Refills are free
In the beginning, in order to correctly perform all of the physical movements required in a new kata, you will undoubtedly need to devote a high level of mental concentration to the task at hand.
This of course is only natural, since the movements, stances, techniques, timing, and other aspects of the this kata will be new and unfamiliar to you. Over time, however, this will change as the kata starts to take on a physically comfortable familiarity.
In due course you will find that your "body memory" will become more prevalent, and at about the same time you may also begin to notice another subtle change taking place, as you sub-consciously switch from "thinking of what the next move is", to simply "doing the next move with proper thought".
It is probably fair to say that by now you will in all likelihood have practiced the particular kata in question at least one hundred times, and having done so, it is at this juncture that you should begin to understand that the real difference between "thinking of what the next move is", and "doing the next move with proper thought", is the real difference between simply "doing the kata" and starting to "know the kata".
Now if you can truly say that you have arrived at this point, then whether you know it or not, you are now at a very important juncture in your kata training, and in all likelihood you are now probably ready to move up to what many call "the next level".
It is here that you may come up against a very old karate saying that is often voiced, and that is, "in order to do kata well, you must first empty your mind".
But lets face it, to truly empty your mind of all thought is impossible.
So what exactly does "empty your mind" mean?
Does this mean for example that we are now expected to sort of sleep walk our way through all of our katas without thinking, as if in some kind of trance, while at the same time using the katas to seek spiritual enlightenment, or Nirvana?
I think not.
Here in the West the expression "empty your mind" really takes on a whole different connotation than in does for those students who are born, train and live in Japan, and other parts of the Far East. In truth "empty your mind" is one of those expressions that really does not seem to translate very well, I suppose primarily due to the cultural and philosophical differences that exist between East and West.
Many Westerners for example might look upon the expression "empty your mind" as meaning, "to think of nothing at all while performing a kata". While in fact exactly the opposite it really the case. You should always be totally involved both physically, as well as mentally in all aspects of any kata that your are performing.
As for me, after more than twenty-six years of practicing Shotokan Karate "empty your mind" really translates into "control what enters your mind". The real goal as I see it, is not to "empty your mind and to think of nothing at all while doing your kata", but instead to "empty your mind of everything but what's need to do the kata". Trust me, there is a big difference between these two approaches. You must "be in the moment" so to speak. Your mind must not let in what your eyes see, and your ears hear. You must truly focus only on the kata.
Can other students in the dojo tell when you are working on a new kata?
For example, take a moment when the opportunity presents it's self and watch one of the more senior students in your dojo perform a particular kata. Just by observing their stances, techniques, pace, posture, and balance, even if you are a mid-level kyu belt with only one, or two years experience, I would bet that in most cases you would be able to guess correctly whether or not your senior was practicing a kata that they are very familiar with, and that is fairly well integrated in to their body memory, or that instead they were "thinking" their way through a kata that is relatively new to them, and one in which "thought" is still playing an obvious role.
The difference is all in the mind.
The mind as we all know is a marvel of nature, capable of performing a countless number of conscious, and sub-conscious thoughts, while at the same time processing a wide range of sensations, and mental images in less than the blink of an eye. So the "control" part is where your karate training must come in. Proper repetiton, proper focus, and a proper mental attitude, are all need at each and every step of the way if you ever expect to perform your kata in harmony with your body and your mind.
I know, a lot easier said than done.
I asked at the beginning of this narrative if you can drink from an empty cup.
Well can you?
How you choose to answer this question I think in the end says a lot about you, not only as a person, but as a martial artist as well.
For me the answer is, no.
Empty is empty.
But as one karate-ka to another, however, if you ever do decide to try and take a drink from that empty cup, count me in, and pour me a glass as well, and together we will see just where the journey takes us.
A kata without the body, mind, and spirit
attempting to work in perfect harmony ,
is an empty, and hollow thing indeed.
Part the clouds - see the way.
"The objective of karate-do is to contribute to the evolution
of the human spirit through physical and mental training."
Sensei Peter Lindsay