have to say: just because someone gets a black belt doesn’t make one a perfect martial artist. Anyone who says otherwise hasn’t trained long enough to understand this.
Speaking of training, right now I am thinking of whether or not to continue practicing all 14 kata everyday of the week or concentrate on 4 until my foot work improves. Either way, whatever I will decide, I will have fun with it.