So starting at 10pm on Friday 24th October, along with 23 of my students, our dojo performed 100 repetitions of Naihanchi Kata in unison with thousands of karate-ka from around the globe to help celebrate World Karate Day!
Not really sure about how demanding the 100 Kata Challenge would be, I expected one of two outcomes - it would either be surprisingly easy or surprisingly tough. In actual fact, it was probably somewhere in between. I used the first 25 repetitions or so to warm up, before bringing my attention inwards so that the event would become much more than just a physical endurance test. I also took time to suggest that my students do the same.
It was decided on October 25th 1936 (during historic 'Meeting of the Masters') that the Ryukyu traditions of Okinawa were to be officially named Karate 空手 (Empty Hand). In 2005, October 25th became recognised as ”Karate Day” to pray for the expansion of traditional Karate, world peace and happiness.
This year, a special event was conceived by James Pankiewicz, owner of The DOJO Bar in Naha and director of Challenge Okinawa! He "challenged" karate dojo of all styles to pick their favourite kata and perform it 100 times. The invite was extended to the world martial arts community who's styles hold true to the ethos of Traditional Okinawan Karate. I have personally known James for a few years now and I can tell you that he's a true gentleman, plus one of the most dedicated karate practitioners you'll ever have the pleasure to meet..
My dojo registered to take part as one of over 200 groups from around the world and our 24 volunteers were among some 5,000 registered entrants spanning over 40 countries. The time to begin the challenge on Okinawa was to be 6am (dawn) at the grounds of the stunning Zakimi Castle in Yomitan village. For us in the UK, the time difference meant that we'd be performing our kata late on the Friday evening.
So why perform a kata 100 times in one session? Well as James points out on his website, the challenge was inspired by the classic karate phrase – 百 練 剛, which means - “Train hard 100 times”. In essence, this can of course be taken in it's literal sense, but the deeper message is clear...to develop any form of skill, you must embrace the notion of repetition. Repetition is at the very heart of karate training and long-term participation in this methodology can have a profound effect on other key aspects of our lives.
Mindless repetition however, will seldom develop a high level of skill and as Einstein so eloquently put, "The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results". Of course, repetition must also be integrated with mindful adaptation, improvement and a consistent strive for perfection, even if we know that this may well be unattainable. I like to define karate to my students as being about making daily and progressively smaller adjustments such that we may become closer to our personal ideal. Just as how one is able to navigate many miles through pitch-black darkness by using only a small flash-light to illuminate the next few steps in front...with every small adjustment in karate comes with it a new realisation to guide you a little further still.
With each repetition, I made small variations to the timing of the kata, the trajectory of movement, the collaboration of technique and as I became more physically spent, I focussed on becoming as efficient as possible. Each time something felt wrong, I took a mental note and then aimed to explore that particular movement during the next repetition. Needless to say, throughout the 100 repetitions, I was probably happy with around 3 or 4 performances, which all seemed to occur around the 60 to 70 mark, where I assume that I was able to best maximise physical effort with efficient motion.
For me, I took a great deal from this challenge. The intensive focus on just a single kata (for us, it was our version of Naihanchi Shodan) and the physical demands of attempting to perform at a consistently high level caused me to detach from what was going on around me so that I could focus more on what was going on inside me. Just like peeling an onion, every time I perform or ponder Naihanchi Kata, a new layer is revealed and this challenge was certainly no different. It allowed me to explore the kata in depth and has provided me with plenty of new considerations for my ongoing study.
I'd like to extend my congratulations to everyone who took part in the 100 Kata Challenge, to James and his team for bringing the idea to fruition, to my students for what was a sterling effort and especially to those karate-ka around the world who used this special opportunity to delve a little further below the surface of their chosen kata.