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Thread: The kata-speed used in the Koryu traditions

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    Default The kata-speed used in the Koryu traditions

    Greetings. For awhile I've been curious about how the different ryu perform their kata. More specifically the speed the kata are performed.

    When one think of high-speed kata in koryu then one almost always think "Katori Shinto-ryu" as the tradition is known for it's relative high speed in excecution of kata. "Relative" in this case is relative to the other koryu arts. TSKSR have the distinction of being the oldest active heiho and that they have not "compromised" their teachings over the years where other ryu have. I do know that some ryu have different speeds for different kata and/or kata-series, but TSKSR seems to have "just" one speed.

    So, is high speed kata something that has evolved (or devolved depending on point of view) into the modern, more slower (relative to TSKSR) performance that is found in the various koryu still active? Has there been such an evolution or has the speed been the same as when they were first concieved? I'm especially curious about the various Batto and Iai schools, (both independent ryu and the ones part of larger systems). In many kata of the koryu iai ryu I've seen (exception TSKSR) the speed has been alot slower...(again in relation to TSKR).

    Has there been a concious slowing down of the systems, either in the Edo-period or the modern period as to accomodate the non-war state of mind? Or is all this, in the end, just a question of a unique philosophy(in relation to other ryu) put together by the TSKSR as they believe the high-speed is a vital key-factor to training but is in reality neither better or worse than slower speeds. I have always thought that a practitioners speed comes naturally after long, hard practice but that a practitioner didnt have to practice in 100 km/hour to be able to perform that fast in a real combat situation.
    Fredrik Hall
    "To study and not think is a waste. To think and not study is dangerous." /Confucius

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    Depends on the school, the man teaching it, the lesson being taught, the weapons being used and the theory being implemented...

    I really couldn't answer your questions simply because it's not a simple question..

    If you've seen kata performed slowly it may be due to the practioners inability to move faster (due to age perhaps) or the method being taught in the kata itself..Which may require precisely those slower movements..

    Take the lines of TSKSR themselves, while both are relatively fast one can certainly see differences between the Sugino line and the Otake lines..And one could theorise that those differences exist due to the way that both have been taught..

    But it could be the method being taught as well.

    So there is no one answer..
    Sorry..
    Ben Sharples.
    智は知恵、仁は思いやり、勇は勇気と説いています。

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    Well..I guess it isn't an easy series of questions. I guess my reasoning was that since surroundings shape and influence individual people so were the ryu by them as well. So I thought perhaps a newer "slowness"-theme became accepted in the edo-period by several ryu as the times changed from war to long-term peace. Kinda like the whole "-Do" idea.
    Fredrik Hall
    "To study and not think is a waste. To think and not study is dangerous." /Confucius

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    I would tend to favour other reasons over that particular one..

    It would be sheer idiocy to do things slowly because that meets a certain "do" mindset....

    If your Ryuha was based on that, those who did it would die if they tried to use it..

    There should be many other better ideas for why a school demoes slower techniques and some of those I named above..
    Ben Sharples.
    智は知恵、仁は思いやり、勇は勇気と説いています。

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    Quote Originally Posted by fifthchamber

    It would be sheer idiocy to do things slowly because that meets a certain "do" mindset....
    Just to clarify: I didnt specifically say that slowness was automatically "do", I said that perhaps the idea of slowing the kata down spread like the "do" idea spread. That is to say there was no central authority commanding the various arts to rename into "do" but they did so on their own volition because it was the style at the time. Jodo, Aikido, Judo, Kendo, Iaido, they were all jutsu at one point noone forced them to change.

    At least that was my reasoning.
    Fredrik Hall
    "To study and not think is a waste. To think and not study is dangerous." /Confucius

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    Let's face it, Fred: we just don't walk around carrying swords these days. Tends to stop traffic & gets the gendarmes in an uproar. Swords don't even help much with road rage 'cause cars will win every time.... Sword speed isn't "of the essence" right now.

    Most iaido waza today are taught not only for understanding the specific ryuha principles, but also for developing one's own timing, pace, & zanshin. Watching Yamazaki-Sensei in the YouTube clip you posted earlier (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GUN3QLq13kI ), Fred, it's pretty obvious that almost any iaidoka with a year or two of practice can perform Seitei Gata a lot faster than he does. But I sincerely doubt that many of us will ever have the same level of understanding & zanshin. Just being able to perform faster doesn't equate with better.

    As far as different speeds intrinsic to a specific ryuha, I'm willing to wager that what is taught by today's Sokes is not particularly closely related to what was taught a few hundred years ago. TSKSR may be the exception, but I wouldn't bet that way. Speed may, indeed, be a function of how close the battlefield is, but it would be difficult to tell for sure without a time machine....
    Ken Goldstein
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    Quote Originally Posted by Ken-Hawaii
    Let's face it, Fred: we just don't walk around carrying swords these days. Tends to stop traffic & gets the gendarmes in an uproar. Swords don't even help much with road rage 'cause cars will win every time.... Sword speed isn't "of the essence" right now.

    Most iaido waza today are taught not only for understanding the specific ryuha principles, but also for developing one's own timing, pace, & zanshin. Watching Yamazaki-Sensei in the YouTube clip you posted earlier (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GUN3QLq13kI ), Fred, it's pretty obvious that almost any iaidoka with a year or two of practice can perform Seitei Gata a lot faster than he does. But I sincerely doubt that many of us will ever have the same level of understanding & zanshin. Just being able to perform faster doesn't equate with better.

    As far as different speeds intrinsic to a specific ryuha, I'm willing to wager that what is taught by today's Sokes is not particularly closely related to what was taught a few hundred years ago. TSKSR may be the exception, but I wouldn't bet that way. Speed may, indeed, be a function of how close the battlefield is, but it would be difficult to tell for sure without a time machine....

    Aaaawww...I cant carry around my sword in my belt and slay evil for the good of mankind? Dang..

    Seriously though, I admit I haven't fully understood the reason for the (relative) low speeds used in the Omote-set, for instance, as taught in Muso Shinden ryu iaido. If it is a way to introduce certain principles that is either best presented in a slow steady rythm instead of "realistic" speed then yes that makes perfect sense for me.

    I have always been surprised to see the strong dynamic and fast kata of the Okuden series of Muso Shinden compared to the slower, wellrounded movements of the Omote-series . Just by looking at them they look like two complete opposites.

    There are also kenjutsu examples, such as a kata I witnessed of the Yagyu Shinkage-ryu. That one was performed very slowly. Then you see, for instance, a Yagyu Shingan-ryu kenjutsu kata performing in relative high-speed. It made me start speculating, and make this inquiry, about some sort of peace-time (Edo-period) development that made some ryu slow some kata down. Obviously I was wrong .

    Thanks for the replies.
    Fredrik Hall
    "To study and not think is a waste. To think and not study is dangerous." /Confucius

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    Well there would be a big difference on the level of the student. Moreover, it depends how basic you want it. Some times, you would like to do it slow, do it basic. Then you would be in the mood to do it fast, really work and feel the danger and the adrenalin. It would also depend on whom. Some feel that they do not need it and some you see that they like doing it fast. Some may bang on you and really work hard. Some take it slower, but you still feel in danger.
    It depends really, I think. I have the impression that it does not depends on the art but the person. Am I totally off?
    Steffen Gjerding
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    Well, about the speed of the katas, Sensei Ishido use to say:

    If you are so fast, maybe you should run.....

    That's has many sense for me.
    Cristian Zumelzu

    Saya No Uchi No Kami

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    I would say that all kata have an intrinsic rythm to them. If you think of them like a piece of classical movement, then there can be slight variation in the speed based on the person who is teaching them, just as different conductors have their own variations on classical pieces. Ultimately, I would posit that increased speed would more greatly impact the physical aspects of the kata (i.e. strength, endurance), and would have a lesser effect on the psychological aspects of the kata, which are by far, more important.

    I do think that it is an interesting question to ponder over one's cups, but as Ken said, without a time machine there is no way to know. I for one think that there was a lot lost in the last century due to WWII. Many schools are missing a whole generation of practioners, and that in itself may have "slowed" things down, since newer members would have learned from teachers a little bit older than had been the norm.
    Best regards,
    Bruce Mitchell

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    Quote Originally Posted by Fred27
    When one think of high-speed kata in koryu then one almost always think "Katori Shinto-ryu" as the tradition is known for it's relative high speed in excecution of kata. "Relative" in this case is relative to the other koryu arts. TSKSR have the distinction of being the oldest active heiho and that they have not "compromised" their teachings over the years where other ryu have. I do know that some ryu have different speeds for different kata and/or kata-series, but TSKSR seems to have "just" one speed.
    Not too long ago I was talking to someone who said that he had watched film of Katori guys doing kata much more slowly than the standard that you see today. There was an implication that the high-speed kata that Otake Sensei practices are not the only accepted variation, and that the high-speed style might not have been as prevalent a generation or two ago. I don't really know any of that for sure (I'm having trouble remembering the specifics of the conversation anyway); it might be something to ask a Katori guy if you know any who might comment on that.

    The style that I am stuyding now has different rhythms or paces for different kata. The first kata set (the only one that I have learned) has four kata, each of which is performed at a different speed. The pace, the attitude, and the breathing is slightly different in all four of the kata (sometimes this is very obvious, and sometimes it is more subtle). This is probably teaching me something very profound. Unfortunately, besides being a bad swordsman, I have no rhythm in my soul (David Sims-- Whitest Man on Campus 2002/2003) and I have a lot of trouble picking up on some of the more subtle differences, much less integrating these rhythms into my body until they are a natural and instinctive part of my movement.

    To go back to Fred's original question, it seems very clear to me that someone (someone who had killed people with a sword before) very deliberately decided that we should do some of our kata quickly, and some of them more slowly.
    David Sims

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    Default Slow is OK too.

    I usually don't post, but this is a problem among many of my own (few) students; they equate speed with competence. I tell them over and over again, form is first. Then comes speed, then strength.

    Anyway, about Otake sensei: in a lecture he once explained to us outsiders that they do their kata their way (longish and fast) in order to develop reflexes, speed and endurance. Good enough explanation for me.

    In Muso Jikiden Eishin-ryu (or if you start with Seitei iai, it's even more obvious), there's a slowness in the beginning, but as you progress to chuuden and okuden, the tempo picks up. By okuden, you're pretty much doing the kata pretty darned fast, and the nukitsuke should be about the same speed as that demonstrated by TSKSR folk. So it's a pedagogical thing, at least in some iai schools. They don't want their beginning students to lose their digits when they're just learning how to draw. There may also, in fact, be more attention paid to the "-gei" aspects of koryu that were influenced by Edo-period cultural trends, and by the modifying influences of being developed in big-city Edo. Even the oo-chiburui of Muso Shinde-ryu and Muso Jikiden Eishin-ryu is not all that practical for slinging blood off, two sensei told me (one in MJER, and one from another tradition); they both theorized that it's more of "a Zen thing. Whatever." Any kind of chiburui won't get off all that gore anyway, they said, but it has come to symbolize some practical and some philosophical (Edo influence) ideas.

    By way of contrast, the Takenouchi (Takeuchi)-ryu's own iai doesn't have much by way of the notion of jo-ha-kyu found in Seitei and omote MJER nukitsuke; you just draw the sucker out and cut. "Very chikusai (bloody)," as one seitei teacher remarked when he saw one of my peers doing TR iai. So there's some cultural modifications that probably went to work on some ryu that were popular in the big city.

    On the other hand, I wouldn't put toooooo much attention to it being a "do" thing or not; sometimes you slow down a movement simply for clarification or more in depth study. I remember doing tai chi ch'uan and slowing down all the movements really worked wonders for me understanding proper body alignment and coordination.

    Anyway, that's my two cents' (or less) worth of opinions.

    Wayne Muromoto

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    You learn it slow. As you progress you can do it faster until you are indeed fast. Then you teach it slowly. Full circle really.

    The ability to do the Kata with speed is there but not always used.
    Mat Rous

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    I am an Iaido beginner, but -

    I have, more than once, suckered someone in Karate kumite with a slowish, non-threatening looking attack that got in hard enough ...

    I got in because of the other person's perception that only fast is dangerous. oops!

    There are probably relatively slow spots in places because not everything needs to be fastfastfast. It's a 2 1/2 foot razorblade - 'enough to do the job' is enough.

    mew
    Margaret Welsh

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    Speed is useless without timing and distance. Doing a solo kata really fast, or kumitachi really fast, is just dancing.
    You learn slowly; balance, movement, timing. Eventually you move more quickly if and when it's necessary, and depending on the opponent.
    The need for speed seems to be a modern predicament. Older styles, or at least what I have studied, focus on accuracy of movement, the use of the body, and action/reaction to the enemy -- maai and effective technique, not brute speed and power.
    Speed (like strength) is limited by youth and vigor, but really effective technique is much "faster" because the movements are simpler, use the whole body more effectively, are telegraphed less, are done at exactly the time when the enemy is most vulnerable, etc.

    Easy way to test this: do your best kumitachi with your best partner as fast as you can. Fast, right?
    Now, at about half speed, have your partner attack you with any technique he wants -- you don't know what he's going to do, so you have to simply react to him, not dance in some pre-arranged form. Speed that up until you can't defend/react anymore.
    Which was faster?
    It is very, very difficult to do kumitachi in actual reaction to your partner's movements -- you memorize the moves and then just run through them on autopilot, faster and faster because you KNOW what's going to happen. Which totally misses the point.

    Regards,

    r e n

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