Kata – The true essence of Budo

“Kata contains the fundamental principles and the core value of Budo and it is kata that actually defines them as arts”

Kata – The true essence of Budo martial arts? Simon DODD*, & David BROWN

Kata in Tomiki Aikido

Kata in Tomiki Aikido is associated to “Basic 15 or 17”, techniques for randori and “Koryu no kata”, traditional techniques of Aikido. Of course, this is a simplistic explanation of the significance or goal of this training tool called “kata”.
Randori and kata are the 2 sides of a coin called Tomiki Aikido. It was borrowed from his Kodokan Judo teacher, Jigoro Kano. The two must be practiced as one method with full intention and cannot be separated into two different methods. Kata and randori are the same, and consist of the same values and concepts.
Practitioners begin with the study of “Basic Kata” and after understanding the message behind the kata, randori may be incorporated into the training.
Kata is a significant factor in understanding Randori’s objective. Without understanding “randori” will in most cases be an indication of muscle power versus muscle power. Proper kata training leads to proper randori training.

Definition of Kata
Perhaps a good definition of kata comes from Matsunobu** who offered the following:
Japanese arts have been preserved and transmitted through kata, literally “form” or “mold”, through which students learn structures of art, patterns of artistic and social behaviours, and moral and ethical values, all in accordance with a prescribed formulae. Kata is a set of bodily movements that have been developed and preserved by precedent artists. The most efficient and authentic way to master the artistry, it is believed, is to follow the model defined as kata.

**Matsunobu, K. (2011). Creativity of formulaic learning: Pedagogy of imitation and repetition. In J.Sefton‐Green, P. Thomson, K. Jones, & L. Bresler (Eds.), International Handbook of CreativeLearning (pp. 45‐53). Abingdon: Routledge.

Kata has 2 important components:

  • Spiritual component (not to be mistaken for a religious component)
  • Pedagogical and practical component (the movements contain a learning process)

If you don’t understand the impact of those 2 components, maybe something is escaping of your idea about “formal” performance.
Japanese culture has an alternative word for form, ‘katachi’, referring to a form devoid of meaning or purpose.

Akira Hino, a contemporary Budo researcher made the following comment:
“Using the body” means “using bodily sensations” without thinking about the movements and without making them.

If you can perform and understand Tomiki Aikido Kata with the quote of Akira Hino in your mind (spiritual component) and with the fundamental actions (practical component) as a basic skill, I believe you are on the way to perform “Kata”.

Kata, katachi or…..?

The difference between kata and what we are familiar with as “form” (called katachi in Japanese) is that the former is a content- attendant, embodied, habitual, contextualized, and value-laden form, whereas the latter is an abstract and empty form. Kata historicizes, socializes, and spiritualizes the individual, but katachi formulates, abstracts, and standardizes one’s imagination and thought.

Creativity of formulaic learning: pedagogy of imitation and repetition,Matsunobu, K. (2011)

The next demo is performed by a young woman I’m not familiar with. Is she performing “kata” or “katachi”? Is she getting the message from junanahon no kata? Or is it just doing a series of movements learned from copying the instructor’s movements.

17-hon no kata or katachi

Most Western martial artists have no understanding of social or cultural influences in their art. Attempting to do “kata” with a Western spirit will lead to a ridiculous display. However, as a Japanese martial artist, we must follow the directives of the founders and teachers of our art.
To paraphrase Funakoshi, the founder of Shotokan Karate: Three stages of mastery are 1) learn the sequence, 2) correct stance and technique, 3) understand.
Learning the sequence contains as well techniques, many behavioral actions before, between and after a technique is performed. The second stage of kata mastery is based on how the body must adapt to the kata and not change the kata to adapt to the body. It is only during the third stage, the practitioner and the kata are one and the performance of the kata becomes a masterpiece.

The goal of kata training is “to fuse the individual to the form so that the individual becomes the form and the form becomes the individual”

The 17-hon no kata of Tomiki Aikido is probably the first sequence of techniques they are learning as a Tomiki Aikido practitioner.
Of course, before 17-hon no kata(chi) is taught, beginners are learning the art of ukemi and basic movements as a solo exercise. It is even possible they work on some partner exercises to learn basic movements needed to study basic kata.

There are 17 basic techniques in this kata for using during a freeform of practising (randori). Randori and kata are interconnected by common concepts formulated by Kenji Tomiki.
The spirit behind kata and randori must be the same, the ourward performance can be different, but the underlying principles must come forward in both.

Learn the sequence

During the study of Basic Kata besides the sequence of the 17 techniques, other actions must be considered.

Posture – Kamae

Mi-gamae: the physical side of posture
Kokoro-gamae: the mental side of posture

Mi-Gamae is defined as the state of proper posture and attitude, which can cope with the opponent’s offense.
Kokoro-Gamae is a mental part of Kamae, it is necessary to always keep the mind of “Sen” to cope with the opponent’s action

Footwork – Unsoku-ho

Proper footwork is used to keep efficient posture during movements.
Different kinds of footwork will be studied separately.

Handblade – Tegatana dosa

Tegatana or handblade movements has a direct relationship with the manipulation of a sword. Using a sword is based upon the used of whole body movements. Tegatana is the expression of the whole body action during the performance of the Basic kata. When the whole body movement is not visible through the eyes of a skillfull practitioner, the Basic kata will lead to a ridiculous display without inherent physical and mental strength.

Meeting – Tegatana awase

When Tori and Uke come to the distance of physical meeting, both need to keep a strong Kamae (Mi-gamae and Kokoro-gamae). There is no muscular contraction involved, there is a kind of tension produced by the mind and this is reflecting in a strong physical posture.

Physical and mental strength – Kigurai

Kigurai is strength or a commanding presence, which is naturally possessed and derived from confidence acquired through repeated training. Kigurai is deeply associated with the previous items needed to perform Basic kata.

The 17 techniques

The 17 techniques need the previous actions to become efficient waza for use during randori. How to perform the technical content of the waza is clearly explained by the contemporary Tomiki Aikido teachers following the principles explained by Kenji Tomiki. For non-Japanese speaking people, I suggest to read Tomiki’s book “Judo and Aikido” and try to understand the underlying principles. The book doesn’t contain the 17hon no kata, but describes very well the principles behind.

Improve the physical and mental actions

After learning the sequence, the practitioners must improve the elements of the Basic kata without changing the physical and mental content. You have to adapt your mind and body to the kata and not the other way around.
This is a very hard time for most of the practitioners, especially for those who are competing and their only goal is “winning medals”.

Entering competition and forgetting the skills from the Basic kata and using different methods to win medals is in fact cheating. The winning of the medal is not representing proper Tomiki Aikido.


Understanding has many levels, moving from one level to another is an ongoing process and it starts when you are a beginner to an advanced practitioner and beyond. The more you understand, the closer the gap gets between you and the kata, until there is no more gap.

And what about randori? When one comprehends the underlying principles and actions of basic kata, perhaps the difference between kata and randori disappears.

Published by

Eddy Wolput

A passion for Martial Arts since 1964

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