Katachi or Kata

Waza – Katachi – Kata
(The Japanese way)

Adapted from an article by Kumiko Ikuta (1990) AI & Soc 4: 127-146

Japanes fan dance

Waza is a skill within the Japanese traditional performance arts or martial arts such as Noh, Kabuki, Aikido, Judo and others. Waza will be shown by a sensei and a learner can master it only through the activity of imitating and repeating what his sensei does. “Katachi” is an apparent physical form of waza (1 or more) performed by the learner, which may be decomposed into parts and described as a sequence of procedures. On the contrary, “Kata”, which has been regarded as the ultimate goal of the learner to attain in learning “Waza”, is not a simple collection of parts of action like “Katachi”, but his understanding and personal expression of “Katachi”. The most important matter for the learner in learning “Waza”, is not the perfect reproduction of “Katachi” as a physical form of action, but grasping the meaning of it with a sense of reality.
Speaking from the point of view of the sensei, how can the sensei transmit his “Kata”, not “Katachi”, to the learner effectively? To make the learner master the waza, the sensei says while showing him this waza, “Hold your right hand up just as if you were trying to catch snow falling down from the sky”, instead of saying “Keep your right hand up exactly at an angle of 45 degrees”. The sensei intentionally used metaphorical expressions in the process of teaching even in cases where he could express what he wished to say to his learner in a descriptive language. And it is after the same sensation is provoked in the body of the learner that he can grasp the meaning of “Kata”, in other words, master “Kata” beyond the activity of imitation of “Katachi”. Receiving a metaphorical suggestion like “Act as if you are catching snowflakes falling down from the sky”, may confuse the learner at first, but he may begin to imagine the scene of snow falling on a cold day, and to compare the image of catching snow with his hand with the knowledge he has stored so far through committing himself to the world of Japanese martial art. As soon as he can understand what the metaphorical expression practically implies, he also can get the same physical sensation as his sensei has, in his own body, and can simultaneously grasp the meaning of “Katachi” with a sense of reality, that is to say, he can master “Kata”. By intermediation metaphorical expression which has the effect of encouraging the learner to activate his creative imagination, the sensei can effectively transmit “Kata” to him. In this sense, the activity of imagination on the part of the learner, which encouraged effectively by metaphorical expression, is an indispensable factor for mastering “Kata”, not “Katachi”. Concerning the aim of teaching and learning “Waza”, the process of teaching and learning a skill of Japanese martial art has been considered so mysterious and closed that the people outside the world of “Waza” hardly understand what happens there. Nonetheless,, in fact, what both the sensei and the learner aim for at the end of the teaching and learning is the mastery of “Kata”, not “Katachi”. “Kata”, as distinct from “Katachi”, can well be explained by introducing a sociological concept “habitus” which is a cultural or situational “Katachi”. It is “Kata”, “habituated katachi”, that the learner should make efforts to master through the activity of imitating and repeating the form his sensei shows. That is exactly what the learner should “steal in secret” from his sensei. The perfect reproduction of “Katachi” (the state of “Mushin mugamae”) can easily be learned through following a sequence of procedures of “Katachi” shown by the sensei, but in order for the learner to get to the state of mastering of “Kata”, he has to activate his creative imagination while he is following a sequence of procedures of “Katachi”, and to grasp the meaning of it by himself. Metaphorical expression effectively encourages the learner to activate his imagination. Thereby enabling him to grasp the meaning of”Katachi” which is the mastery of “Kata”.


Tomiki Aikido Techniques

Basic 15 – Basic 17, embu or kata?

Around 1956 Tomiki sensei selected 15 techniques for use in “randori”. Later he added more techniques. Basically when those techniques are demonstrated in sequence, it is called “katachi” or “kata”, depending on the understanding of the practitioner. When entering competition the word “embu” is used.

Prof. F. Shishida (Waseda University) wrote on this matter the following :

The difference between kata (katachi) and embu or embu-kyogi

Tomiki had never referred to embu in his life. Judging from my long experience in aikido and study, the word embu (to practice martial arts) was used as a demonstration at a place called embu-jo in early modern times. Around 1973, embu-kyogi started to take place at a public event at the student championship of Tomiki Aikido. Master Oba seems to have added embu-kyogi (embu) to the randori event in the All Japan Student Championship in 1971. He seems to have wanted to encourage students in the Kansai area who only practice kata. According to Mr. T. Sato, Tomiki mentioned only the fact to him with a dissatisfied look when he visited Tomiki to report that he joined the embu-kyogi with Koryu-Daigo-no-kata. Judging from the common sense of Japanese martial arts, embu-kyogi is out of the question to him, because it is impossible to avoid that practitioners want to exaggerate their performance to make a false show of power. Exaggeration is at the opposite end of the practicality of aikido that Tomiki pursued. On the other hand, kata is a tool to improve practical skill, the power of scientific investigation, and character building, compared with embu that is just a display of power. We have to understand that Tomiki’s goal are those above mentioned through kata and randori, and that he has no concept of embu for realizing his goal.

Senta Yamada wrote in 1962
Basic 15 or Basic techniques for Randori

They can be divided into 4 sections.
Three techniques apply to attacks, four elbow techniques, four are concerned with wrist twists, and four with wrist turns.
These form the framework for the system and should be considered as the first essential to progress. Time should be allowed, periodically, for the practise of these “katachi” moves, because they serve to remind you to keep posture and movement fresh and sound. The importance of this cannot be emphasized too strongly.

From techniques to katachi to kata

There is a process in the understanding of aikido.
People are learning basic movements, by linking them together “waza” will be created. The demonstration of techniques in a prearranged  sequence is called “katachi”. When katachi is fully integrated into body & mind, it is called “kata”.

Demonstration of prearranged set of techniques during grading or public demonstration = katachi or kata

Demonstration = embu

Public demonstration place = embu-jo
Competition = embu-kyogi

Tomiki Aikido Katachi or Kata

As explained earlier, we can consider every sequence of waza as a form of “katachi” which can be transformed into “kata”.

The purpose of each katachi or kata must be understood by the practitioner, without this basic knowledge the transformation from katachi to kata is almost impossible.

The word kata will be used in the name of the different sequences of waza. It is the ultimate goal of every practitioner to transform katachi into kata. Without this transformation, Tomiki Aikido always stays at the level of embu-kyogi,  were practitioners want to exaggerate their performance to make a false show of power. Exaggeration is at the opposite end of the practicality of aikido that Tomiki pursued.

Kata for Randori purposes

The waza of these kata are designed to apply safely into randori.

Randori no kata (basic 15) Atemi waza – Hiji waza – Tekubi waza
Randori no kata (basic 17) Atemi waza – Hiji waza – Tekubi waza  – Uki waza
Randori no kata (10 ura waza or 10 counter techniques)

Koryu no kata

There are 6 koryu no kata with each a different purpose. The origin of some koryu no kata can be found in Daito Ryu Aiki Jujutsu or other Japanese martial arts like Kito Ryu or Ryōi Shintō-ryū. Besides the many tai-jutsu waza (unarmed skills) some weapon skills are incorporated into koryu no kata. The weapon skills can vary depending on the weapon school of the chief instructor (shihan).

Published by

Eddy Wolput

A passion for Martial Arts since 1964

21 thoughts on “Katachi or Kata”

  1. In my study of Ohba sensei’s compilation of the 6 Koryu no Kata I am looking discover from the remaining students of Ohba Sensei the origins of the waza their sources or antecedents of the waza that appear in the kata and the intention and purpose of the each kata.
    I have made similar inquiries with the BAA, with Shishida Shihan, Dr Lee Ah Loi ( though no reply fron her yet). Your insights about the koryu no kata have been helpful. I have been working on the koryu katas for about 20 years with my first teacher (John Gay Sensei) until he passed away 1996. Then for another 20 years with Peter Cleydon Sensei here in Melbourne Australia. In am now 65 and in my retirement have more time to focus these things.

    Charles Addison


    1. I started to study Tomiki Aikido in 1978 with dr Lee ah Loi and Itsuo Haba. Both introduced me to 6 koryu no kata. Later Hideo Ohba, Takeshi Inoue, Yamagata and Sakai refined my knowledge on different parts of 6 koryu. I could see the changes occured in the 6 koryu by Lee ah Loi when she started to do Iaido and Jodo. She introduced me also to her teachers on this matter. The changes she made were greatly influenced by sword/jo from our iaido and jodo teachers: Ishido sensei and Hiroi sensei.
      My own study of Akira Hino’s Budo/Bodywork gave me more understanding of koryu no kata. The integration of the use of kyokotsu, yobu, tanden and koshi made the kata more understandble. On the other hand the choreography is not changed. I only added the concept of an extended attack, not an attack and becoming passive by uke. If you have questions, feel free to ask.


      1. Thank you for response.

        On Thu., 30 May 2019, 8:45 pm Study Group Tomiki Aikido, wrote:

        > shobukaidojo commented: “I started to study Tomiki Aikido in 1978 with dr > Lee ah Loi and Itsuo Haba. Both introduced me to 6 koryu no kata. Later > Hideo Ohba, Takeshi Inoue, Yamagata and Sakai refined my knowledge on > different parts of 6 koryu. I could see the changes occured in t” >


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