Aug 18, 2007

Form – the kata

In most martial arts there is what is called the kata, a series of exercises that a student memorizes and copies exactly what the sensei teaches. The same is true for tea. Through 400 years of refinement tea procedures have developed for beauty, efficiency and economy of motion. Through the repeated exercise of following the kata, the form, the student develops body memory.

I can see this with my intermediate students. They will be in the middle of a tea procedure and forget what the next move needs to be, but the body already knows and unconsciously it will start to make the next move. The mind that hasn’t caught up with the body and will stop the movement and student becomes even more confused.

Practicing the kata helps with body awareness. Many students of tea in America get impatient with learing the kata. If they have done something once or twice they think that they have learned it. Perhaps intellectually they have the basics, but the body needs to do it at least 30 times. Doing something once or twice will not give your body enough time to know precisely what it needs to do.

Once students have learned the correct form, there is constant training to maintain it without getting sloppy. Paying attention to what your body, hands, head, feet, knees are doing while making tea is not easy. For example, my sensei used to say while making tea that your attention should be on your non-working hand. What is it doing? Where is it supposed to be? Is there tension there? Is it ready to do the next thing? All this while you are moving through the procedure of making tea at the same time.

There are those who see chado as a rigid set of rules to follow, who see the kata as stifling creativity and sponteneity. But there is tremendous freedom within the structure of the kata to explore and learn from its potential. Following the kata, self-consciousness is conquered and the true self is uncovered. It is a self that marks the kata with its own inimitable qualities. As sensei says, “When we have so thorougly learned the kata it moves beyond to your katachi.”

No comments:

Post a Comment