Recently, I've started fly tying again. This was a hobby I had in my youth and it's been around a quarter of a century since I last put feather to hook. Getting back into this craft after such a long time is as interesting as it is rewarding, and what struck me most was how easy it was to access all the old skills I had learned and repeated so many times as a teenager. It got me thinking about karate (as everything does 😆) and the connections between these two traditional arts.
The photo above shows five very different looking flies that I tied one evening. Different colours, different materials and different shapes. Some are wet flies for fishing deep and some are dry flies for fishing on the surface. Some imitate the adult fly and some imitate the earlier nymph stage in the fly's lifecycle. Some are tied on heavier gauge hooks and some on much smaller lighter gauge hooks. All in my opinion are not only successful fish catchers, but are also works of art and personal expressions of the individual who tied them.
After I had finished my fly tying session, I lined these five creations up to take some pictures and more closely review my work. Then it hit me that in fact, these five flies and the process that had gone into tying them bears a great similarity to karate. So much so, that I jokingly dubbed these five as, Shodan, Nidan, Sandan, Yondan and Godan...The Five Pinangata!
You see, although there were many superficial differences in these flies and indeed, the specific way in which they're fished, every one of them were ties using the same fundamental skills. It was the dedicated practice of those fundamental skills that allowed me to resume my practice after so many years and helped ensure that the quality of each fly was satisfactory. And conversely, If one of those fundamental skills were sub-par, then the final product of all five would have suffered significantly as a result. The material may have not been anchored strong enough, the final knot may have unravelled, the tail or wing may have slipped along the side of the hook shank instead of on top, the hackle may not have been uniform...
...You get the picture!
The specific application of those fundamental skills of fly tying can be varied to create different designs. A whole range of material and colours can be implemented to offer infinite possibilities and once the fly is on the end of the fishing line, additional skills are required to successfully use that 'imitation' or 'template' on the water in order to meet their functional goal (to catch fish). Yet if these fundamental fly tying principles are not firmly in place, then everything else in the overall strategy of fly fishing falls apart!
Kata, like fly tying is a piece of traditional art and becomes an individual expression of those who perform it. However, it also has very practical goal and relies on the solid development of fundamental principles to become usable. These fundamentals (kihon) are universal to all kata and the variety in application of these according to specific strategy or tactics produce different (outwardly) 'looking' forms. Similarly to actually fishing a fly, applying kata to a single enemy, multiple enemies or weapon attack, on a dojo floor, concrete pavement or nightclub restroom, or indeed against a low, medium or high level threat may well require additional skills. But again, if the fundamentals are not in place then those specific applications may be at significant risk of failure.
Just like fly tying, the relationship between all karate kata lie within the fundamentals. These bring potency to all applications so that no matter the 'colour of feather', the 'size of hook' or indeed the 'body of water', at least the foundation is always in place to catch big fish!