Randori no kata, a basic structure

Kata and katachi

The Japanese word ‘kata’ refers to the shape of an object, or the outline of a form. It is used in architecture as well as in pottery, painting and other visual expressive media. Kata is also a method to transfer the mechanics of physical arts like martial arts from teacher to student. It’s not just a physical transfer, but the mind is just as important. Kata is the result of a deep understanding of katachi and includes the so called secrets of the art.

Inside kata, there is a sequence of numbered or named steps, called a set of patterns. Within the named kata set, there are different templates for achieving different goals. A kata is considered complete when it has all its actions named for execution.

Each distinct step has its own name, such as the step to strike, the step to escape the enemy’s hold, or the step to counter-attack. Each kata has its own tempo and flow.
You will not understand Tomiki Aikido Kata unless you understand Kenji Tomiki’s rational thinking and philosophy.

Katachi is a sequence of steps needed to understand how body movements work. Each movement is divided into several stages and follows the logic of “form, function and meaning”.

The basic idea of kata or katachi is to introduce understanding of the relationship between form, function and meaning.


“the Society for Science on Form”

The art of Kata which includes katachi can be found in all levels of Japanese society and are in many cases an “alien” concept for Westerens. Lets have a look and drink a cup of tea.

The Tea Ceremony

The tea ceremony was developed in Japan in the late sixteenth century, and has a simple format — a host serves tea with some sweets, the guests drink it and then express thanks; that’s all.
Foreigners are often mystified as to why such a minimalist event can require years of training.
However, the motivation of this art is shared by all cultures. Imagine a talented host from any country whose way is so easy that guests are enveloped in an ambience of tranquil happiness.
Sen-no Rikyu, who founded the practice of the tea ceremony made an interesting comment: “Keep in mind that the tea ceremony is no more than making tea and drinking it.”
It takes great effort to realize such a “natural” thing. The same can be said about Randori no kata.

Randori no kata

The (judo) randori-no-kata were developed by Jigoro Kano as a teaching aid when it became apparent that he had too many students to effectively demonstrate throws and grappling techniques in his classes. The kata were developed in five years that followed the establishment of the Kodokan, between 1882 and 1887. They originally consisted of ten techniques each and were expanded to fifteen techniques around 1906.

The Randori-no-kata (乱取りの形, Free practice forms) of Kodokan Judo consist of two kata that illustrate the principles behind techniques used in Randori (乱取り, free-practice), allowing them to be practiced with maximum efficiency. The randori-no-kata includes nage-no-kata (投の形, forms of throwing), which teach and demonstrate concepts of nage-waza (投げ技, throwing techniques) and katame-no-kata (固の形, forms of grappling), which are intended to teach concepts of katame-waza (固技, grappling techniques).

Wikipedia

Aiki-Randori no kata

The concept of randori no kata for aikido techniques is borrowed from Kodokan Judo.
Kenji Tomiki introduced aiki-techniques to Judo students by using Judo Taiso, a scientific approach for studying Aikido techniques and body movements.

The purpose of Aiki-Randori no kata is to introduce atemi-waza and kansetsu-waza as a teaching aid to apply during randori.
Originally, Kenji Tomiki selected 15 techniques which became the basic kata for randori practise. Some years later, Basic 15 kata was transformed into Basic Kata of 17 techniques.

Form – Function – Meaning (Aiki-Randori-no-Kata)

Basic 15, 17 or…. are techniques allowed for practising aiki-randori. These techniques are reconstructed to apply safely without a chance to have severe injuries. It is always possible to have injuries when you are not focused.


The “basic” form can be called katachi or kata, depending on the level of the performers. As said, those techniques has the function to operate safely during training. The meaning “concept” is to integrate the basic principles of the art into the form.


When the principles are not included, the performance will lack depth and there will be no harmony between “form – function – meaning”.
Remember the concept of simplicity in the art of drinking tea, a presentation of basic techniques kata follows the same concept. By showing form – function – meaning, simplicity will come forward without adding unnecessary elements.

Correct or efficient? A question of real power.

The phrase “right or effective?” refers to the balance between “randori no kata” and “randori”. What we see during randori no kata presentation is not necessarily the same as during randori.
The reason for these differences may be found in the ways how to perform kata and randori. When kata was introduced into Shiai, some elements were added to give a more dramatic spectacle to the observers (audience and judges).
Randori’s performance is an entirely different story. Randori uses adaptive skills based on experiences gained through randori sessions with different people. Techniques will be dependent upon changing circumstances.
The real competence in randori is the capacity to adapt a technique for the moment. It is possible, the randori version may differ with the kata version or supposedly correct form at first glance. When you look closer, there are no differences if “form-function-meaning” are included in the kata.
The power derived from the simplicity of kata is often underestimated by Aikido practitioners. True power is only possible when the mind and body move in harmony without fanciful things. Too much detail in kata can destroy overall performance and practitioners can be lost as a result of unnecessary items.

It is said there is an impact on randori from kata training. Randori no kata is about a basic structure and the goal is to create a stable picture of a movement in your subconscious. Your adaptability can transform the kata version into an effective randori version.
If the kata becomes a presentation without the appropriate content, it can no longer be referred to as “randori no kata”. We can call it “presentation kata”.
Randori is a tool to provide efficiency to your techniques and body movements. But randori is by no means the only tool. Just focusing on randori will distort your Aikido experience as a method to improve you as a human being.

The influence of “ukemi”

Ukemi, the art of taking a throw or a pinning technique.
Ukemi is a necessary evil to survive a training session, randori or competition. Without a certain ukemi skill, you are exposed to injuries during training.
But there is a difference between kata ukemi and randori ukemi. During kata, you know what kind of throw or pinning technique is coming. During randori you don’t know, you have to act in the moment.
People can do a beautiful ukemi during kata for a certain technique. The same technique during randori can produce an ukemi as a real surviving one .

Hiki-otoshi according the kata method. Ukemi looks nice.

Randori approach of hiki-otoshi. Ukemi is not in an acrobatic fashion.

Acrobatic ukemi versus surviving ukemi

During kata performances, shinsa or shiai, ukemi becomes sometimes very acrobatic. Especially executed by younger people. This kind of ukemi can mask the performance of a sloppy technique.
In randori, the situation is different. You are thrown or not thrown, you survive with your ukemi skill or you don’t need to do ukemi.

Ukemi seen as an escape technique

Ukemi may be taken from two perspectives.
The first meaning of ukemi is the survival action to prevent injury when you are thrown or pinned down, mostly during training.
The second sense of ukemi is to anticipate unsafe action by taking care of your body.
Thus, jumping can be thought of as taking care of your body before the power enters your body. On the other hand, this may become an illusion for Tori, he or she may think of, using an effective technique, but in reality it is false.
To cure this delusional illness, randori can be the remedy if it is correctly applied effectively.

Kata – Shinsa – Shiai

Takeshi Inoue the autor of a book on Koryu no kata, who knows in detail the background of the creation of the Koryu no kata wrote:

In about 1958, we practiced mainly the unsoku, tandoku undo, yonhon no kuzushi (a former version of the nanahon no kuzushi/7-hon no kuzushi) as well as the jugohon no kata (basic15 kata). In around 1960, the junanahon no kata ( basic17 kata) and the roppon no kuzushi/6-hon no kuzushi were created and then the dai-san no kata was devised as a kata of classical techniques. During the mid-60 Ohba Sensei and others worked on the creation of the kata forms of the dai-ichi (first) to dai-roku (sixth), which we practice as the koryu no kata, in order to work on techniques for demonstrations and for purposes other than randori. What Ohba Sensei particularly stressed in formulating these kata was the organization of different techniques in such a way that students could learn connections between techniques easily and naturally. After he had organized the techniques to some extent, Ohba Sensei reported to Tomiki Sensei and demonstrated what he had done for him. He received some advice from Tomiki Sensei and then added corrections to the kata. (“Bujin Hideo Ohba,” Kyogi Aikido Soseiki no Ayumi; Ohba Hideo Sensei o Shinobu, p. 67)

There is a tendency to emphasize what I call a misunderstanding about the goal of Koryu no kata as a source of knowledge to bring efficiency into your Aikido. As mentioned in the quote above, the purpose of Koryu no kata is to give you a structured syllabus which can be used for non-randori purposes
Remember, Kenji Tomiki was not happy about bringing kata to the competition.
The difficulty with the kata has to do with the different versions of the kata. Everyone claims to know Hideo Ohba’s original version. Even among the closest students of Hideo Ohba, there is neither concord nor unity. Once I showed a photographic example, how a technique was done by one Ohba student to another Ohba student. She replied, that was not how she was taught by Ohba.

My view on Koryu no kata

Koryu no kata consist of basic structures for practising “goshin” or self-protection, introduction to weapon handling.
Some parts of koryu no kata can be used as a trainingtool for better and more efficient body use.
The progression of koryu no kata can be seen as a sequence of techniques which transforms into “katachi” and later into “kata.
Without proper “basic “training, koryu no kata stays an empty shell and your aikido will not improve.

Koryu no kata – basic structures for non-randori training
Aiki-Randori no kata – basic structures for randori training