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Thread: Kata's Hidden Wisdom

  1. #1
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    Default Kata's Hidden Wisdom

    My most recent budo blog post is about the lessons hidden in kata. Do you ever break down the kata and find out what lessons are hidden within those kata?
    http://budobum.blogspot.com/2015/03/...en-wisdom.html
    Peter Boylan
    Mugendo Budogu LLC
    Fine Budo Books, Videos, Clothes and Equipment Direct from Japan
    http://www.budogu.com

    Find my Budo Blog at http://budobum.blogspot.com/

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    This was an encouraging article for me. I worry sometimes that my practice of kata in gendai budo becomes little more than a martial "dance."

    When that happens I try to get people to work with me to see how we'd apply the motions with an opponent... and sometimes I just can't see it. Which makes me start to wonder what was lost, what is missing, if the motions of the kata were just made up... or, as is most likely the case, how I can just be too dense to see it.

    I often question whether what I'm practicing is "practically legitimate" and the only way I've found to do this is to test the technique to the breaking point. What you describe in this article could perhaps be called that. It's encouraging to see others doing the same with their kata.

    It's incredible how blind some communities can be to kata. The two I have personal experience with are the BJJ and Law Enforcement. Both have a propensity for individuals who mock the practice of a "kata." Yet, will run "drills" all day long. This is the same reason why one practices drills for unholstering firearms and clearing malfunctions... or to bypass someone's clinch and achieve a takedown.

    If only they could see that their "drill" is no different than a "kata."

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    That was an interesting post – I think there are a whole range of things tied up in kata, (depending a lot on the art and the teacher). Techniques and strategies are part of it, as is the development of the body and ways of moving, habits and so forth.

    I wrote about some of my views in an old blog post that you might find interesting:
    http://ichijoji.blogspot.jp/2011/02/...nd-memory.html

    Chris
    http://www.ichijoji.blogspot.com

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    Quote Originally Posted by Chris Hellman View Post
    That was an interesting post – I think there are a whole range of things tied up in kata, (depending a lot on the art and the teacher). Techniques and strategies are part of it, as is the development of the body and ways of moving, habits and so forth.

    I wrote about some of my views in an old blog post that you might find interesting:
    http://ichijoji.blogspot.jp/2011/02/...nd-memory.html
    Chris,
    Thanks for the link. I had forgotten about that blog. I agree, there is a lot going on in kata, and most people seem to miss 90% of what's there. It always makes me wonder what I'm missing in the kata.
    Peter Boylan
    Mugendo Budogu LLC
    Fine Budo Books, Videos, Clothes and Equipment Direct from Japan
    http://www.budogu.com

    Find my Budo Blog at http://budobum.blogspot.com/

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    I'm in love with Yagyu Shinkage-ryu kata. Well, I say, "kata," but as a matter of fact, neither the word "kata" nor either of its variant kanji show up in Shinkage-ryu materials. The oldest kata, dating back to when Kamiizumi Hidetsuna passed the ryu on to Yagyu Munetoshi, are referred to as "tachi", or swords. The later kata, devised by Nagaoka Fusashige in the early 1800s, are referred to as "seiho", using the kanji for "force, momentum" and "laws, principles".

    We practice with fukuroshinai, which means spacing is not extended for safety* -- all strikes are at the maai to reach their intended target. Nor do we do sundome, except for the final cut of a sequence, when there's nothing to be gained from bashing an uchidachi who isn't going anywhere. While of course there is the obvious advantage of instantaneous feedback when our technique is not adequate, it also really allows us to freely play with spacing, rhythm, and cutting angles, which opens what we call "kudaki" -- variations that retain the kata's essential principles. In Kaboku, for example, the uchidachi might make a shallow cut to the hands, or a deeper cut to the arms, or even step in strongly for a cut to the head -- shidachi responds using the same principle, but adjusted in response to uchidachi's cut.

    *The exception is when Empi is practiced or demonstrated with bokuto.

    Detractors always talk about "pre-choreographed" movements, "fixed" positions, "set" attacks and responses. Even pro-kata people talk about drilling, as Mr. Krueger did above. But those things are so removed from my experience, I sometimes feel at a loss for words. I am me, there is only one me in the world, and no one does heiho just like me. I have an aite. There is only one of them in the world, and no one else just like them. When we do a Shinkage-ryu kata, it is a distinct thing, different from even two other practitioners doing the same kata -- even with the same spacing, rhythm, and cutting lines! We can do no other, because in both subtle and gross ways we all move and cut a little differently from each other. Every time I do a kata is a new adventure. Someone may see me practice with a sempai, and to them it superficially looks the same as when I practiced with that sempai yesterday, but to us it's different.

    As shidachi, I "lose" the kata a not insignificant percentage of the time. There have been times when my sempai, to demonstrate my lack of understanding, or mindfulness (i.e., I start treating things like a form), have repeatedly defeated me several times in a row, doing the same kata, the same technique, and they don't even change what they are doing. They weren't cheap-shotting me, or changing things up on me. They were simply watching me, and acting true to the essential principles of the kata, while I was moving and thinking mechanically, all focused on what I was doing and trying to bring about the form of the kata, rather than watching uchidachi, responding accordingly, and letting the form of the kata be the result of proper practice.

    The kata are brought to life by two distinct people each time they are performed, and carry with them the experiences and experiments of the sempai and teachers of those distinct practitioners, as well as those of the sempai and teachers' sempai and teachers, and so on and on, all the way back up the line to Kamiizumi Hidetsuna and Yagyu Munetoshi. Even the latter-day kata have 180 years and thousands of man hours buried in them. Take this kata, for example. On the surface it seems straightforward enough: shidachi strikes repeatedly at uchidachi, who makes a cut at shidachi's forward leg, and shidachi must be able to pull his leg back in time. But, how should it be done so that that form is the result of honest practice? Some people believe shidachi needs to be relentless in their strikes, so that uchidachi simply doesn't have the wherewithal to make a good cut at the leg. Some believe that shidachi's cuts need to be solid, because the cut keeps uchidachi from stepping in, and if shidachi cuts too lightly trying to cut too fast, uchidachi can easily just step in and get the leg, if not the waist. Others yet think that the key is shidachi varying the rhythm of their cuts, so that uchidachi can't get a good enough sense of timing for a counter. What is the right answer? All of them. None of them. If uchidachi cuts shidachi's leg before shidachi can cut uchidachi's head, that wasn't it.

    And that's one of the "newer" kata. The older stuff, the "tachi" -- practicing these lead to insights that transform your entire practice. Let it not be thought that these are done exactly as they were 450 years ago. They've been refined through the years, tweaked until they are on the edge. A comparison of the "koshiki" (old-style) Sangaku and the later Sangaku (such as in this clip) shows that the old-style stuff are your higher-percentage techniques. They are comparatively much easier than the later versions. But over the centuries, through experimentation and variations, and exploration of the kudaki, they've become containers of transformative knowledge.

    Man, I love this stuff.
    Josh Reyer

    Swa sceal man don, žonne he ęt guše gengan ženceš longsumne lof, na ymb his lif cearaš. - The Beowulf Poet

  7. #6
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    Josh,

    That's an awesome description of your training. It's similar to what I'm talking about, but it sounds like Shinkage Ryu has really built this kind of exploration into the training mindset. The exploration of the kata sounds much more fundamental to the training than I usually see.
    Peter Boylan
    Mugendo Budogu LLC
    Fine Budo Books, Videos, Clothes and Equipment Direct from Japan
    http://www.budogu.com

    Find my Budo Blog at http://budobum.blogspot.com/

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