24 Sep

Kata is Theory – part 1

Shinbukan Kata: Sublime! Here Kuroda sensei demonstrates with some of my Shinbukan senpai

When I first met Kuroda Tetsuzan sensei over 20 years ago, he had just arrived to teach his first seminar at the Dojo of the Four Winds. He gave each of us attending a copy of a handwritten treatise on the “theories” that he would begin to teach us. This information is held dear by those of use who received it, and what followed from that information and the following days of training became the crack to the door of understanding kata as taught in koryu….as taught in Shinbukan…as we came to practice it in our Nami ryu kata.

“Real fighting changes endlessly” was the phrase that released me from the bondage of trying to understand kata as a drilling system for what to do situationally. Situations that never really showed up “in a fight”. I came to understand that the bunkai of my karate training was no longer something I needed to struggle with, and that the flowing Korean hyungs I learned earlier in life had more depth in them than what I had accessed.

Those initial one and two person kata were more choreography in my limited understanding, yet a good base for beginning to learn coordinated movement. That early practice and learning opened me to a search for meaning that I often found easier to see as pattern conditioning.

The quandary of these movements eventually took me to search out the paradoxical interactions that I experienced in the truly adept practitioners I have always been lucky to find on my path. These were the folks that were different than what my very special teacher Big Dave described as “wind dancers”.

Sato Bu Kan‘s Nami ryu sensei, Josh Ross, makes kata understanding very accessible – make sure to sign up for his great newsletter!

Kata as a training system became deeper, principle developing, and formed a new codex for movement, and eventually how I changed (and continue to change) who I am in the context of kenjutsu. The context of kenjutsu, became with guidance, the purpose of jujutsu and the skillsets that we incorporate into our Aiki Heiho.

Further down the decades, Kuroda sensei described the evolution of what he was teaching us, with the phrase “at first you cannot move”. That taught me that there is never an end in sight. Williams sensei keeps getting better with a compass pointing to “strive forward”.

Challenging kata henka (variation) with 2 attackers

Coming to understand our Principles of Nami ryu, beginning with Williams sensei’s teaching that we do not “contest for space…” has allowed me to stop trying to survive kata practice through winning; instead, I can focus and become more critical about my precision.

In turn, when practicing waza, pattern drilling, sparring, or just working on my understandings of movement, I now have the opportunity to question how the katas are working in me, instead of how they can work on someone else.