Why I train without a gi for solo kata practice and you may want to too.
It was around 12 years when I first began to specialise my karate training. At that time, it was for competition-kata. My personal training consisted of nothing but drills for improving my Kata so that I could win competitions for the national organisation I was a part of at that time. It is safe to say that after a year or so, my kata had changed dramatically and the albeit modest collection of 3rd and 2nd place trophies for local competitions were evidence that the change was a successful step towards my goal.
Around this time, I vividly remember turning up to a training session without my gi. It was not uncommon for me to train in a t-shirt when I was a child going through the kyu grades, but it was something I had not really done for a full training session since training for competition. After all, the gi was part of the training. But this no-gi session was a revelation.
I can’t recall the exact kata which I was practicing but I remember the feelings. Move after move felt awkward, sloppy, rushed and most importantly hollow. I remember finishing the kata and thinking to myself, that felt horrible. There was no snap at the end of the techniques, the punches felt weak, the shuto uke felt like they were just placed into position without any power. The kicks lacked any kind of snap or force as well.
The next session, I put my gi on and all was back to normal. I tried a no-gi session soon thereafter and again the weirdness continued. Everything felt out of place. It was then that I realized that the kata I now practice are in a different atmosphere to those I learned going through the ranks. The reason they felt odd, was due to the fact that I wasn’t used to practicing competition-kata in t-shirt and shorts. There was nothing wrong with my t-shirt and short training sessions, it was just I was use to how the kata felt pre-competition training.
Later on, my second specialisation of training occurred. My Karate training went from competition orientated to self-protection orientated. Kata became the nucleus of my training and solo kata became an integral part of my karate but now for different reasons. As I started the gradual change from completion to self-protection, my kata were still practiced for the competition arena and whilst I wore a gi they felt strong, sharp and powerful. But when I took the gi off, I knew that they were hollow when compared to the kata I used to practice before competition days.
I had spent years polishing and cleaning a gun, which when it was on display looked the part, but on the inside there were no bullets and no mechanisms that worked. The substance was missing. The punches, whilst had snap at the end with a nicely weighted (and sometimes starched) gi, were not designed to hurt anyone. The shuto uke was now missing key elements of the motion that were intrinsic to its application against an enemy in a non-consensual violent situation. It took a long period of time for my kata to adjust and one of the reasons I was able to do so, was that I stripped away the gi. It was just me and the camera and from there I was able to amend my kata so that it was once again loaded and dangerous. Did it look as nice as before? probably not. Was it going to win any competitions? almost definitely not. But could it improve my overall skill and ability to develop power and body awareness when applying the techniques against a partner? most certainly.
Nowadays, I spend a lot of my solo training sans gi and I think it is a great way to honestly review your technical ability and take stock as to where you are with your training.
Originally posted August 2017