Life is a Kata….

The sun began its slow ascent into the new day, breaking the night sky with a faint
sliver of yellow light. Soon, the jungle would be alive with all manner of
sounds from seemingly every conceivable corner.

A herd of water buffalo stood grazing in a vast field just beyond the jungles
edge, and it was there that the tiger crouched, hidden amidst the shadows of
the leaves. She peered out intently, only her golden eyes moving, scanning the
herd for her prey.
Beside her the leaves rustled. It was her cub, all of six months old and on his
first hunt. The mother tiger growled almost imperceptively, and the cub
immediately understood to be still and to be quiet!

He gazed at her supine form, crouched in the tall grass, and marveled at how
her muscles rippled as she shifted slightly this way or that, and how her coat,
like his own, blended perfectly into the shadows of the jungle.

The cub looked nervously at her and then peered at the unsuspected prey not 50
yards from where they lay, unsure of what to do next. He tried to imitate his
mother’s every move, every nuance and every detail, and yet felt so clumsy and
unsure of what to do next. She made it look so easy; hold your front paw like this, she
would show him, or don’t swivel your head when you are scanning for prey, use only your eyes – the animals will see you move if you don’t.

He remembered her bringing home rabbits and small deer that she had brought
down (some of which were still alive!) and her patiently watching as she
instructed him on how to pounce on his prey and make the kill. Attack like this, she would show him, and bite here, not there.

It was fun for awhile, but then it just got so, well, boring! He could hardly
wait to get out there and hunt for real! Now that would be exciting!

The time had finally come, and despite all of her training and patience, he
still felt so unsure and maybe even a tiny bit afraid, and still in enraptured
awe at her perfect form and flowing grace.

The mother’s eyes locked on a target less than 100 yards away – an old water
buffalo with a bad limp, possibly due to an injury or an arthritic leg. The
tigress gave her cub an almost imperceptible glance, and the cub knew right
away….it was time.

***************************************************************************

Half a world away and several hours earlier, the world was beginning to come alive in Southern Ontario. One by one, the stars in the night sky began to disappear as the sun began its slow journey beyond the horizon.

The hunter gazed out through the forest’s edge, peering into the encroaching
light as the darkness slowly dissolved the forest into strange shapes and
shadows.

Beside him, his son was putting the finishing touches on their blind and had
spent the last couple of hours cutting branches and tying stakes in order to
hide themselves from their prey. Their spot was carefully chosen, a small hill
overlooking an abundance of deer tracks near the forest’s edge where the
elusive animals would come out to feed in the morning.

Now they sat in silence, their breath condensing in the crisp autumn air,
waiting for the world to awaken. Already they could hear the plaintive cries of
the Canada Geese far in the distance, the quacking of ducks, even the gobble of
a turkey from somewhere in the forest behind them. In the near darkness, every
sense seemed to be heightened and every sound seemed to be so much sharper and
louder.

The son marveled as he gazed at his father, camouflaged from head to foot and
staring intently at the lightening sky. In his left hand he held a long wooden
bow, and on his back was a quiver full of arrows. Motionless, he seemed to
blend right into the forest itself.

All of ten years old, the son had seen his father shoot that bow many times
with deadly proficiency, and each time it was like seeing a work of art in
motion; how his father would face the target at just the right angle, then lift
his bow and draw back the string in one smooth, fluid motion, his forearm
muscles taught as steel cords. Even though it was heavy hunting bow with 70
pounds of pull, enough to kill a grizzly bear he would say, he made it seem so effortless.

At the same time, he appeared to draw some kind of fierce concentration from
deep within himself that seemed to bore holes straight through the target, and
when he released the string, the arrow would jump into flight and arc right
into the bullseye each and every time. It was as if he willed the arrow to hit its mark, and
that was what he always said; “Don’t aim your arrow, just know where you want your arrow to go and it will go there.”

He made it look so easy, yet there was so much to learn about shooting the bow
and hunting deer that the son felt overwhelmed by the enormity of it all.

In his mind, he tried to go through all of the lessons his father had taught
him:

Always pay attention to wind, and make sure it is in your face; the deer will smell you from a long ways off.

Always anchor your drawing hand to the same place each and every time.

Don’t fight the bow – let it draw itself in one easy motion.

Tilt the bow slightly to the right; this brings the arrow closer to your eye.

Don’t move when the animal is looking at you, draw the bow when it’s looking away.

And most importantly…..

….when you make a kill, always ask for forgiveness and pray for the spirit of the deer, and then thank God for this gift that He has given you…..

The son remembered all the lessons he had to endure up until this moment; all
of the seemingly endless hours of practice, and the frustration he felt after
missing his target; His father patiently showing him how to hold the bow, how
to place his feet, how to knock and how to release an arrow. Don’t pluck the string! Follow through! Relax and breathe!

Being young and impatient, many times the young boy had asked his father why can’t we use one of those new compound bows with sights and releases, or why
can’t I just use a gun, that would be easier wouldn’t it?

And each time his father would reply, learn to hunt with this (holding up his bow) and learn to hunt with this (pointing to his head) before you learn to hunt with anything else!

The hunter cocked his head and listened intently, then looked over at his son
as he pointed in the direction that the noise was coming from. Seconds later,
the son heard it too; something was walking towards them! A shadow, then a
flash of antlers. A huge Whitetail buck stepped out of the forest less than 50
yards away, and the son’s heart pounded so hard he thought it might explode
right out of his chest!

His father nodded, silently placed and arrow on the string, then took a deep
breath and silently exhaled.

Get ready, he whispered….

***********************************************************************************

Katas are ridiculous, redundant and boring. They serve no purpose. Nothing but “air
karate.” Ballet.

This seems to be the mind set today. Who needs stupid Kata? We just want to get
in there and fight! Now! I want to learn this now, right away, not have to
bother with this silly kata nonsense that takes forever to learn and that my
sensei insists is so important!

What a dork!

Yet, imagine in the story above if there had been no mother tiger or father
hunter teaching their cubs/sons to hunt. Just get out there and do it! How
successful do you think they would be?

That’s why really, when you look at it, life itself IS a Kata.

We all need a teacher, a sensei, one who has gone before, in order to teach us all of the subtle nuances and tips that we need to learn, well, life. That sensei
could be a mother tiger teaching her cub how to survive, or a hunter teaching
his son how to shoot a bow, or of course, a sensei teaching you the finer details of the martial arts in a dojo.

No one, and I mean no one, is born with any intrinsic knowledge of how to do things like hunt, eat with a knife and fork, drive a car or learn martial arts. Katas are the basic building blocks, the alphabet of the martial arts from where all works are made and all
the words can be put together.

Whether it’s the KATA of hunting water buffalo or the KATA of deer hunting or
the KATA of Saifa, we all need to begin from the basics and work our way up from there, an admittedly slow and arduous battle, but well worth the work and worthy of our time and patience.

And how do I know this?

I, like the clumsy tiger cub or the unsure young hunter, learned this and many
other lessons like it from someone who has gone before, and continue to learn to this day.

And I really wouldn’t have it any other way….

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About Nick Lagrasta

Chief instructor, Classical Martial Arts Centre, Umaka Dojo, Shelburne Ontario
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