View Full Version : Is kata training too rigid and mechanical?

22nd November 2013, 13:42
I've heard many people criticize kata training in classical martial arts over the years, but I think it is an essential practice. I wrote this blog post in response to the critics.


23rd November 2013, 16:15
I have used the analogy of kata for so many things in modern self defense teaching (including a verbal/positional kata for subject management); and almost everything a SWAT team does is kata.... I think drills are one kind of kata, but there are kata for performing hostage rescues, vehicle takedowns, etc.

My take is that people without an understanding of the concept of kata outside of single person forms just don't see beyond that.

23rd November 2013, 17:07
I wanted to add that much in tactical handgun training is the functional equivalent of iai. The emphasis is on live weapons handling from a variety of positions and situational dynamics. More realism can be added with other kinds of training weapons, but when training with live firearms, the overall paradigm is the same.

Now... people with different aptitudes and attitudes, different mindsets, different concepts of reality, etc. can mean for very different looks and even 'feel' of kata: whether that kata is an iai form, a drawstroke and failure drill with a Glock, a paired kenjutsu form, or a tactical approach and shooting engagement of an armed bad guy . An insular group undergoing years of training with particular attitudes, lack of mindset, and lack of experiential testing can end up going down a rabbit hole in terms of what their baseline expression of kata will be: that does not pertain simply to classical training.

Nathan Scott
24th November 2013, 02:04
Wow, finally a positive perspective on the value of kata training. Thanks Peter. Some of us have been claiming this for years now, but it seems to fall largely on deaf ears. For over 30 years I've been training almost exclusively via kata renshu, and it turns out that I've had no problem applying the teachings to real life encounters. The key is training kata correctly, which seems to be the moral of your blog.

Nice one,

Josh Reyer
24th November 2013, 11:41
Peter, excellent blog post.

I apologize for the laziness, but I'm just going to recycle an old post from Kendo-World.

There is no "supposed to" in kata. Kata is the form that results from proper practice. It is the result, not the goal. Uchidachi and shidachi are supposed to pressure each other, and if that pressure isn't there, most uchidachi will either call the whole thing off, or whack shidachi for his lack of intent. Once the form is learned, things move to the level of "higiri" written as 間切り (cutting "suki") or 非切り (cutting "that which should not be done"). Kata here is considered a "kiri-ai" - uchidachi is actively trying to hit shidachi just as shidachi is actively trying to hit uchidachi. Yomi, or as we refer it "aite wo miru" (watching the opponent) is of primary importance. Uchidachi can and does alter distance, timing, and line-of-attack in order to hit.

Let me give you an example from my own experience. In one kata we have, shidachi and uchidachi approach, raising to ai-jodan. Uchidachi takes a big fumikomi forward with his right leg, and cuts at shidachi's raised right arm. Shidachi quickly steps forward with his left foot and cuts diagonally to the right, turning his body so that his sword strikes uchidachi's right arm, and uchidachi's sword harmlessly cuts where shidachi's right arm used to be. For a visual, check out the kata in this clip (http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_detailpage&v=qpFdj4rE8Kg#t=40).

Now, here's how it goes with me. Uchidachi and I approach. We raise to jodan. Uchidachi steps in, cutting at my arm. I step forward, cut diag--and uchidachi has cut my arm. Okay, I was obviously a little slow there. Let's try moving faster. We approach. Jodan. Uchidachi steps to cut, and I step fo--and uchidachi has cut my arm. Okay. Maybe I'm stepping too far forward. We approach. We raise to jodan. He moves to cut, I step to cut. My shinai goes whistling underneath his elbow as his sword comes crashing down on mine. Okay. Maybe I need to wait a bit. That's the whole point of Yagyu Shinkage-ryu, right? We approach. Jodan. Uchidachi cuts and--and uchidachi has cut my arm.

Now, there's no mistake here. We know exactly what we're supposed to do, and we are both physically able to do it. This is not complicated waza, all I have to do is step and cut his arm. And we're not doing jigeiko. He's not even deviating from what he's "supposed to do". And it's not a matter of timing. So why am I getting thwacked black and blue with a fukuro shinai?

The problem is I'm not engaging in any yomi. I'm treating it like the form: he does A, and I do B, and I should win. But he's under no obligation to let me win. His obligation is to watch me as much as I'm watching him (more, in this case), and cut my arm. He's perfectly allowed to adjust distance and rhythm if it gets him my arm. The whole purpose of my training is to be able to handle that. But I'm so involved in what I'm doing, I'm not even considering him. I'm thinking I have to fix my technique somewhere; I have to cut faster, or step faster or step shorter, or wait longer. What I really have to do is watch him the same way he's watching me. That means knowing when he's going to cut, and I mean cut, not simply bring his leg up to step in. I have to read his cut while we are both in movement.

And if I practice with this uchidachi until I know him like a book...well, I haven't really accomplished anything because there are lots of uchidachi in the Yagyukai, and they all move and cut differently. The point is being able to read any particular partner I have. And if I predict incorrectly? Well, I get feedback letting me know, in the form of bruises, scrapes, and the occasional laceration. And of course, there's always higiri, wherein uchidachi may "break" the kata to make sure I'm paying attention. But to our minds, that's not jigeiko, it's simply variations and applications.

None of which is to say that kata is just like jigeiko. Indeed, Yagyu Shinkage-ryu used to have shiai as well, not in the sense of scoring points, but in the sense of totally free matches. Certainly it's a great training tool. My point is, Yagyu Shinkage-ryu is all about the mental connection with the opponent. It's its raison d'etre. But when time and space became limited, the first thing it jettisoned was the shiai, because it was believed that all the truly important stuff was in the kata, if they were properly done.

Carina Reinhardt
30th November 2013, 16:58
I just would like to explain the right sense of kata, perhaps people who think that kata training is too rigid and mechanical will discover the real meaning of this word, which is not only used in martial arts.
According Wikipedia http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kata:
Kata (literally: "form") is a Japanese word describing detailed choreographed patterns of movements practised either solo or in pairs. The term form is used for the corresponding concept in non-Japanese martial arts in general.

Kata are used in many traditional Japanese arts such as theater forms like kabuki and schools of tea ceremony (chadō), but are most commonly known for the presence in the martial arts.

Outside of martial arts

In Japanese language, kata (though written as 方) is a frequently-used suffix meaning “way of doing,” with emphasis on the form and order of the process. Other meanings are “training method” and “formal exercise.” The goal of a painter’s practicing, for example, is to merge his consciousness with his brush; the potter’s with his clay; the garden designer’s with the materials of the garden. Once such mastery is achieved, the theory goes, the doing of a thing perfectly is as easy as thinking it.

One of the things that characterizes an organization’s culture are its kata - its routines of thinking and practice.