Saturday, August 15, 2009

Kata and the word "No"

Here is a challenge for all of us: Watch yourself teach kata – either in group or individually – How often do you start your corrections with the word “no”. (The sentence looks something like this: “No, use the other hand.” Or “No, you were supposed to double stomp there.” Or “No, you weren’t supposed to double stomp there.” You get the idea.)

After having watched children’s eyes for years now, I’ve decided that starting my corrections with the word “no” is negatively distracting to them. It seems so obvious, doesn’t it? However, try as I might, it is a habit I find hard to break!
Here are a few other choices to try instead of starting with the word “no”.
1. Looks good so far, I want you to try this.
2. Alright, let’s start again and when I say the word ‘stop’ - freeze right there so we can try something.
3. Hold on; switch your hands, oos?
4. Let’s do it again and this time, just copy me. (My favorite)

Have you ever noticed that when kids are really young, 6 and under, they have a lot of trouble telling their left from their right. (So do I, maybe that is why I noticed.) I put a sticker on their left hand so they don’t have to manage which hand is which AND my corrections! Here, Anthony and I both have stickers on our left hand while practicing a form.

Kata training is a large part of traditional karate training. Peter Urban mentions in his book, The Karate Dojo, that a practitioner is drawn to either sparring or kata, but not usually both. I always try to break that stereotype myself, and get my students to break it. This creates the challenge of making kata training a little interesting. One easy way to do that is to let students build their own kata. I like to put that into lessons that are near the holidays. Since the classes are small (because everyone is busy), it is a great time to try something creative.

Below you will find a few more variations on how to play with kata. (For those of you who prefer it, we can say "work kata".) Let me know if you see a difference in how the kids react to kata training after trying a few of these ideas.

Do you agree with this statement: When teaching kata to kids you have to divide the work into two big categories: 1. The moves of the kata in the right order. And
2. The details. Details include stances, gaze control, breathing, chamber hand and fighting spirit, in no particular order. This photo shows Sensei Jackie working with some beginners on moves in the right order.

When I am working with a group of students, some who know the kata and some who are learning it, the first thing I do is put the kids who are learning moves into the center of the group so they can copy the students who know the moves.

This photo shows purple belts leading a group learning their first kata.

I tell the students what my plan is. Including the kids in this puts the new ones at ease and makes the children who know the moves feel important. The children who are being copied will work harder knowing they are an example. While we are practicing the kata moves, I will give extra corrections to the kids who know the moves. Another important thing I have learned to do is use less words, almost just ‘cues’ to describe the moves. I have found that while the kids are moving AND listening, using too many words causes them to get lost. Also, with ‘cue’ words, I can give them hints when they forget moves and let them come to the information on their own. If you want a few examples, write me.

After 3 - 5 times through the kata, the children start to lose interest. One way to change things up it to switch to using sticks to mean “do the next move”. This will do a few things: 1. It will cause the kids to prick up their ears and listen again. 2. You can use your words for corrections, and the kids will be able to differentiate between the command to move and a correction.

Finally, after a few times using sticks, I like to divide the group into “those that know the moves and those that are learning". I let one group do it from beginning to end, trying to stay together while group 2 watches. When group two does the kata, I give them reminders using the ‘cue’ words along the way. This photo shows the advanced group watching the beginners do the form with me.
A variation on this ‘game’ (or drill if you prefer that term) goes like this: After I divide the kids into “old timers and newer kids” I sit one group down to watch the other. With the new kids we do a review of moves in the right order. With the more experienced group I play the game where they only move if I say the right term. For example I might say ‘break’ when their eyes are still closed. Then I will say block instead of strike. Those that move do just a couple of push-ups. I don’t give 10 push-ups to kids in this game because I want them to like the game and want to play again. Also, it is important to me that the kids learn to tell themselves the truth. (I’ll come back to this one day in more detail). It is easy for me to get them to want to take responsibility for their actions if the price is only 2 push-ups. Everyone has fun, laughs, and wants to ‘do it again’. Leaving the kids wanting more is exactly what I am after.

The above workout is about 12 or 15 minutes long. That is about the amount of time kids age 6-12 can concentrate on one subject. (Children younger than 6 have a much shorter attention span.)

After you all read this, let me know if you would like another post on more ways to work kata .
Thank you for spending time reading this blog.