During a recent Wednesday night karate class, I got on the students for not having enough heart when performing their kata. Only one of the three students present (the youngest and the lowest rank) performed the kata like he was actually engaged with an opponent. The other two students just kind of coasted along like “I’m bored, I need to just get through this one and we can move on.”
The problem is that having a lack of heart in the execution of the kata or of techniques in general is what holds a student back in learning the martial arts. What ever you do you must have heart for what you are doing. Perhaps a better word would be passion, or intention, conviction, belief, to convey what I mean. But the word heart (for me) sums up all of these words and more which is why I use it.
Having heart is what it takes when you are tired worn out and beaten up and you know you have to pull it together to face another opponent. When all you want to do is to drop your hands turn your back away from the person and wish they would go away. But they don’t; they keep hitting you and you have to pull it together and fight back. It takes heart to go through all of the training that brings you to this moment in time, you must have desire, a caring, a belief in yourself; that keeps you showing up day after day to take the beating, to do the endless kicks, to perform the endless katas and basics etc. etc. which ultimately brings you to your black belt exam.
Having intention behind a technique is what makes the technique work in real life. This lesson was taught to me by GM Remy Presas when I asked him to help me to understand why I couldn’t make the transition from the two finger center lock to the over the shoulder take down. I kept losing the lock during the transition and he promptly applied the two finger lock and it felt like he nearly ripped the fingers off of my hand as he made the transition for the take down. He didn’t of course, but he taught me that in real application when you apply the lock the person should be in enough pain that they can’t counter and you don’t lose the lock in transition. Of course I can’t do this to my training partner so I must use control but I had to learn the lesson of having intention or heart behind my techniques. Practicing kata allows me to practice my techniques with power, with attitude, in short with heart.
In our arnis class later that evening I watched our Yellow belts go though Anyo Isa (empty hand form 1). Three of the students had pretty good execution of the anyo (kata or form), but a fourth student in particular put his heart into it when he executed the techniques. Isaiah, even though he was probably the least confident in completing the kata, or what the next technique was, he still had the most heart in his execution of the anyo. You could hear his uniform snap, you could see his hips move as he punched, you could see it in his eyes he meant each hit to connect. This same student even though he was of lower rank was chosen to perform his nunchaku form at a demo over a more senior student because of the effort and passion he put into his kata.
I don’t worry about a student not having the highest or prettiest kicks, I worry about the student if they don’t have heart behind their kicks. I don’t worry about a student making mistakes, I worry about a student who gives up or acts impatient when they make a mistake, like “Ok let’s move on, you’ve corrected me” and then they turn around and do the same thing again, with the same attitude. I look for students like a white belt who after already completing one class last Satruday complied with my request to show me his kata for Gold belt while the next class was warming up. Since he had already learned his kata for his Yellow belt but had not yet tested for it, I started him on his Gold belt requirements. Now this little man was done with his class but he got up in front of me and performed his kata. He made a mistake at the ¾ mark. I corrected him and he then did it again and again and again but instead of getting frustrated with him I was pleased (and amazed) with his attitude. After the second or third time making the same mistake the boy corrected himself and started over, again and again and again for probably 20 times and after he got it right he kept saying “one more time so I’ll remember it right” time after time after time. In time, I didn’t have to say anything he just started over. This student has heart.