Randori and kata, 2 sides of a coin


2 sides of the coin

There are 3 important parts in a coin. The front, the back and the edge. Each part represent a major element of Budo Aikido training.

  • Kata ( katachi, basic forms,…sotai renshu)
  • Randori (free style, sparring…)
  • Bodywork (how to move, generating power……ishiki, hyoshi)

Bodywork will make Budo Aikido stable and strong. Without bodywork Budo Aikido has no power. If a coin is very thin, it will easily tear in a coin machine and probably not work.

Randori in Aikido

Adapted from an article by Fumiaki Shishida, JAA Shihan

Many aikido techniques are similar to some of the early jujitsu techniques, evidence that aikido was originally a type of jujitsu. Jigoro Kano, who reformulated various jujitsu techniques and integrated them into the modern judo, proposed two practice systems: randori and kata. He guided his followers to practice using some of the techniques in randori and polish the other techniques through repetitive kata practice. (In the following discussion, the randori style that Kano proposed will be referred to as kumi-randori or randori in the contact (or closed) position). Kano’s proposal is contrasted with the fact that the mainstream aikido schools, following Morihei Ueshiba’s ideology, have been practicing techniques only in the form of kata. Tomiki, who meticulously analyzed all jujitsu techniques, further proposed rikaku-taisei-no-randori, i.e., randori in the non-contact (or open) position, in addition to kumi-randori. As a judo practitioner, Tomiki referred to this new style of randori as the “second randori style”; as an aikido practitioner, he referred to it as “aikido randori.” Tomiki demonstrated how to use atemi techniques (thrusting at the opponent’s chin or crashing against his torso) and kansetsu techniques (locking the opponent’s wrist or elbow) in the non-contact position. In order to standardize the practice procedure, he designed a task cycle that included: unsoku (foot movement), tegatana-undo (foot and hand movement), tegatana-awase (person-to-person foot movement exercise with the hand blade pressed against each other’s), tegatana-no-kuzushi (balance-breaking techniques using one’s hand blade), kakari keiko (randori with no resistance), hikitate keiko (randori with partial resistance), and randori (wrestling with full resistance). In order to show the major techniques that can be used in randori, he compiled the 17 Basic Techniques and 10 Counter (or Reverse) Techniques. The original Tomiki aikido was tailored for toshu randori. The manners and courtesies for aikido practice were modeled on those for Kodo-kan judo.

Techniques learned through kata can be revitalised by randori

From an article written by Kenji Tomiki

The method of practise traditionally used to ensure the safety of dangerous techniques was the kata system of practise. In ancient bujutsu, 99% of a practise was completed by kata alone. That is to say, in order to cope with an opponent’s unlimited attacks, each response was practised by means of kata. That is the reason for the extreme number of kata in ancient jujutsu. For example in Tenjin Shinyo Ryu jujutsu there were 124 kata techniques, and there were over 10 ranho (literally unstructured captures). To become masterful in the practical applications of the techniques required innumerable months. Then someone would be challenged to go from kata to a violent shiai (literally street fight) called tsujinage or tsujigiri. This gave life to kata and was the place to try to fit together objectively one’s own real ability.

A martial art that has no ethics is nothing but violence. Along with the perception of being prepared for death, one must participate in shiai. In the traditional writings there is a prohibition against shiai. Novices entering into shiai unpreparedly were admonished about losing their lives.

Times changed after the middle of the Edo period and shiai that caused injuries costing a life were rigidly proscribed. It was then decided that bujutsu training would be done from first to last only by kata. The bujutsu that lost the opportunity for shiai training showed signs of degeneration because it was impossible to experience personally the true power of the martial arts and the core of the principles of the arts. As a means of correcting this decline the bamboo sword practise in kenjutsu and free sparring practise (randori geiko) in jujutsu were invented.

For example, within kenjutsu in the middle of the Edo era, schools such as kempo-kaho were ridiculed. The ridicule was because these schools were revealed to have kata only practises that made it easy to develop weak points. It is said that the rigor of bujutsu training was forgotten, that the training sank into easy-going ways, that real power was not sought, and that pretentious bombastic activity increased. In short, history reports that the sword kata of budo degenerated into the sword kata of the stage.

Kata practise is performed to avoid the ultimate power of the techniques. When we study by means of a sword or wooden sword, it is necessary to try to meet the moment of the ultimate clash through use of the bamboo sword practise, even though in nine cases out of ten we will be able to absorb the principles of the art, such as the principle of simultaneous strikes (ai-uchi), i.e. cutting the skin to cut the meat, through kata.

From early on jujutsu also devised midare geiko (unstructured practise) training for the nage-waza and the katame-waza techniques that occur in the final moments of close-in hand to hand fighting. On the basis of this kind of practise, Kano completed his randori system of training during and after the Meiji period.

Randori practise is something that is done to give life to the real power of those techniques that were learned through kata. That is to say, randori provides the power to complete a painted dragon by filling in the eyes. The synthesised martial arts techniques of the old jujutsu schools, however, were quite varied and had numerous styles of hand to hand combat. Thus, it is impossible to incorporate all of these techniques into a system of randori training.

Toshu randori

Based upon ideas taught by Itsuo Haba

Toshu Randori is an aikido training method which includes the principles of kendo and judo. In the principle of kendo, techniques are performed by striking or thrusting at the opponent up to the moment of the contact from the starting position. In the principle of judo, however, they are performed after touching or grabbing the opponent (kumi randori). Toshu Randori has elements of both kendo and judo and shows how we perform techniques in ‘rikaku’, or “at a distance” situation.

In organising toshu-randori, two points particularly warrant attention. First is the safety of the atemi-waza and the kansetsu-waza. Second is the relationship between kata and randori. When we consider the atemi-waza and kansetsu-waza on a fundamental level, we find two characteristics:

  1. The atemi-waza control an opponent by hitting, thrusting into or kicking the physiological weak points of the body (the vital areas), and the kansetsu-waza control an opponent by inflicting a sprain or dislocation on a joint. That is to say, these techniques were divised with the purpose of maiming or killing.
  2. The atemi-waza topple an opponent by manipulating the mechanical weak points of his body and pushing (or pulling him in some occasions) in one direction, while the kansetsu-waza restrain an opponent with a minimum of force by utilizing the limits of joint movement.

To organize “toshu-randori” in a safe way, the second method is the only way in accordance with ethics and safety for the practitioners.

The methods of offensive actions and defensive actions

Offensive actions can be performed by using atemi waza or kansetsu waza (by grasping the wrist or arm). Eventually by using Uki-waza after grasping the wrist.
So ideally techniques should be performed the moment one touches the opponent after yielding and redirecting the power of his kamae.

Defensive actions follow the same concept, yielding and redirecting the power of the offensive actions

By using kendo tactics of distance and hyoshi, physical strength are not required as much. In the field of toshu-waza principles, however, tactics of yielding and redirecting power are emphasised, so physical ability (powered by bodywork) becomes more important. But if one depends on physical strength alone, while grappling with the other carelessly, by neglecting to control opponent’s power and balance properly, one will be countered and defeated. Offense and defence  work integrally as two sides of the same coin.

The role of kata in Budo Aikido randori training

The 17 Basic Techniques (Randori no kata) and classical kata forms (Koryu-no-kata) that Kenji Tomiki and Hideo Oba compiled were based on the philosophical and technical principles for Kodokan kata forms set by Jigoro Kano. The original kata are build with an inherent simplicity to demonstrate a basic template of the action.

The over-standardized movements in the kata can destroy the practical information of the performed techniques. The urge to make the randori-no-kata “efficient” makes the kata “unefficient”.
Besides the technical evolution in kata, reiho (etiquette) is another aspect in performing kata. There is a tendency to emphasize too much the way of reiho or “etiquette methods”. Its use is so common that you can see many people simply perform the actions with no or little understanding behind the purpose of the movements. This non-understanding creates an almost clownish behaviour. This is especially the case in koryu no kata when people have to go into seiza for bowing.

But what is the role of randori-no-kata for randori? All the 17 randori techniques are intended to keep the opponent under control and restrain him from getting up and striking back. No technique is designed to hurt the fallen opponent anatomically. An act of exaggeration to make kata performance more spectacular has always been disapproved in the history of Japanese martial arts.
By practising the kata, we keep an original template of the waza. By using training methods like sotai renshu we can adapt the original template for use in randori-geiko and goshin-ho (self-defense exercises). Sotai renshu is a kind of repetitive training with ishiki and taikan as important items.
Some of you maybe bring forward that there is only interest in free-style sparring and they denie the role of creating patterns by repetitive training, in fact sotai renshu  is a kind of “katachi”.  Creating a pattern is the result of repetitive training. By repeating the basic movement(s) of a waza without stopping, the brain is storing this information for use when necessary. Regular training and focusing on the correct movements are the key for success.
Randori is of course the other side of the coin, and cannot be neglected. Randori is a test to control the correctness of the pattern in your brain.

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