A recent essay by Dan Djurdjevic on his insightful blog, The Way of Least Resistance, brought to mind one of my favorite anecdotes of the Ochoa Years (circa 1970’s), about the “practicality” of martial arts, and specifically in the anecdote, of Kata and dojo training in general.
Well into my first year of karate, the black belts usually assigned a green belt to oversee the kata and bunkai training of the “senior” white belts, I among them. There was one particular green belt, a teenager who had been practicing in the dojo since he was a kid, who although proficient in technique was extremely inarticulate. The guys in the group I was in were mostly in their late 20’s and had regular jobs, and one in particular was a union organizer, a union muscle man. Since the kid had to give class and explain technique as part of his grading, he was uptight about it and rambled on more than he needed to, and like I said, the kid had a choice vocabulary of about 100 words of which 50% were “you knows” and interjections that sounded like the grunts of a crazy screeching monkey. We learned to ask little or nothing at all. The union organizer hated his guts because aside from the useless gibberish the kid would pick him out more than usual to make a point, peppering the 200 lb., 6’ 1” union guy with punches, kicking in his knees, and dropping him to the floor with arm locks and foot sweeps. After a particular trying day for the union guy, he stomped out of the training area, yanking his belt off and cussing under his breath. The sensei looked on with a bemused air and with a nod of his head sent the kid scampering after him to the dressing room. When the rest of the class got there the kid was berating the union guy about dojo etiquette and the importance of kata. The union guy had his back to us when suddenly he whipped around, grabbed the kid by the gi and put a .45 pistol to his nose and screamed “this is the only kata I need, the .45 kata.” As you can well expect, this became the white belt mantra for a time around the dojo dressing room, of course, well beyond the earshot of the sensei, mind you.