We often say that Karate teaches self-discipline. There are many forms of self-discipline: to work hard, to avoid vices, to not complain, etc.
One form of self-discipline is to control one's thoughts and thought process. For example, if you are doing your homework but keep thinking about surfing or videogames, you will probably not do your best. Whether in school or work, we need to be able to control our thoughts and focus on the task at hand.
Kata practice is a good way to develop such control. Kata are very complex when you consider all the techniques, angles, body dynamics, and other facts involved. But they are also very simple.
When we practice kata, we do not think about the techniques or all the details. We just move. It is a little like driving on the freeway. We can drive many miles without thinking.
In the same way, we can perform kata without detailed thought, but a keen sense of awareness and focus. This is hard to describe. We cultivate a non-verbal form of thinking. It is sensory based. One of my Aikido friends described it as being like a ball floating in a fast moving stream.
Some people say that sitting zazen is a good way to calm or minimize your thoughts. I think of kata as being moving zazen. But kata has the additional benefit of being useful -- both in practical self-defense and exercise. If we are going to "tame" our conscious mind, kata is a more productive way to do so (rather than just sitting still all day). At least that is my opinion.
Mental self-discipline requires that we be able to not think about one thing when we should be thinking about another. Whether this is kata or work or our children, we need to be able to concentrate and focus.
During an emergency, we need to be able to summon all our mental and physical strength to deal with the emergency. This may give the appearance of superhuman strength, but it is actually just high focused human strength.
Try this. Stare at the red asterisk below and do not think about anything for one minute:
But it is easy to not think when you are doing something that occupies your attention -- like concentrating on breathing, listening for distant sounds, feeling the vibration on the floor of a person stepping across the room, etc.
It is really not possible to not think. What we need to be able to do is to think about the appropriate thing at the appropriate time. For me, it is like watching the end of your fishing pole when you are about to get a bite. If you look away, you might miss the fish!
Karate training gives us such mental discipline, and we can use this in our daily lives.
Charles C. Goodin