In the martial arts, there are series of exercises called kata (in Japanese), or forms. These are single or multi-person exercises that follow a pre-arranged sequence of techniques that are performed almost like a dance.

An astonishing number of martial artists no longer see the value in kata. To them, they are outdated, outmoded relics of a bygone era, and offer nothing for modern practitioners, especially when considering the threats and challenges we face today in the 21st century.

They couldn’t be more wrong.

While it’s absolutely true that facing an attack by someone wielding a spear or halberd is fairly unlikely today, the point of kata isn’t just to teach archaic methods for dealing with danger. The point of a kata is to pass along a story about how an important confrontation was won in the past.

Look at a kata like Kyogi, for example, from the Koto family. In its barebones form, it reads like this:

Avoid first punch
Avoid second punch
Step on foot
Knockdown

Pretty unremarkable story, which is why most people discount kata. But think about how you could condense down any story:

Boy loses family
Boy meets wizard
Boy grows his powers
Boy blows up Death Star

We of course expand that little sketch into the epic movie Star Wars. Likewise, with study and practice, we can dig into the story of Kyogi and glean some powerful insights about how to win against an opponent by keeping them constantly off balance and constantly reacting to changes they can’t predict.

The danger with kata is that we pay attention to the wrong things. Instead of delving into the kata and learning the story fully, we skip to the next story sketch, learn its basic outline, and move on yet again, never getting the full flavor of the story.

Sound familiar? That’s also what every digital marketer does with the social networking tool of the day. Instead of exploring all of the different ways we can use one network, we move onto the next shiny object without developing any competence about what we already have access to.

Instead of skipping around and dabbling, think instead about creating and collecting stories from your own work. How would you take an event like an important sale or an important social interaction and convert it into a story that can be told and retold in your company, your network, or your community? How would the story change as people retell it and practice it, refining it and adding to it?

That’s the essence of good martial arts kata and good marketing.


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