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Saturday, April 17, 2004

 
Analogy
My brain made an interesting connection this morning at karate. I was watching the main instructor correct some of the other students' kata. All of the kata in Ryu Te, the style I'm practicing now, are the same kata I know from my previous 13 years of Shotokan, but, of course, slightly different. It occured to me today what the difference is, as I watched Shihan show the others exactly what all the little movements are supposed to be in what eventually becomes a very fast series. Here's my analogy:

Ryu Te : classical Chinese calligraphy :: Shotokan : simplified Chinese/Japanese characters

In Ryu Te, all the movements flow and build on one another, so it all looks effortless and easy, but when you try to do it, the order has a huge effect on the end outcome, much like trying to learn to write characters. In Shotokan, (and Shorin Ryu, and no doubt a bunch of other very similar styles,) all of the extra curlicues, finesses, and flowing connectors got stripped out, leaving one with a very basic, straightforward movement with the same basic core. To go back to the character-writing analogy, the meaning doesn't change, but somehow, the precise flowing order doesn't matter as much to get to the end result.

There are certainly good things and bad things about each of these approaches. Shotokan is very much based on being straightforward and direct, and it is certainly effective. Ryu Te is much more circular and flowing, and to watch a truly proficient practicioner is awing, because it is nearly impossible to catch all of the changes of direction. It looks effortless. Now that I'm thinking of it this way, it has strong connections with how I got started in my fascination with controlled body movements, ballet. We were told over and over in ballet that the key, the ultimate goal, was to make all of this difficult stuff look easy. The audience should never know how much effort it really took.

This is an idea that has pervaded my thoughts and actions ever since. Grace under pressure. Perfection is not just doing something well, but doing it so well that it looks like it was nothing.

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