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 since this is how you 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 soon 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 can take much more time; how much time depends entirely on you. While your mind will still contribute its memories to your practice, your body will gradually begin to develop a memory of its own. Soon like the tune of a familiar song what the kata demands will seep into your body. At this stage your mind begins to play a much smaller part.
Step three however, is different, and will be 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 of what comes next. You must as the saying goes, “empty your cup”. 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 will have practiced all of your kata many hundreds, and hundreds, and hundreds of times.
I asked you in the title of this narrative, can you could drink from an empty cup?
How you choose to answer this question I think says a lot about you 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-three years. So as one karate-ka to another if you ever do decide to try and take a drink from that empty cup, count me in.
Remember: "In order to do a kata well, you must first take your head off of your shoulders and put it on a shelf."