Karate is just like hot water; if you do not give it continuous heat, it will become cold
– Karate wa yu no gotoshi taezu netsu o ataezareba moto no mizu ni kaeru
This applies to anything that you do. Be it singing, dance, writing, etc. Once you slack off or take too long of a brake from something you become weak at it and possibly completely forget the skills that you previously knew.
Just last night, I was working on the Bunkai (application) of Heian Godan with my wife, Jolene and David Wilson at the Amherst Shotokan Karate Academy. I am embarrassed to say that I had trouble with this basic kata. It has not been my focus for a long time and having messed up so much of it in the practice last night tells me that I have let some of my karate go cold. I am sad to say that Heian Godan is probably my favourite of the Heian kata so having so many issues with it last night is extra embarrassing.
Sometimes we are injured or drawn away from our training because of other issues. This will lead lack of retention of the skills that you once knew. After a bit of review, the techniques returned but I felt total disappointed with myself.
This is the reason that you never put basic training to the side. Yes, you may put more effort into the higher katas and skills set but you always need to go back to the basics and review. I always tell my students, “You have to learn how to crawl before I can teach you to fly!”
This statement holds true for anything that you try. You have to learn the basics and build a strong foundation then and only then can you start to progress. The problem lies in that we progress and forget that the foundation needs to have upkeep.
Imagine building a new home. You start by clearing the land. This is key in the martial arts as well. You must clear your mind before training to receive the new knowledge and to be able to focus. Next you build your basement creating a strong foundation for the rest of the house. This is the first steps in the martial arts. Learning and understanding the basics. Creating a strong foundation in your training. Now you put up strong walls and add a roof. I equate this to becoming a black belt. Everyone’s goal is to become a black belt and then they forget that the training is not over but just beginning.
When I was a teenager, I worked with a relative in construction. I remember how excited clients were when the roof went on but the work had barely begun. Now the insides had to be developed. This is the same in karate. Once you achieve your black belt, you have to do a lot of personal work. It is time to create mental strength. To start to understand more about the techniques that you have been taught so they are no longer physical but natural and fluid. Also at this time, you develop a different view of the martial arts. You start to see the spiritual side of your training.
When the inside of the home is complete, the owners moves in and starts a new chapter. They start over creating new memories and building a new life. Then years down the road, they notice that something is wrong. They have a problem with the house. The foundation has been compromised. All these years they have been focused on other things and they did not maintain the upkeep on their property. Now work needs to be done to fix the problems. This brings us to ‘Karate is just like hot water; if you do not give it continuous heat, it will become cold.‘ Without constant upkeep on your skill set you will have to go back and rebuild that strong foundation.
If you spend just a few minutes a day reviewing the basic katas, you can retain them better. Take a few minutes to maintain your foundation and you will never have to worry about repairing it later.