052) Aikido Waza IS Kata: Week of September 7, 2009

I am amazed, amused, entertained,…. by the seemingly endless debate as to the “effectiveness”/”reality”…. of Aikido waza.  This debate seems to be nothing other than the dreaded “red herring.”  What if people looked at Aikido waza as KATA?

Kata are pre-arranged patterns of movement that can be done by one or more people (more than one person implies a choreography of patterned movements between the people).  Most people know of kata through other martial arts, such as karate, or  Iaido.  Nobody seems to question whether or not it would be effective to use Sanchin Kata (very old Okinawan Kata) in a street fight.  Instead, the mindless debate revolves around whether or not kata is an effective way of teaching the art.  If kata were simply the sum of the movements, then there would never be a debate.  It would be obvious that choreographed movements would not be a good way of teaching a fighting style/art, because reality rarely works out to be like what we would imagine things to be.

Kata is like the title of a book.  The title is the starting point of learning.  Kata is the representation of principles (some hidden, some obvious) that are critical to the effective learning of and enacting of that martial art or style.  This learning process has been described as involving three stages.  The first stage is the faithful replication of your teacher’s movements.  The second stage is the adaptation of those movements to “fit” your uniqueness.  The third stage is the discovery of the principles inside and separate from the movements, so that one can enact the principles in absence of those specific movement patterns.

Kata has a profound depth to it.  If the teacher is not actively exploring and integrating the depths of a particular kata, than there will be dilution of the teaching over successive generations.  This has happened in about every martial art.  The truly sad aspect is that it is easy to assume that much has been lost in the world of martial arts.  The exciting aspect is that one can seek to search and explore, to rediscover the “lost secrets” (with no guarantee of success!).

Aikido Waza IS Kata!  It is a senseless activity to simply mimic the choreographed movements of the nage and uke, expecting that you will become a formidable martial artist.  It is truly sad to see so many people stay stuck at the first stage of kata learning.  All that you are left with is a beautiful “dance” between nage and uke.  People need to dedicate themselves to explore the principles that are inherent in each waza.  A good teacher should be actively exploring these principles of movement to develop true “Aiki” that can be expressed in “Do.”  As your teacher develops, so should you.  We all should be left with a state of wonderment with how deep the depth of each waza is.  We should all be striving to deepen our understanding of the underlying principles of our art, so that the spontaneous expression of this art occurs in such a manner that the “uninitiated” remark that “This is not Aikido”, “that was phony” or some other statement reflecting the inability to understand what one has seen.

This week, we will return our focus to the execution of waza.  The task for the students is to begin to examine waza for the principles that we have been actively discussing and probing in class for a while now.  If I view my practice as kata, then it is also up to the students to explore my perspective to determine if I am simply off-base, or on to some meaningful path that we all can travel on together.

Marc Abrams Sensei

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