The Thought Kata

In karate I found that three forms of training most prepared my mind for fighting:

  1. Kata (MMA people hate this, but whatever)
    Kata is practicing a preset pattern of attacks, blocks, and combos. They were allegedly used to encode entire fighting systems into an easy to memorize format so that the moves could be traditioned to the young. Katas must be memorized and preformed with absolute conviction and focus. I still do two katas on a regular basis.
  2. Makiwara (heavy bag is the same thing, really)
    Makiwara is hitting a post in order to strengthen your muscles and toughen your hands. The idea is to work up to full contact to work on focus and to practice hitting something with resistance similar to a rib cage or abdominal wall. I prefer hitting a heavy bag, but when I was in high school and for my first two years of college, I hit the makiwara every day before I bought a heavy bag. I’m certain that a great deal of my punching power (my instructor said I punched unusually hard for somebody my size) came from the makiwara.
  3. Kumite/Randori 
    This would be free-flowing combat or sparing. We did this most often with jiu-jitsu drills on Fridays, but every couple of weeks we’d do drills with specific constraints (boxing gloves, no groin blows, w/out gloves no head shots, etc).

When I was in high school, my senior English teacher made me memorize this:

  1. Identify and define the problem
  2. Form tentative hypotheses
  3. Gather data
  4. Test hypotheses
  5. Evaluate and decide

He called it, “the thought kata.”

In all seriousness, it has gotten me out of many a jam.

The world is a vast and confusing place and it’s machinations can even seem opaque and threatening. But if you deal with your immediate experiences in the context of problem solving, that opacity becomes less menacing because most problems are solvable.

Here’s how the thought kata can be used in Makiwara and Randori:

  • Makiwara – Intentionally find difficult problems to solve that have no risk. Buy an LSAT book, a logic text book, or use khanacademy.org. Another option is to practice using the kata when reading philosophy books or reading books with which you suspect you’ll disagree. You could even write a paper or a blog post on a favorite subject and put it online to see what the critics say.
  • Randori – The next time you face anxiety or a sudden problem which elicits your emotions, step back from your feelings and define the problem. From that point, if you’ve memorized the kata, the other steps will be more of less automatic. But you’ll find yourself being more satisfied with your decisions because you made them. You didn’t just “go with the flow of the moment.”

This process, which has become almost automatic to me except in times of anxiety or depression has done a lot to improve my quality of life. I hope that it’s helpful to you.

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