written and/or compiled by Eddy Wolput °1948 – 7th dan Aikido (JAA-Tokyo/Japan) – 5th dan Iaido – 5th dan Jodo. Part of the material in this article is not directly linked to the Japan Aikido Association (NPO) program or Shodokan approach. Other concepts are incorporated into the study of the subject presented.
Author: Eddy Wolput °1948 – 7th dan Aikido (JAA-Tokyo/Japan) – 5th dan Iaido – 5th dan Jodo. Part of the material in this article is not directly linked to the Japan Aikido Association (NPO) program or Shodokan approach. Other concepts are incorporated into the study of the subject presented.
In Western languages we can write “kata” as one word, but the word does not actually mean anything to the average person in our society. Persons with an interest in Japanese arts have an idea of “kata”.
There are several explanations for the word “kata” depending on the context. If we can read the “kanji”, the meaning becomes more clear, but still the real meaning need some context. Unfortunately, most of us cannot read kanji.
型(かたkata) type, style,model, pattern – set or sequence of positions and movements in martial arts, style in kabuki, noh, etc.
形(かたkata) form, shape, figure
方(かたkata) method of, manner of, way of
and many more….
The word kata in the context of martial arts and describing a set of movements, can be written by two different kanji (型 and 形). And to make it a little more complicated, we cannot ignore the word “katachi” (かたち) which is often used to give a name to a logical sequence of basic movements. かたち (katachi) and かた (kata) are different, though related, words. かた (kata) is a somewhat more complicated term to describe a structure of physical and mental actions. On most of its uses, it’s more commonly written with the kanji 型 than 形, though they can be interchangeable. In the book of Takeshi Inoue (Tomiki Aikido) Kata no Subete, both kanji are used.
Kata or a virtual Obeya
Obeya: Big Room or Creating a place where people come together to develop a clear understanding about the who, why, what, how and when.
Kata serves as a source of information to transfer knowledge through concrete actions. This is a virtual place in which knowledge is stored by teachers and experts. Knowledge is directly bound up with action. Action without knowledge is a waste of effort, whereas knowledge without action is unnecessary.
To learn the kata you need someone with expertise and who is eager to transfer the knowledge by using the action of doing. Most of the Sensei will teach you in a special place called Dojo. Of course, this may occur in the house of the Sensei or in a place specially built as a dojo.
Studying kata is an incredible way of feeling mind and body. A qualified teacher will feel your problems and can provide solutions to resolve them. Of course, the solution (knowledge) is pointless unless practiced. Real development can only be reached through knowledge and action.
The “purpose” of practising kata
Sen-no Rikyu, who founded the practice of the tea ceremony made an interesting commentary: “Keep in mind that the tea ceremony is no more than making tea and drinking it.” It takes a lot of effort to make this “natural” thing happens.
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”
Making natural movements is no simple task. We all know the Sensei’s remark: lower your shoulders, release the tension….. relax….. Practicing kata is a great tool to experience all your unnecessary tension during your movements. When Hideo Ohba created the kata forms of the dai-Ichi (first) to dai-roku (sixth), we were taught to practise these forms for purposes other than randori or demonstrations (grading, Embu…). Doing a grading is not to show how many kata you know, but to demonstrate your sensei the result and fusion of knowledge and action. In fact, you do not demonstrate the kata, you should become the kata.
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.
The real “kata” test: Randori
The tea ceremony is based on kata, but the goal is to drink tea in a joyful atmosphere without unnecessary tension and stress. You must become a “Uke” for the person preparing the tea. Become “one” with master of tea.
When referring to uke within a martial art context, the perception is mainly of someone who attacks and then becomes totally passive. Another perception can be of someone taking big breakfall or jumping to show big dramatic ukemi (breakfall). Uke must become an active part of the kata and mind and body move in coordination with tori. The interesting point is the use of power during the movements. You always need power to develop a technique that works. In this blog you will find articles related to power and its efficient use. The problem is “how to use power”.
Martial art kata is a tool for learning natural movements in a situation without unnecessary tension. There’s no stress in losing a battle. The mind is free to do any action learned during your stay in the virtual Obeya studying how to move in a natural way.
The practice of «randori» is accessible to all ages, males and females, adults and children…
And what about “shiai”?
There are many forms of competition. But the purpose of competition is not to become champion, but to perform in the most efficient way.
What is the purpose of kata competition? What is the value of becoming a kata champion?
Fast movements can conceal flaws and mistakes can slip by. One does not do the movements slowly for the sake of doing them slowly, and it is most certainly untrue that the slower it is done, the better. There has to be a purpose for doing them slowly; there has to be “substantially” to those movements or progress will not come. It is about “Ishiki”
Ishiki has 2 kanji, 意 = I, and 識 = shiki. “Shiki” means identification, it is the act of recognizing someone or something. “I” means intent, it is the determination to do something.
Why slow movements?
Posture and Health
Slow movements help you with the help of intentional thinking (Ishiki= 意識) to raise awareness of your posture. This will allow your posture to be adjusted to make the body function better and improve energy efficiency.
Slow movements with the whole body will affect and help the micro-circulation in the capillaries. It goes much deeper than fast movements.
Martial arts in Japan refer to a variety of physical and mental practices developed based on historical combat techniques. Nowadays, martial arts are considered not only as sports and/or fighting methods, but also as activities aimed at obtaining a unity between mind and body.
Aikido is a Japanese martial art that includes multiple components, such as musculoskeletal training and improvement of both interoceptive and exteroceptive consciousness.
Aikido and related styles include practices (randori – sparring) that are considered elements similar to those of sport, although these practices (randori – sparring) are not aimed at winning the competitions as typical sports do.
Aikido essentially emphasizes the importance of paying attention to one’s own breath and body, and the awareness of both internal and external environments.
In 1976, I stayed for several weeks in Shizuoka Japan and practised mostly Korindo Ryu Aikido with Hakamatsu sensei, a Shihan of Minoru Hirai Korindo Ryu. I didn’t really understood very well the principles and concepts of this martial art. But I made a lot of notes in my martial art diary. From time to time I am re-reading my notes and I discovered some secrets which I didn’t understood very well in that time.
The ideas and concepts taught to me in 1976 by Hakamatsu sensei are not opposing the ideas and concepts of Kenji Tomiki sensei and Hideo Ohba sensei. I was thaught by Hideo Ohba in Okubo Tokyo a few years later and I didn’t realize the similarities at that time.
It was a shocking idea to discover the concept of “Matrix* Budō “. One of the most important principles is to apply a single set of basic forms of exercise, which contains all vital movement elements, to all types of combat. These forms are contained in the developed taisabaki (tandoku undo). This taisabaki is the basis of all forms of movement, from which all techniques arise. A botai-budō or matrix-budō.
This concept was in the mind of Kenji Tomiki, when he was rationalizing Ueshiba’s Aikido. He formulated unsoku-ho and tandoku undo, containing the basic information for further development of the practitioner. Together with some other fundamental principles, a unique system is created which included kata and randori.
*Matrix = Botai (母体) = whomb, uterus
Don’t become fixed on techniques. Create your own waza.
Matrix: an environment or material in which something develops; a surrounding medium or structure.
Minoru Hirai was the founder of Kōrindō Aikidō, a martial art based upon older forms of Jujutsu, Kenjutsu and other Japanese martial arts. He was also during World War II a director of Kobukan, Morihei Ueshiba organisation. Minoru Hirai introduced the word aikido as a generic term for Japanese martial arts not associated with Judo or Kendo. Basically it can be said, aikido is a term to define martial arts auround the “aiki” principle. (see also Minoru Hirai Korindo Aikido). As usual, the information on Wikipedia is based sometimes upon the view of one person or group and can be controversial for other persons.
Hirai’s martial art developed over time into what he calls “Matrix Budō “, which is not based on a multitude of different techniques, but is based on a single principle practised during taisabaki movements:
The harmoniously round circle (enten) and ball rotation (kyūten) expressed by koshi-mawari in a number of forms of movement called taisabaki.
Koshi-mawari taisabaki serve as the basis in order to acquire efficient natural movement.
From koshi-mawaritaisabaki, you develop a natural, rotating-flowing movement mode. Out of this, techniques are created unintentionally and adapted to the constantly changing situation, with which the attacker can be controlled and thrown because one does not oppose the attacking force. In order to acquire the movement of koshi-mawaritaisabaki the following forms of exercise are practiced in training:
7 or 8 forms of movement (taisabaki), which are initially trained individually, then in combination, and finally with a partner;
Partner forms to deepen the correct posture and the approach of every movement;
Randori means free attack and free movements in order to spontaneously realize the principle of koshi-mawari.
The principle of giving movements a circular, flowing, non-okori course. The circular movements can be thought of as horizontal and vertical rotations.
Okori: The approach or initial impetus that usually initiates a movement. As a result, an attack usually reveals itself at the moment it arises. This happens often when attacker lauch a strike by stamping his back leg into the ground to create momentum or using a stamping front leg to give more power in the (tanto)strike. This can be avoided by using ashi no korobi or rolling feet or using a short tsugi-ashi after adjusting ma-ai.
球転 Ball rolling, ball rotation
In Chinese martial arts, the concept of Dantian and Chan Si Gong (silk reeling exercises) is related to kyūten and tenshi & tenshikei (discussed earlier).
from: Narita Shinjūrō – Kōrindō Aikidō
The ball rotation is perfectly round at all times. It has no corners or edges. Thanks to the rotations of the ball with this form of movement, continuous changes in direction are always possible. One could also describe the rotations as the sum of all angles of a circle. In Budo, the angles at which the two opponents meet play a critical role for victory or defeat, since each of the opponents tries to avoid the attack of his opponent in some way in order to get to the target with his blow. How to design the relationship of the angles to an attack line for your own advantage is therefore one of the decisive questions in every style.
Hirai came to the conclusion that it was not necessary to deliberately choose an angle of attack or defense against an opponent, but it was enough if one acted on his rotational movements from the angular fullness of the rotations of a 360 degree circle. Because when you implement the circular principle in your actions, you move completely freely and unhindered, because every movement always includes all contact points as they lie on a 360-degree circle. The sum of the angles of a circle remains the same, regardless of its size, although the smaller the circular movements, the more favorable it is for our purposes. In the thousands of possibilities, any one of the opponents will always be captured.
Since a circle encompasses a total of 360 degrees, any other shape, no matter how polygonal, would be less favorable in any case, since it must inevitably always have blind spots. As a result, gaps arise in defense, where one is inevitably defeated. Without this principle as a matrix, there can hardly be any effective taijutsu, kenjutsu or jojutsu. If it is possible to acquire koshi-mawashi, everything else will follow naturally.
To illustrate the effect of the koshi-mawashi principle, one can imagine the following: hold a sword horizontally sideways and turn from the center, i.e. koshi. Each angular point of the circle will be full of energy.
This effect can also be shown by a partner exercise from 7hon no kuzushi
This is something that every human being is able to accomplish. Every student has the opportunity to learn aikido with sufficient effort, since everyone is naturally capable of these circular or spherical movements with their 360 degrees.
With this form of movement, you have an unlimited number of hit points on the 360 degree circle, at least one of which inevitably contains the opponent’s hit point location. With the circular or spherical movements (Kyūten), you reliably reach the crucial point. Everything depends on the skill of moving the body with a circular or spherical pattern and able to to generate power to the opponent from each point of circle created by koshi-mawaritaisabaki.
An opponent who fixes his attack on only one point only has this one chance. On the other hand, if you trust in the infinite number of angular possibilities, you are definitely in an advantage, because you can generate power from any point of your circle to an opponent’s vulnerable point.
Beyond that, no further considerations or techniques are required. Because of the fact that, in contrast to the opponent attacking with only one possibility, you have this unlimited number of angles, and you are able to master it completely, you can overcome it. Since this can hardly be achieved with rehearsed, fixed and therefore rigid techniques (katachi), it is better to work with the kyūten principle. This in turn is inextricably linked to the term yawara (suppleness).
Kyūten can be considered as a yōso or fundamental principle and is used under different names.
Basic Tomiki Aikido Kata (Basic15 or 17…) can only be considered as an effecient method, when taking in consideration fundamental principles (yōso) and the evolution from katachi to kata. The different waza cannot be considered as techniques, but as an expression of fundamental principles of Budō. By using randori, waza becomes alive. As Tomiki sensei mentioned: we need randori to paint in the eye of the dragon.
Achieving smooth movements must be regarded as one of the most important prerequisites for successful Budō. Jerky, forcefully applied techniques have the disadvantage that each new movement starts from a standstill. The absence of circular or spherical movements needs a forcefully start of a linear movement, which is easily detected by an opponent. Remember, kyūten is a skill for instant power generation and movement. This type of movement cannot be learned solely through the appropriately determined handles and tricks
These rotational and smooth movements are inseparable linked to the concept of yawara (suppleness). Rather, this idea of yawara* (JU in JU-do or JU-jutsu) is the physical expression of an inner attitude, which is often expressed in terms of harmony. Internal tension and aggressiveness would prevent the development of suppleness. As it is free from tension, it represents the most natural of all forms of movement and finds its equivalent in the concept of enten-mukyu**, the endlessly flowing and spherical twists.
*The kanji for yawara and ju in jujutsu is the same (柔). For Tomiki sensei “ju or yawara” is the principle of gentleness and it is similar to “aiki”, which is an explanation of the principle from within.Remember it was Minoru Hirai who introduced the word “Aikido” to make a separate division in Dai Nippon Butokukai. The word “aiki” was used by different Ryuha and it was difficult to bring them under the banner of Kodokan Judo.
**Endless circular movements. Can be considered as a Buddhist concept of Karma. After Buddhism was introduced to Japan, people easily accepted the notion of karmic retribution but not the literal belief of rebirth as animals or lower life forms. Transmigration of the soul focused more on the practical path to liberation.
Physiologically the pelvic area of the human body. It is also related to the lower back and sometimes it is referring to the waist. It is often translated by “hips” and referring to the hip joints although this is not completely correct. See “Koshi or other blog post and do a search with “koshi”.
Koshi-mawari or koshi-mawashi
The difference between the two terms koshi-mawari and koshi-mawashi is a grammatical one and consists in the fact that this is a question of a transitive and an intransitive verb form.
In practical use, the transitive form “koshi mawashi” means that the rotations are deliberately started, while koshi-mawari points to automatic, naturally occurring rotations by koshi.
Some practitioners believe taisabaki is just avoiding an attack. This is only a small part of taisabaki. Basically it means a moving body.
Taisabaki has 3 elements;
Ashi-sabaki – concerning the feet and legs
Te-sabaki – concerning the hands and arms
Koshi-sabaki – concerning the central body, especially the lower part
In fact, your training is not about winning or losing a match or a combat. It is about your attitude towards an unknown territory named Budō. In Budō-land are no rules or descriptions how to do a technique. There are only Yōso or fundamental principles. If you cannot see them and understand, you will not be a real Budō-ka (a martial art practitioner). You will rely on brute force and driven by primitive desire to win.
In these blog-posts, there are many indications how to master fundamental principles. If you can integrate them into your martial art practise, I believe you are on the right path of Budō.
“You don’t have the skill to understand me” Hakamatsu Shihan
How to become skilful?
I realize that there will be no end to my training to become skilful. The interesting part is “the way” to become skillful. It is not a large “boulevard”, no it is a road along small squares, interesting people and much to fall and get up.
Don’t take falling down too literally…….
Every time I come across interesting people, I try to listen to them in an empty mind. The goal of this empty mind is to absorb as much as it can. That information has to become a part of my body………
Improving our aikido by practising and understanding the language of our body
When we do not improve something, it tends to degenerate and worsen as time progresses.
Therefore, I firmly believe that it is up to us to try to understand the many exercises and their objectives. Unfortunately, the creators have already left us a long time ago and only a few written documents or movies, mostly bad quality, are available or were left behind. This means that we must rely on our intuition and understanding of our anatomy and kinesiology to discover the wisdom and true teaching hidden within the exercises.