Take a moment and go watch this video of a Japanese women’s karate team doing a team kata at a competition. It’s been going ’round the interwebz for a bit, but I only happened to come across it this week, so if it’s old news to you, watch it again anyway for me, K?
No, it’s cool. I’ll wait.
You back? Right. Ok, then.
Question: Why did I ask you to watch it?
Answer: Mostly because I think it illustrates something important that I found to be true not only of my experience in the martial arts* but also my experience in music and in other things that particularly involve coordinated physical activity in the company of other people.
To do this well, to really do this (whatever “this” is), we have to breathe together.
Sure, we could do it by counting in our heads, or by using a metronome or some sort of beat-filled accompaniment. We could just memorize where we’re supposed to be and do our darndest to get there. That doesn’t get the same results, though. Somewhere along the line, the counting or the listening for the beat becomes more important than the doing with. When we breathe together, we don’t just represent and repeat a rhythmic marker to ourselves, with internalize it — we make the rhythm with and within ourselves, with one of the most fundamental of our living processes, coordinating rather than following. It’s the difference between a rote play-through of the score and a really good musical performance (or a good kata).
To do a kata, to play music, or to dance with others — this requires a kind of intimately expanded attention that shared breathing makes possible.
*I did TKD for a while (low-ranking black belt), although now I can’t really get to class anymore and confine myself to doing forms in my kitchen and banging away on the Wavemaster in my basement. Even if I never get back to class or advance again in the art, I will still do my forms.