Can you drink from an empty cup?
Kata without thought.
From my point of view there are three fundamental steps in the process of learning a new kata.
Two of the three steps simply require time, and constant correct practice.
The third one, however, requires you to empty your mind.
In the first step, you must use your mental memory. This is only natural as this is how you will memorize the required sequence of steps, stances, techniques, and other aspects of the new kata. However, with the passage time and proper repeated practice however, this will begin to change. And before you know it, you will begin to develop a comfortable familiarity with the kata and it’s embusen.
This familiarity then helps you to move on to the second step, body memory. This of course will take more time; how much time depends entirely on you. While your mind will still contribute its memories to your practice of the kata, your body will gradually begin to develop a memory of its own. Eventually, like a tune from a familiar song, what the kata demands and what comes next in the kata, will seep into your body. At this stage you will find that your mind begins to play a much smaller part.
Step three, however, is different, and many years in the making. This is when you must let your body do the thinking for you. Prior to this point your mind moved before your body did. Now your body must move before your mind has the time to think. You must as the saying goes, “empty your cup”. You must be in the moment. You must not let in what your eyes see around you, or what your ears hear. Nothing must matter other than what comes next in the kata. Step three is "kata without thought”. It is fair to say that by this point you will in all likelihood have the rank of Sandan, or higher, and have practiced all of your kata many hundreds, and hundreds, and hundreds of times. This is when you finally “know” a kata.
I asked you in the title of this narrative, can you could 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 also as a martial artist. For me the answer is, no. Not yet. Not for all 26 kata. But I still keep trying. Even after more than forty years in the dojo. As one karate-ka to another if you ever do decide to try and take a drink from that empty cup, count me in and pour me a cup too, and perhaps together we will see where the journey takes us.
Remember: "In order to do a kata well, you must first take your head off of your shoulders and put it on a shelf".