International & Global Education
For those who know me well, you know two of my deepest roots are Japanese Budo and my faith as a Catholic. Both have been forces that profoundly shaped and continue to shape my life. Both entail a quest for understanding, and both inform the other. Indeed, both are focused on pursuing understanding and peace at their deepest levels.
As the religious year draws to a close and a new one begins to unfold, I am sharing my thoughts on the dual path of prayer and kata and what I see as their confluence. Indeed, having been lucky enough to train with Inomoto-Sense and Miyase Sensei (A devoted Zen Buddhist), we often talked about how karate and Budo were, at their essence, spiritual events connected to the moment of being. Likewise, having worked with several deeply religious people, especially Sr Margaret Scott, I have been blessed that those who could point me in the right direction for my questions were usually there.
Indeed, only those who understand great peace know that violence is often the cause and vice versa.
Amidst the whirlwind of our bustling lives, there lies a profound lesson in deceleration. When I pray the rosary, I get frustrated when people pray it fast without intention and attention. The words spill out like a shopping list, oblivious to the density of what is being said. Likewise, practitioners seeking to accumulate kata focus on the performance but often miss catching the subtleties of movement, transition, and space occupation. IMHO, kata cannot be done fast, for to do so is to miss the conversation - likewise, prayer.
In this blog, I want to consider and reflect upon a proposal that both prayer and kata can transcribe mere physicality, finding a common thread between the spiritual practice of prayer and the disciplined martial art form of kata.
As a Catholic steeped in the Latin tradition, I've actively sought the meticulous act of slowing down as a gateway to a more profound comprehension of faith and self. Such action may even offer us a better understanding of the world, our place within it and the rights of all that live upon the wee blue dot in space.
The Unhurried Rhythm of Prayer
In the sacred space of prayer, the emphasis is not on a hurried recitation of words but on establishing a connection with the Divine. The rhythmic cadence of prayers invites us to relish each word, allowing it to reverberate within the depths of our souls. It is a purposeful, unrushed pace that encourages contemplation, reflection, and communion with the sacred.
One of my favourite ideas comes from the Jewish mystic tradition, which teaches that the God in the Hebrew Bible is represented by the Tetragrammaton, יהוה, which is usually transcribed as YHWH - that, if said, is the sound of a breath. In essence, every breath is both a prayer and a proclamation of God's presence.
Likewise, the Muslim call to prayer five times a day - something which Catholics used to know but have forgotten by all except the religious communities.
To slow down, to ground ourselves in our connection with God both as an individual and as a community, is, for me, one of the great lessons of Islam.
Other profound and deliberate ways to connect with the divine can be found in other great traditions such as Hinduism, Shinto and Buddhism. But to explore those would take too long and defeat the purpose of this post.
Akin to the deliberate movements of kata, the unhurried tempo of prayer is not a mere formality but a key to unlocking the profound meaning embedded in the words. Each word becomes a step in the dance of devotion, and through a deliberate slowdown, we foster a deeper connection with the Divine.
Kata: The Martial Dance of Shiva
In martial arts, kata represents a meticulously choreographed sequence of movements encapsulating the very essence of the art. Executing kata demands precision, concentration, and a calculated pace. The deliberate and measured movements are not a mere showcase of physical prowess but a sojourn into the heart of the martial art itself. Whether the kata is performed solo or in pairs, it profoundly reflects on the self, the being and the self within the movement.
By navigating the kata at a deliberate pace, practitioners explore the intricacies of each technique, grasping the nuances and subtleties that may be overlooked in a swift execution. The measured tempo allows for a mastery of form and a deeper communion with the art.
Kata offers the practitioner the introspective space to understand how mind, body and spirit best work when unified. How blood, tendons, ligaments and other connective tissues are profoundly and intricately dependent on blood supply, breath and finding the balance between stillness and movement - when done deliberately, kata forces us into our mortality and being.
Embracing the Art of Deliberation
As a Catholic traversing a path towards a more profound understanding of faith, I discern a harmony between the unhurried pace of prayer and the meditative rhythm of kata. Both offer a distinctive opportunity to engage with the essence of the practice, moving beyond the surface to probe the profound.
The art of deliberation in prayer and kata is a conscious decision to resist the haste of the contemporary world. It extends an invitation to transcend the superficial and immerse oneself in the richness of the experience. In the measured cadence of prayers and the intentional movements of kata, I discovered a pathway to a more profound understanding of self, faith, and the contemplative symphony that intertwines them.
The Confluence of Zen and Catholic Meditation
The Catholic thinker Thomas Merton wrote about this confluence, but for me, had Merton spent time in kata, which at its essence can be, as Inomoto-sensei used to tell me, 'zen in motion' he may have more deeply grasped how not only these traditions connect but how the societies which created them sought the same. In the deliberate cadence of prayer/kata, we find a convergence point where Zen and Catholic meditation meet. The shared emphasis on mindfulness, presence, and intentional engagement with the moment bridges the gap between these seemingly disparate practices. The tranquillity inherent in Zen meditation resonates with the stillness sought in Catholic contemplation, offering a common ground where the art of slowness becomes a universal language of the spirit.
The quietude of unhurried prayer and the purposeful choreography of kata offer a sanctuary of being. In this deliberate pace, the depth of understanding unfolds, unveiling the beauty and significance that may elude us in the frenetic pace of modern life. As a Catholic navigating this contemplative journey, I embrace the art of deliberation, recognizing it as a bridge that unites the spiritual, the mind and the physical, fostering a deeper understanding of being.
Image above is from: https://bulletin.hds.harvard.edu/on-centering-prayer-and-shikantaza/
Okinawan and Japanese Budo
James M. Hatch
International Educator who happens to be passionate about Chito Ryu Karate. Born in Ireland, educated in Canada, matured in Japan