It’s Monday night karate class and I’m struggling. We’re doing katas, a pre-arranged set of moves designed to foster good practice habits and demonstrate an understanding not only of the moves themselves, but also of their application. There are eight in Uechi Ryu, the Okinawan style I study, and I’ve been doing this particular kata for at least ten years now. But tonight, it’s a struggle.
My kicks are weak, my blocks even more so. My technique feels sloppy and to make matters worse, I keep mixing this kata up with another. All katas share at least some of the same moves, so this is a common mistake, but knowing this doesn’t lessen my frustration.
The instructor stands at the front of the room, watching everyone, calling out the occasional direction or correction. He waits until we are finished the exercise, then walks over to me. In an undertone, he says, “Having trouble tonight?”
I nod, embarrassed, and wipe my forehead. “I don’t know what it is.”
He nods. “Relax and get into a good sanchin stance. Everything in Uechi Ryu flows from a good stance.”
Sanchin stance is the second thing you learn as a student at the Dojo, the first being the bow. Both set the tone for the practice to follow – the bow shows the mutual respect between the student and the teacher and the stance promotes good posture, from which proper movements can be made. As a new student, you re-learn how to step, turn, jump, slide, and move, keeping everything carefully balanced and centered. You practice this over and over until it becomes second nature, and even then, we frequently return to the stance, practicing the simple, yet sturdy movements. It is meditative and strong, a balance of harmony and progress.
My instructor moves back to the front of the class and calls out the next kata. This time, as I practice, I pay attention to my feet. The next kata flows much better, and as I relax and move, I wonder what other aspects of my life would benefit from this advice. The foundation determines the strength of the building. Disciplined eating habits make a strong body. Good reading and study practices form a strong mind. A good grasp of grammar prepares a writer. A constant prayer life yields a solid Christian. A good stance makes for better karate practice.
I finish the kata. This one felt good. The stance was right and the moves flowed smoothly. I feel much better.
The instructor was right. Everything flows from a good stance.
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