Kata – Two Meanings – Model or Shape

Kyudo as Kata

Kata are a Distillation

Kata are traditional keystones of all martial arts study. Passed from generation to generation, these movements teach the rich history and concepts behind the martial art you study. Kata are the skeleton upon which we hang everything else. They are a distillation of successful combat concepts and techniques.

Too often today, the priority of martial artists is the number of Kata they can do. This superficial skimming of sequence is truly sad. Studying Kata in depth opens you to a world of exciting and inexhaustible study. The number you know is not important; understanding the depth of each is.

Also observed in martial arts today is the separation of Kata from combat. Some feel Kata is unimportant and, therefore, practice only a few fighting techniques almost exclusively, not even bothering to look at what they can learn from them. And yes, they may become good fighters, but they will only attain the skill level that coincides with their physical ability. I will still put money on the person who studies Kata in relation to combat. His progression in skill may be a little slower than the other, but when his knowledge matures, he will be a strong fighter. His ability will coincide not with just his physical skill, but with his knowledge as well. Being a Budoka is impossible without intelligence.

You can look at Kata in several ways including their history and geographical influence, as well as their symbolic, cultural, and practical meanings. Kata evolved over periods measured in centuries. People who succeeded in the realm of combat added their understanding to each generation. Martial art traditions would not have survived to the present day if there were not some important lessons to be passed on.

The Model and the Shape

Kata - two different KanjiThere are two ways to write the word Kata in Japanese and each one is important in its study.

The first implies a model or Mold (see figure). Part of the character uses the radical for “earth”— something that is fixed. If we consider a drinking cup, using a mold when making a cup allows us to consistently form each cup the same way, the same size, weight, shape, thickness, and contours. This Mold is given to you as a beginner. Kata are standardized movement series exposing you to its movements while teaching basic concepts of your martial art. The beginner in the Doing (Gyo) stage of training learns this standard model of movement and techniques. He copies and practices with little thought as to the reasons behind the movements, because he is striving to learn the sequence and perform them correctly.

As you mature in your understanding of Kata, they start to take on a different form. The standard mold is transformed into a flexible shape.  Like our example of the drinking cup, we can appreciate that there are many different kinds of cups. Large, small, delicate tea cups, plastic cups, ceramic cups, glass cups, wooden cups, stainless steel cups, green cups, red cups—the variety is seemingly endless, but they all have the basic principles of a cup. They all hold liquid and usually stand stable on a flat surface. The second way of writing Kata uses the water radical and emphasizes something more flexible and fluid. Cups come in all shapes and sizes, but there is something “cuppiness” about all cups. The Shape still adheres to principles of being a cup.

Graduating from the Mold concept, you now explore the Shape concept or pattern of the cup. This is the Disciplined Training (Shugyo) stage of training. You now see how movements are related, and why they are performed the way they are. Exploring the depth of the Kata, you see new insights into the stances, movements, transitions, and engagement postures (Kamae). You study the applications of techniques (Bunkai), reverse techniques (Gyaku Waza), Variation (Henka), throws (Nage), and even the hidden techniques (Kakushi Waza). You see Duality (Kyo-Jitsu) in each movement and develop  coordination of Energy (Ki) within the body (Kiai) and how to express it to the Opponent (Aiki). The Kata becomes an integral part of you. Now you are studying Kata in the sense of the second character shown.

Returning to Simple

Finally, you return to the simple movement of the original Kata as it was given to you, but now that simple movement has forever been transformed. Although it looks like a simple movement there is now depth and freedom to your Kata like a wide river. There are many kinds of rivers, some are deep, some shallow, some flow fast, some flow slow, some are cold, some warm, some straight, some meandering. They all have something in common, however: they are all rivers and yet they are all different. Kata using the second character is like this.

Both ways of looking at Kata are important. The first gives the solid foundation of transmitting information to new generations of beginners. The second adds depth to the concepts found buried with. A good teacher knows this and teaches Kata using either way based on the student’s understanding and experience.

There are other concepts to be gleaned from Kata to help you become not only stronger in technique, but stronger in many aspects of our lives.

Budotheory.ca.

Excerpted from:  Budo Theory: Exploring Martial Arts Principles

by Richard Rowell

Kogeki Bobi – The Unity of Offense and Defense

Kogeki  is a term meaning to attack or cut down and refers to offense and Bobi means defense. The term “Ko Bo Ichi” or “Kogeki Bobi” refers to the principle that offense and defense are one. Hundreds of examples exist that can be used to illustrate this concept.

Upper body shifting to defend and attack simultaneouslyOne example that collapses the distinction between Offense (Ko) and Defense (Bo) is Upper Body Shifting (Jo Taisabaki – shown right). Here, the body rotates in defense, and the same rotation drives the attacking punch.  Using this type of technique takes a thorough understanding of timing (Hyoshi) , distance (Ma-ai),  Initiative (Sen No Sen or Tai No Sen) and most obviously, confidence.

Blocks used to deflect an attack are used to break an arm at the same time , seriously degrade the opponent’s offensive capability, and collapse his structure (Kuzushi). In Kendo a number of terms describe the concept of attack and defense being equal by taking the center line where a downward cut is used to both block or deflect the opponent’s sword while striking at the same time. Examples include:

  • Kiri Otoshi – ‘Dropping Cut’ from Itto Ryu 
  • Gasshi Uchi – from Yagyu Shinkage Ryu
  • Hitotsu Tachi – ‘One sword’ from Kashima Shinto Ryu

Offense and defense can be considered as two separate entities, part of a spectrum, or something inseparable.

Short Time Slices Blur Distinctions

At the tactical and technical levels of strategy, smaller and smaller time slices between offense and defense transitions can merge the two. To fight this way requires strong ability, mental fortitude and flexibility, which shows a high degree of understanding. I remember when I was first introduced to fighting using Sanchin Dachi, a very short upright stance. A visiting senior instructor from another Dojo in Kumamoto was training with us. I learned very quickly that close in-fighting is incredibly fast and combined offense and defense at the same time. Punches were sticky and curved around my blocks like a snake only strike and at the same time prevent me from retaking the initiative. I came away with a very important lesson. Never underestimate small movements, and offense and defense really are the same.

There are many other examples of this concept. These short paragraphs do ill justice to the depth of this area of study. Look into your Kata and find it.

Budotheory.ca.

Excerpted and adapted from: Budo Theory: Exploring Martial Arts Principles

by Richard Rowell

Shinogi

“Peeling the Shinogi” – or – How the Sword Ridge Can Teach us to Block

Blocking - taking a deeper look

What is Blocking?

Have you ever considered what blocking is?  I mean really considered what you are trying to accomplish. Is there something beyond the obvious of not getting hit? Are there some common principles or logic that can help us appreciate all those blocks that we see in martial arts such as Karate, Aikido, Kendo, and Iaido.

I’m going start by using three analogies to look at the spectrum of blocking.

Blocking - static defenceWe’ll start with an asymmetrical engagement between a man with a bow and you being a strong castle with thick walls and high ramparts. Your walls can block the opponent’s attacks through sheer mass. An arrow hitting your stone walls will be lucky to make a small chip. In this case, your ability to take punishment is greater than the opponent’s ability to strike. This is one kind of block. This is attrition in military terms – the ability to take more punishment than the opponent. It is combat paid in full. In other words, you block with mass and then counterattack with your weapon. Mobility is not important.

Let’s move down the spectrum and place two opponents with equal offensive and defensive ability against each other. If each is capable of injuring the other with a punch or sword strike, then avoiding the opponent’s attack becomes more critical. Mobility and the approach to blocking become important.

But let’s change the scenario once more. Let’s give the opponent a very strong weapon, in this case, a high powered rifle. And let’s give you a shield made of thin plate steel that if hit squarely by your opponent’s bullet will penetrate and kill you. How do you block now? Mobility and approach to blocking become critical.

In the first scenario, we absorb the punishment and then counter with our own strike.
With the other two scenarios, we can take several approaches to blocking our opponent’s attack.

Understanding Dislocation

One approach is to make the opponent’s attack be in the wrong place or wrong direction. This is called in military science Positional Dislocation. By Shifting (Sabaki) out of the line of the attack, you dislocate the opponent’s attack.

A second approach is called Temporal Dislocation. This approach uses timing to pre-empt or change the tempo of the engagement and manipulates the time dimension to make the opponent’s strength irrelevant. In the martial arts, there are several timing types we use to create temporal dislocation including Initiative After the Intitiative (Go no Sen), Against the Initiative (Tai no Sen) and Initiative before the Initiative (Sen no Sen).

Typically we use both approaches in combination (body shifting and timing techniques). Nothing I have said so far is anything new. In fact, this is a classic example of how our understanding of Hard and Soft Methods (Juho and Goho) change as we increase our experience. In unarmed combat, blocking with a Hard approach tends to give us bruises on the arms and legs, the opponent’s technique bounces off our block only to be free to attack again. Using the Softer approaches of Shifting (Sabaki) and Timing (Hyoshi) we can dislocate the opponent’s attack and position ourselves in both space and time for a strong counterattack. This is the essence of Combining Hard and Soft (Ju Go Awase).

There is a third type of dislocation we can look at and that is Functional Dislocation – rendering the opponent’s strength dysfunctional by blocking or guiding the opponent’s attack. In the third scenario above, you could change the angle of your shield to deflect the bullet. Even though the shield would not take a direct hit, a glancing blow may deflect the bullet and allow you to survive and counter.

Blocking – Putting it All Together

So, what are we really trying to do when we block?  My answer:  we want to avoid getting hit, but equally important, gain tactical superiority by using all three dislocation methods were possible. I remember Sensei explaining that moving out of the line of the attack is blocking (positional dislocation), attacking can be blocking (in this case hastening contact with the opponent before he is ready e.g. Sen no Sen or Tai no Sen = temporal dislocation), and finally physical blocks that guide or trap the opponent and put him at disadvantage is also blocking (functional dislocation).

And this brings me to the concept of Shinogi.

Shinogi

Blocking - ShinogiThe word Shinogi has two Japanese homonyms (words sounding the same but with different meanings) that can give us an avenue to further explore the concept of blocking.

  • Shinogi can mean the ridgeline of a sword or blade.
  • Shinogi can also mean to endure, stave off, or pull thru—even to survive bad times.

So how do these two words allow us to explore the concept of blocking?

Blocking - ShinogiTo a beginner, a block is a reactive thing. Your opponent strikes and you react. We stick our sword out to meet his attack with little consideration of the blade—we just don’t want to get hit. If you use the cutting edge to block, your blade is going to become chipped and dull in very short order. As we gain experience, we learn to use the side of the blade (the Ridgeline or Shinogi) to deflect the opponent’s strike. Not only does it provide more surface area to catch an opponent’s strike, but it also preserves the offensive capability of your sword (the cutting edge).

Using the Shinogi

Leaving Positional and Temporal Dislocation to the side for now. Let’s examine aspects of Functional Dislocation using a block.

Catching the Attack

Blocking - different types

For a block to work we have to intercept the strike or attack somehow. So let’s look at an example that is the opposite of catching an attack. A modern fighter pilot does not want to “catch” an all aspect air-to-air missile. It will ruin his whole day. So what does he do?

When an enemy fighter fires a missile (think of this as the opponent punching or striking with a sword), the defending pilot immediately has to make it difficult for the attacker’s missile to hit him. The best way to do this is to make the tracking solution for the missile to be as complicated as possible. This means pulling as hard as you can into the missile so that you are at ninety degrees to the missile flight path (A). This makes it harder for the missile to hit. The pilot is using positional dislocation to defend against the missile. If you are familiar with Body Shifting (Tai Sabaki) this is a great example.

With blocking, you want to do the opposite. You want your arm or sword to intercept and make contact with the attack before it hits you. One way is to let it hit you or your blocking arm, surviving the hit, and then countering (B). Like our castle example above.

Another way is to cushion the attack (C). If you are a hockey player, one of the first things you learn in receiving a pass is that if you put your stick out stiffly, the puck hits your stick and bounces off, thereby making it more difficult to control the puck. You learn to give a little and cushion the pass in order to catch and control the puck. Another example would be tossing a water balloon up in the air and catching it. If you do not want the balloon to break, you catch the balloon more gently—giving in as you make contact.

A third approach would be to hit the attack as you sweep your block in front of you, making contact and deflecting it (D). Sweeping your arm across in front of you perpendicular to the attack is precisely the wrong approach because it maximizes the chance that you will miss contact (like our fighter pilot trying to avoid a missile A). Any miscalculation in timing results in you being hit. Most beginners try to hit the punch or strike out of the way in this manner, and may even be successful, but this approach does not ensure tactical control of our opponent. In unarmed forms of fighting such as Karate, this is no different. Our blocks meet the opponent’s punch with the aim of hitting the opponent’s arm out of the way, but as we learn rather quickly, if the opponent bounces off our block he is still free to continue his attack, sometimes with the same arm.

By angling the blocking surface as it sweeps across (or is stationed) in front of you maximizes the chance of you intercepting the attack and deflecting it (E) and gives longer control of the deflection.

Another approach is to use the width of the blocking object like the prow of a boat or wedge and force the water to either side allowing the boat to move forward with as little drag as possible (F). Using the Shinogi is like this.

There is a Japanese term “Shinogi o kezuru” to “peel the shinogi.” The phrase describes a closely fought contest between two opponents, but the idea is to use your sword so that the attacker’s sword glances alongside the Shinogi rather than meeting it straight on. The nice thing about using this type of thinking during blocking is that it can be done within the full spectrum between defense and offense. You can receive a strike completely defensively and let the strike angle off like rain hitting a roof and running down the eaves. It can also be used to deflect an attack as you attack. Like rowing your boat upstream—the water is deflected as you move forward.

Thinking about Shinogi gives you whole new ways to explore Kata and understanding of blocking beside avoiding being hit, such as:

  • Dislocating your opponent (positionally, temporally, or functionally),
  • How blocking can be used defensively and offensively,
  • Using blocks in combination with Shifting (Sabaki) and Timing (Hyoshi),
  • How Shinogi can be used to increase tactical control of the engagement, and finally,
  • How blocking be applied using both Hard and Soft Methods (Ju Go Awase).

Exploring the concept of Shinogi and learning to ‘Peel the Ridgeline” teaches us how to endure, pull through and tide over in many ways in and out of the Dojo.

Budotheory.ca

by Rick Rowell

The 100th Soldier, or What is Winning?

We all like to win. Win a tournament, baseball game, or crib game with our grandfather. But have you ever considered what winning is?

I remember placing second in a karate tournament. Feeling pretty good about it, I had a satisfied smile. Sensei Akutagawa looked at me and said, “You’re still dead. If you were on the battlefield and killed ninety-nine enemy soldiers and the last one kills you, you are still just as dead as if the first one had killed you.”

Until then, I viewed a tournament just as a series of separate tactical engagements. If I was successful in each engagement they would accumulate to winning the tournament. I never considered anything beyond each engagement. In this tournament I lost to the “100th soldier.”

Something Bigger

Sensei’s words sparked another line of thinking in me. There is a bigger picture here. One that I really never considered before. What did I accomplish in the tournament? And if I was on the battlefield what would I accomplish by killing ninety-nine enemy soldiers before expiring myself?

As I thought about this, I realized that there was a conceptual approach that linked the series of tactical engagements (each match) to the strategic goal of winning the tournament. Each opponent had to be treated differently tactically based on what they tended to do. Watching other competitors in their matches helped formulate tactical approaches when it was my turn to meet them. Some matches were more important than others. Sometimes where you were placed in the draw made a difference. As my competitive career gained more depth, I learned that if you could, you won as quickly as possible because the less time you spent getting banged up by each engagement the more capability you had later in the final matches when it mattered.

In team matches, sometimes gaining a draw against a stronger competitor by fighting a defensive engagement helped your team win the overall match. Tactically you weren’t going for the win, you were defensive and maintaining the initiative for your team, while strategically your team was offensive and going for the win. In this case, holding the stronger competitor from winning (Victory Denial) keeps the opposing team from getting ahead where they want to against a weaker opponent.

I saw strong competitors get so lost in winning the tactical engagement that they were disqualified for excessive contact. A solid tactical win against the opponent, but a complete failure in the the tournament. They failed to link tactical action with strategic success.

Then I asked myself “Is it possible to lose and still win?” (I’ll answer this question at the end of the article.)

In Strategic terms the link between the tactical level and strategic level is call the operational level. The operational level is where you take tactical objectives and outcomes and weave them toward your strategic goal.

Defining Success

Winning all boils down to what you decide success is, and equally importantly what level you look at it from. Tactical, operational, and strategic levels act a markers to decide what success is:

  • Strategic Level –  What is your overall goal—your vision of the desired future?
    Operational Level – What are the major sub-goals that directly support your Strategic goal? And how can you combine tactical outcomes to support the strategic goal?
    Tactical Level – How do you combine technique to achieve a positive tactical outcome that supports operational goals?

Goals are relative. Goals can be different between individuals. Your opponent might want to kill you, and you just want to survive, escape, avoid, or control him (such as a police officer making and arrest). You might want to kill him also, but you might also want to make him an ally, friend, or communicate a misunderstanding. Victory denial, stopping your opponent from achieving some goal, may be considered a win (as our example above shows).

To the coach with a bunch of young competitors, winning means that everyone had a learning experience and 16 medals came back to the dojo. To an individual elite athlete, winning means a chance to compete at a higher level.

Winning doesn’t even have to mean a physical confrontation. Deterrence is a form of victory denial. Deterrence is about behavior modification by credible consequence. It is a concept that just by offering the potential of combat makes the opponent think twice about trying to achieve his goal. It says that if you proceed, the cost of doing so is going to severely outweigh the benefits accrued. The “consequence” threat. If you stay out past your curfew, then I will not be taking you to your hockey game on Saturday (too bad you are in the playoffs).

Deterrence can be an accumulation of little things that reduce risk for you while increasing the risk of failure to the opponent. Moving to a more lighted area, or areas with more people, and travelling in groups are ways of reducing your risk while increasing failure risk for a potential attacker.

Victory Denial and Deterrence are just two of a number of strategic concepts that can shape our concept of winning, and they can be used at any level of strategy. We can conclude that winning can mean different things.

Winning on One Level Doesn’t Necessarily Mean Winning on Another

Winning at the tactical level doesn’t necessarily mean winning at the operational or strategic level.  For example, you have two assailants that are about to attack your wife and daughter. Your main (strategic) goal is to prevent them from being attacked. So, you wade in and engage the first assailant and you thrash him—a decisive tactical victory. However, assailant #2 assaulted your wife while you were engaged with assailant #1—a strategic loss. Because you were focused on the tactical aspect of the engagement you missed the potential of operational approaches to success such as diversion, trading space for time so they could escape, protecting a choke point where the assailants have to come at you one at a time in sequence, etc.

Countries can win wars, but loose stability and peace because of it. Winning at the tactical level does not mean similar strategic results. What necessarily follows is the understanding that winning individual battles that don’t support strategic goals are meaningless. Getting disqualified in a tournament even though you are tactically superior to your opponent does not support winning the tournament. This teaches us that we should understand what our goal is carefully and then determine and consider the approaches we will or can take to realize that goal. This provides us with a useful tool to assess and re-evaluate our strategy as it unfolds.

Using This Understanding Anywhere

There are countless areas in your life that you can use these concepts.

Jim is a salesman and has been working hard to land a contract with Company Z. He keeps cutting the price of the contract until Company Z decides the offer is too good to pass up. Jim is ecstatic about finally landing the contract. He has won a decisive tactical victory over his competitor who had been supplying Company Z for the last five years.

Jim’s manager however, after going through the implications of the big order from a supply point of view, comes to the conclusion that they will not to be able to deliver the goods at the required time. In addition, their supplier just increased prices for materials by 22% and they are going to loose money on the contract because Jim has low-balled the contract to get it.

Jim’s manager is looking at an operational loss. At the strategic level, if Jim’s company is late with delivery, it means that company Z is going to have problems and possibly decide never to use Jim’s company for any business in the future. This is a strategic loss for repeat business.

  • For Jim it is a tactical win
  • For Jim’s manager it is an operational loss
  • And for Jim’s Company it is a strategic loss

A tactical win is relatively easy to assess because the assessment is based on outcomes. You beat up an attacker, Jim gets the contract, a platoon leader defeats the machine gun and takes control of the area, a submarine captain sinks a destroyer. All of these are fairly straightforward objectives that are easy to measure. But what is the result to your overall goal?

Operational success is similar and sometimes a little harder to assess because it relies on a number of tactical outcomes. You use the concept a combination of deterrence by threatening to take the computer away and placing the garbage bag in the middle of his bedroom to make sure your teenage son takes out the garbage.

But the strategic goal is what matters. Sinking the wrong destroyer, or the right one at the wrong time may affect negotiations at the strategic level. Putting the garbage in your son’s bedroom may create backlash if your overall goals is to teach him responsibility.

In simple cases, the tactical objective, operational goal and strategic end can all be the same thing. Let’s use the example of surviving an assault in a back alley.

If my strategic goal is to survive the assault, then killing my opponent in a tactical engagement satisfies my strategic goal, but so does running away, imobilizing my opponent by breaking a leg, or using a stun gun. Tactically I can use any of these approaches if they are available to me. Operationally, I may be limited based on legal requirements in terms of appropriatness (he only wants my sandwhich, but I kill him – might be viewed by society as a bad approach that requires sanction) and pre-emption (I kill him immediately before he has time to pull his knife – You might be viewed as the attacker). In all the the examples, you survive, but some ways will have more strategic consequences than others.

Military history full of examples where the cost of a tactical victory directly caused strategic defeat. If you use all your resources to achieve a tactical victory, you have nothing left for the next battle. So, if I single handedly defeat 99 enemy soldiers by fighting a tactically defensive battle and die by the hand of the 100th soldier, but have depleated the enemy ranks so than my side can now switch to the strategic offense, I have contributed to a strategic victory.

Components of Winning

Decisiveness (Is the issue resolved?) Decisivness relates to the effect your strategy has on your circumstance. Decisiveness ranges along a spectrum of outcomes that range from having no effect to an effect that completely resolves the issue. It can also range negatively to worsened conditions and achieving exactly opposite of your goal.

Achievement (Did we achieve the desired end?) Achievement relates to how well you execute your strategy. Do tactical objectives and outcomes support operational goals, and do operational goals and outcomes support your strategic end. Achievement is another spectrum ranging from failure to achieving nothing to being completely successful. The achievement scale is by far the primary scale in tactical and operational assessments of victory and is often confused with success.

Permanence (How long do you win for?) Our success can be transitory or permanent. The effects of a tactical victory may only last minutes to hours. As an example the enemy may regroup and counterattack. The snipe at your wife may mean only a fleeting victory that changes the strategic environment toward a negative achievement in relation to a healthy relationship. A strategic victory must have some permanence. Success (realizing your goal) needs to have a longer-term.

You can assess winning at any level of strategy by achievement, decisiveness and permanence. And above all, a tactical victory must support an operational goal and an operational victory must support a strategic end.

Is it Possible to Lose and Still Win?

Of course it is. Failure is the other side of success; part of the duality of Kyo-Jitsu (Yin-Yang in Budo speak). I remember my sister telling me this.

The secret to success is easy to express;
You just fail, and fail, and fail again;
But less, and less, and less.

And that is why I still practice punching and cutting. In the dojo I can make mistakes galore and through the interations of failure I learn to be more successful. The dojo is the place to make mistakes–and correct them. In circumstances outside the Dojo with high consequence (no ability for correcting mistakes) you want to meet the 100th soldier with a clear understanding of what you are doing and why, because it may open tactical, and operational approaches that you never considered before.

Budotheory.ca

by Rick Rowell

Exploring Kata Horizons: Tools to Change Your Perspective

Kata - Ways to Study

You study Kata diligently, for years, and just when you feel we are getting a handle on it, your Sensei shows you one little thing that gives you that slap in the forehead feeling. “Why didn’t I see that?” Suddenly your understanding of the Kata expands into a whole new world of possibility. Your perspective changes as if you climbed to the top of a tower and abruptly the horizon is much further away than before. You can see new vista’s that were not apparent from the bottom of the tower.

We can learn two important lessons from the horizon analogy:

1. The horizon is a point we cannot see beyond, but hints that there is something beyond its limits.

2. What limits our ability to see is that the horizon is always relative to view. If you are in a hole, your horizon is going to be close. You might want to change perspective and climb a hill.

You can sit at the bottom of the hill and listen to Kata - Kasushi - hidden techniquessomeone else describe what they see, or you can walk up yourself. Nothing compares to the feeling when you discover a principle or Hidden Technique (Kakushi Waza) through your own effort—when your Sensei smiles as you both recognize that you have ‘glimpsed the Ox.’

My Sensei always stressed that you had to look at Kata in more than one dimension. He showed me that there were many dimensions to Kata. So the first thing to remember about Kata is that one dimensional minds have a hard time comprehending that there may be more than one dimension.

There are many types of horizons.

Some Common Dimensions of Kata

Sequence – The obvious first dimension. When you Kata - expanding horizonslearn a Kata realize that you are receiving only a small portion of the Kata by learning its sequence—your first horizon. For the beginner, just understanding sequence is the challenge.

Bilateral Symmetry – Using both sides of the body equally. To develop bilateral ability. Many Kata only show one side or exhibit a decided “handedness.” Don’t fall into the trap of limiting your technique to one side, or your strong side. Expand your horizon. In the military, I learned to shoot my rifle on both my strong side and weak side, so I could adapt to circumstances and use cover effectively. Loading a magazine with your weak hand and reloading a gun with only one hand are modern expressions of Kata. What if you were injured? Kata is no different, being able to adapt to circumstance during a throw is a sign of a well-balanced budoka.

Obvious Technique – The obvious movements such as a block, punch, kick, etc. You can spend a lot of training time getting this right. Depending on your horizon, this can be the extent of your understanding. But is there something beyond your horizon that may add to these techniques?

Timing – What kind of timing can be used with each technique or group to techniques in your Kata?

Analysis (Bunkai) – This is the systematic exploration of the application of the movements in the Kata.

Variation (Henka) – This expansion in horizon is related to considering how you might vary the outcome of a technique. Some examples might be Compression (putting two techiques together, e.g. where a punch also becomes a block), Expansion (creating two techniques from one movement. e.g. I remember my Sensei showing me one movement that became three blocks instead of one. ), varying direction, severity of technique, consideration against multiple opponents. These are just a few ways that variation can be looked at.

Reverse Techniques (Gyaku Waza) – For every technique in your Kata is there a counter or several? It would be wise to understand these in case the techniques are applied to you.

Transitions – between movements can hold Throws (Nage), Finishing Techniques (Todome) and many beautiful Shifting (Sabaki) movements to avoid your opponent’s strength.

These are only a few ways that you can elevate you perspective and gain new horizons with your Kata.

Tools to Gain Meaning

There are a number of tools at your disposal to expand your horizons as you research your Kata:
Interpretation – Narrow or broad. Interpreting Kata is largely based on how the Kata was transmitted from teacher to student, experience, and inference of movement and technique from other sources of information. Don’t let your horizon be too narrow. “This is the way I learned it and there is no other way.” We have all done this, and many can stay stuck with this limited horizon.

Inference – is a hugely important aspect of martial arts. “Ichi o Kiite, Ju o Shiru”—hear one but understand ten. Inference means to arrive at a conclusion by reasoning from evidence. There are two main methods of inference—inductive and deductive reasoning.

Inductive Reasoning – works from observation toward generalizations and theories, and is called a “bottom-up” approach.  Inductive reason starts from specific observations, looks for patterns and regularities, and formulates a hypothesis that is developed into a general theory or conclusion. In other words, we observe a number of specific instances and from them infer a general principle or law. Inductive reasoning tends to be open-ended and exploratory, especially during the observation phase.

A concrete example of inductive processes could be looking at a specific Engagement Posture (Kamae) and noting certain features that could be used in other postures, or how it could be used in a different context. Another would be learning to use your hips in a punch and then using the same approach to other techniques. At the small scale of an Engagement Posture or Punch, you develop principles or theories that aggregate into more encompassing principles and these continue to aggregate. In the case of Jigoro Kano’s principle of maximum efficient use of mind and body, his principle is the culmination of an inductive approach in which many technical observations led him to infer this single principle that encompassed Judo. The principle of Duality (Kyo-Jitsu) is also inferred using inductive reasoning.

Deduction – works from the more general to the more specific—sometimes called a “top-down” approach. For example, we might see and understand the basic idea of a punch from a technical point of view, but we may be able to deduce greater efficiency by testing a specific hypothesis we make, e.g. will my punch be stronger if I keep my elbow in, or if I use my hips in a slightly different manner? You can then test this hypothesis in training and determine for yourself whether it is true or not.

Independent Research – If you rely on someone else to provide the information about a movement, you will never get a complete picture. You can certainly learn from them, but you need to integrate understanding with application, and then induce your own principles that satisfy your level of experience. A single Kata may have evolved through different styles and teachers, and may appear very different from what you have been taught. Looking at the differences can lead you to new bunkai, but also give you a feeling for why movements diverged, or create new questions worth exploring.

Paradigm Evaluation – Re-evaluating your paradigms is always useful when studying Kata. As an example, when I first learned a Kata as a less experienced Budoka, I thought that offensive movements were followed sequentially with defensive movements, followed by offensive movements, etc. You blocked then you punched, or vice versa.  As my experience increased, I realized offence and defence were part of a spectrum of Duality and that spectrum was one and the same thing. My understanding of offense and defense changed. A block could be used to attack and a punch could be used in defence. Suddenly my paradigm shifted from one of offence and defence to offence can be defence and defence can be offence. This led me to new discoveries in my Kata.

As a more concrete example, in one Kata I was studying there was a movement using an Upper Body Shifting (Jo Tai Sabaki). The Kata showed no outward indication of attack and I thought it was just a rotation to avoid a punch. When my Sensei showed me that the body rotation could not only evade the punch, but also break the opponent’s elbow using my shoulder, I suddenly realized that all techniques had elements of both attack and defence in them at the same time. I then correctly inferred through induction that there were many other examples of these types of techniques in my Kata that I had not seen before.

Getting into a habit of re-evaluating your understanding of a Kata, or even a single movement within one, is a good habit to fall into. If you are aware that your horizon is limited, that you are fallible in your opinions, biased in your thinking and probably weigh evidence based on personal preference; that is the first step in being open to new revelations.

Frustration – This is personally my favorite. It can include technical frustration (I can’t seem to get the movement right), to application (it doesn’t feel right or I can’t make it work against an opponent), to even understanding why a particular movement is done (that makes no sense). If you are satisfied with your first interpretation of a movement in a Kata, I would say you are missing 99 percent of what it can teach you. Frustration motivates you to dig deeper.

Outside and Inside – Omote and Ura

There are several terms used in the Japanese martial arts that describe Hidden Techniques (Kakushi Waza). Kata can be arranged by level of complexity and understanding. Some styles divide their teachings into Shoden, Chuden, and Okuden (Beginning Teaching, Middle Teaching and the Interior or Secret Teachings).

When studying Bunkai, be aware that there are the Kata - Omote Uraobvious applications of a technique, and others that take some searching to find. The Outside (Omote) surface of the Kata may look simple and seem not worth looking at in any more depth, but beware—you can be missing some of the most interesting and challenging aspects of the Kata.

Some of the seemingly simplest Kata are by far the deepest. The unobvious is far and away the largest aspect of Kata to study, not the obvious outer surface. As your sphere of knowledge about your martial art increases, penetrating into the Inside (Ura) can explode your understanding.

Many Kata have elements of animals and symbolic meanings. For example, one Kata may emulate a heron, bird, or a certain technique like a dragon tongue. As a biologist, watching herons gave me insight to the person who had a flash of inspiration watching these birds and developed the Kata Rohai. There are a number of famous stories of sudden insight. The crescent spear used in Hozoin Ryu was conceived in a flash of insight when its founder Hozoin Kakuzenbo In’ei is said to have seen the reflection of the crescent moon shining on a pond.  He imagined a spear with a cross blade (Kama Yari) would be more effective in fighting.

Symbolic meanings can represent salutation to the four cardinal directions, flying birds, clouds, thunder, lightning and the list goes on. Sometime these are literal, but many times they are used to impart a feeling or understanding to the technique. The important thing here is to gain an understanding of the symbol and use it to understand the technique, its origin, and its application.

No matter what martial art you study, the single most important thing to explore is Kata. It has been handed down from generation to generation. Both winners and losers—the people that survived combat and those that died in it—have helped develop the ideas found in Kata. Kata is the root of all the transmission from generation to generation. It is the seed or model  (See Article Kata – Looking at it two Ways) by which we can grow a great tree, apply a useful tool, or create a beautiful sculpture.

It is not important to know a great number of Kata. Learn to penetrate one or two deeply. This procedure will enable you to develop Insight (Kan) into the Kata you research. It will also give you the tools to penetrate the Inside (Ura) of others not only in your martial art, but outside it as well.

Some advocate gathering as much information about as many different martial arts as possible, by learning as many Kata as possible. I firmly believe this is a fundamentally wrong approach in the study of Budo, and results in a person with only a superficial understanding about many subjects. He is a master of nothing. By studying hard and penetrating as deeply as you can, you attain the freedom you are seeking.

Make sure you are learning real Kata and not rubbish someone has thrown together from limited horizons. Trace your Kata back to the Meijin who developed them, and understand their evolution to when it was given to you. Search for the Logic (Ronri) of the Kata. It is a tragedy wasting precious time in meaningless pursuit (Muda – See Article Without Reason, Inconsistent and a Man Without a Horse ).

Challenge your ability, understanding, and realization Kata - find meaninghorizons by changing the way you think about Kata. Changing your perspective by looking at different dimensions of Kata will never lead to boredom. Doubling the size of your horizon, means that you have four times the area to explore.

by Rick Rowell

If you would like to read more about Budo Concepts, consider purchasing Budo Theory: Exploring Martial Arts Principles.

 

Muto (No Sword) and a Man with a Stick

I’m Still a Man With a Stick

But Have a Goal Called Muto (No Sword)

Muto - no sword

I remember practicing Staff Basics (Bo Kihon) in the dojo with Sensei Akutagawa watching. He corrected me and then said something that at once surprised me, then was so totally obvious that it was one of those slap in the forehead moments (why didn’t I see that before!).

He said that all staff techniques were the same as the unarmed techniques we used in Karate. The blocks were the same, thrusting with the staff was the same as the punching, and the bottom of the staff rising upward was just like a front kick. To anyone who studies Kobudo (“Old Martial Way” but commonly used to reference Okinawan weapons such as the Bo, Sai, Tonfa and Kai), the Okinawan weapons such as the Tonfa and Sai are used as extensions to our existing unarmed technique. This is nothing new. In fact all weapons as an extension of our bodies.

But then, Sensei continued with his stick analogy using an inductive reasoning approach (going from a specific to a generality) and took me to a new place of thinking about my Karate, Kobudo and Iaido. He went the other way. He reversed the question and instead of saying the Bo was an extension of the body, he said the body was an extension of sticks. The structure of our body was really a bunch of connected sticks, and we use those sticks just like we use the Bo.

For example, we use the end of the Bo for striking, and when we make a fist, we are striking with the end of the bones in our hand. When we strike with an elbow or knee, we are doing the same. Even when we kick, for example, front kick, we are kicking with the ball of the foot which is the end of the tarsal bones and metatarsals.

While the ends of the Staff are used for striking, the center portion of the staff is used for blocking, controlling and deflecting, just like we do in Karate.  Many of our blocks use the forearm to catch and deflect an incoming punch. While there are a number of notable exceptions to this generality, this way of looking at the body gives you a tool that can be used when you pick up a weapon or as you practice unarmed technique.

A weapon becomes an extension of those sticks in your body. When I first started Iaido, the sword felt awkward in my hands, but as a came to realize that it was and extension of my existing linkage of sticks (bones), the sword began to take on a familiarity.

There are three training stages you go through when picking up a weapon.

First you are a man with a stick (or man with a sword, gun etc.)—meaning the stick and the man are separate things—no connected. The weapon is a distinct and apart from you. I’ll use an analogy of chopping wood with an axe. If you are using an axe and swinging it like a hatchet, your technique is likely to suffer. Trying to swing your axe with a quick chopping movement using your wrist is likely to be inefficient and weak. Whereas swinging the axe with the arms in a full arc will be much more effective. Here the length of the tool requires it to be used with larger movements. Likewise swinging a hatchet like an axe is likely to be equally ineffective and possibly dangerous to you. Each tool has a natural swing and has a natural cadence.

The second stage is where you are a stickman (swordsman, or marksman)—meaning the stick and the man become extensions of each other. There is a familiarity with your weapon, you know how it balances, your muscles feel comfortable with its weight and you know how to use it naturally. But what happens when you loose your weapon or have none to begin with when you need it?

The final stage is when the man and the sword are one Muto - definition and kanji–meaning there is no man and no sword, just a single entity. Understanding the body is made up of a series of connected sticks (bones) means adding one more does not make any difference. The arm becomes a sword if you don’t have one, if a stick is available then it is used. This is the essence of a concept called Muto (No Sword).

Muto, however, goes well beyond technical  application  and  is  not  about  technique,  but  more  a  state  of  mind.  When one  has  reached  the  state  of  No  Sword (Muto), one does not need a sword. Yagyu Munenori, a famous seventeenth century swordsman describes  some  of  the  aspects of Muto Tori in the following:

“If  you  can  adopt  as  your  sword even the one you take from your opponent   when   you   do   not   have   one, shouldn’t  you  be  able  to  make  use  of whatever else you may have on hand? Even with a fan, you should be able to defeat  an  opponent  equipped  with  a sword.  No-sword  means  the  readiness to do this.”

His  statement  is  actually  very  profound.  It  refers  to  the  ability  to  meet the  opponent  in  a  fluid  and  confident way, were one is able to see the possibilities of the engagement all around him.  This  means  the ability  to  use the  environment  around  oneself  to defeat the opponent. All possibilities exist—because you are the weapon.

Stand under a tree limb to prevent the  opponent  from  slashing  downward. Use a stick to parry the cut. Maneuver  the  opponent  so  the  sun  is  in  his eyes.  These are  all ways  you  can  utilize  the  surrounding   environment.   The   ability   to even  take  the  opponent’s  sword  and  use it against him is also a possibility.

Taking  this  idea  of  No  Sword  (Muto) further,   Yamaoka   Tesshu,   founder   of Muto  Ryu  (No  Sword  Style)  describes  it this way:

“Outside   the   mind   there   is  no sword.  Therefore,  when  facing  an  opponent, there is no enemy in front and no self behind. Miraculously, all boundaries are extinguished and no trace remains. This is No Sword.”

Sounds  remarkably  like  Zen—and  the collapse of Duality.

When it comes to Kobudo and Iaido, I’m still a man with a stick. Which means I still have a lot of quality time in the dojo to look forward to. When it comes to Karate, I have 206 sticks that I still am learning to coordinate in new and wonderful ways. Even though Sensei Akutagawa has passed away, I know he is smiling down at me knowing that my head is full of sticks (literally and metaphorically).

I still maybe a man with a stick (probably one too many), but I have a goal called Muto. Or in the case of the Staff – Mubo (No Staff). Which means the concept I am really after is Mushin (No Mind), but that is another story. I still have sticks in my head that I have to gt rid of.

by Rick Rowell

If you would like to learn more about concepts such as Muto, consider Budo Theory: Exploring Martial Arts Principles.

Engagement Posture – Kamae

Kamae

I read a great little piece of translation at Kenshi247.net attributed to Nakayama Hakudo, founder of Muso Shinden Ryu Iaido, on the subject of Kakashi Jodan, and it got me thinking about Engagement Postures (Kamae) in general. Read this short article and then continue reading here.

“Kakashi’ means someone who takes the outward form of something for the sake of status or pride despite their lack of ability to do the thing they say or attempt to do. It can also refers to scarecrows – they look human, but they aren’t.” 1

Kamae (Engagement Posture) is a term with a broad meaning that includes physical posture, readiness, deception, and attitude. Engagement Postures are related to Timing (Hyoshi), Distance (Ma-ai), and Stillness (Tomari); can be used to produce confusion and to deceive; and can be related to the number of opponents you face. Kamae is definitely related to mental status and can even cause an opponent to hesitate or give up attacking.

There are hundreds of Engagement Postures used by various Budo disciplines. Understanding them is a study unto itself, but all are related to a position that is equally ready for attack, defend, or both. Many have specific applications and have wonderful names. Here are some examples from the Chito Ryu Karate Kata:

  • Earth Posture (Chi no Kamae)
  • Peaceful Bird Posture (Chinpi no Kamae)
  • Expanding/Tension Cloud Posture (Choun no Kamae)
  • Cannon Ball Posture (Hoken no Kamae)
  • Open Hands at Eye Level Posture (Kaishu Ganzen no Kamae)
  • Both Hands Invitation Posture (Kaishuho Sasoi no Kamae)
  • Cloud Fist Posture (Kenun No Kamae)
  • Bow Power Posture (Kyusei no Kamae)
  • Heron Wing Posture (Ranchu no Kamae)
  • Dragon Tongue Posture (Ryuzetsu no Kamae)
  • Heron Posture (Sagi Kamae)
  • Heaven and Earth Posture (Tenchi no Kamae)
  • Horned Posture (Tsuno Gamae)

Some names above are descriptive of an animal, bird, or the offensive and defensive strategies they resemble. Others imply deception or purposely show an opening that is really a trap for the unwary. Some Engagement Postures hide the length of a weapon whether it is a sword or staff.

Essentially, Engagement Postures are ways of minimizing exposure of weak (Kyo) positions to our opponent on all three levels (physical, mental and spiritual), and prepare us to exploit any weakness in the opponent—a balance between offence and defence.

At the same time, with deeper Insight (Kan) into Kamae, an Engagement Posture is a symbol of your opponent’s thinking—of what he will do. How you present yourself to your opponent tells a lot about you and your level of experience. In addition, by observing how your opponent approaches you, you are seeing his reaction to how he perceives you.

Rigid adherence to a particular Engagement Posture shows a lack of flexibility and indicates likely reactions to attack. Adopting a posture to mentally dominate an opponent (such as Jodan Kamae) but lacking in credibility might appear on the surface as a solid Kamae, but in fact be a weakness (Kyo) that can be exploited. This is really what the article on Kakashi Jodan referenced above is all about.

The most basic, and arguably the most important, Engagement Posture is the Middle Engagement Posture (Chudan Kamae). Regardless of which martial art you study, I would even include modern military combat shooting and western fencing, this engagement posture is used in every combative art.  There are differences based on whether or not you hold a weapon, and the type and nature of the opponent’s threat, but there are some basic principles you can see right away.

“To understand Engagement Posture you must thoroughly understand Chudan Kamae. Chudan Kamae is the heart of the attitudes. If we look at strategy on a broad scale, Chudan Kamae is the seat of the commander, with the other Kamae following the commander. This should be examined carefully.”
Miyamoto Musashi, Go Rin No Sho

Examining the Middle Engagement Posture (Chudan Kamae) we can see many things:

• Stance is oriented to provide maximum stability toward direction of force or opponent.

• Knees aligned and bent toward opponent to protect them, provide protection from a kick to the groin, and maintains a strong hip position.

• Body is upright paying attention to the Vertical Axis (Seichusen), and center of gravity is stable. 

• Both legs aligned for kicking.

• Upper body turned into a Half Front Facing (Hanmi) position to minimize profile to opponent. Although modern Kendo Kamae is less so, older Bujutsu favored this.

• Forward hand or sword protecting the centerline of the body.  Makes it difficult for a direct hit and forces a glancing blow (like the glacis on the front of a tank.)

• Forward hand or sword tip points toward the opponent’s face, locked on target.

• Forward hand or sword in a central position so blocking movements whether inside or outside only have to travel half the width of the body. Up and down movements to block low and high are minimized.

• Rear hand is targeted toward opponent and ready to be used as circumstances permit.

• Chin is slightly down in case the face is struck. Still maintains eye contact even if hit. If the head is turned away then you cannot see what is going on.

• Teeth slightly together to help protect jaw if hit.

• Body weight distributed evenly between forward and back foot. Allows for movement in any direction easily, either foot to kick or otherwise use (e.g. for sweeping).

Studying the Middle Engagement Posture can give you Insight (Kan) into other Kamae and helps identify their strengths and weaknesses, and most importantly not to fall into the deception that many carry.

Natural State – Shizentai

Shizentai to a vast majority of people in the martial arts means “natural stance” and that is the end of their search for understanding. Shizentai is one of the highest expressions of Budo. Shizentai does not just mean to stand in a natural position, but it also means being prepared to deal with any situation.

While in Japan many years ago, I was given a small cast metal wall hanging by my instructor.  The piece depicted Miyamoto Musashi standing in a relatively relaxed position holding two swords. I had read Musashi’s book, the Book of Five Rings (Go Rin No Sho), and had visited the cave called Reigando near Kumamoto where Musashi lived for the last six years of his life and where he penned this work in the seventeenth century.

I didn’t realize it at the time, but my wall hanging was based on a famous portrait of Miyamoto Musashi (picture at right). To the less experienced, he looks less than impressive, but the man survived over sixty encounters with other able swordsmen, and was quite clearly a very experienced swordsman.

There had to be more to this picture.

The Engagement Posture Musashi is depicted in is known as Happo Biraki or “open on all eight sides.”

This type of Engagement Posture is sometimes termed the Engagement Posture of No Engagement Posture (Mu Kamae no Kamae), meaning that the concept of Engagement Posture now becomes irrelevant to combat, but that does not mean Kamae is not used. It means the person has reached a state in which he can adjust to his opponent in a fluid manner according to the situation. His mind is not attached, his body is not attached, yet both are integrated and completely ready to engage the opponent. In the words of a friend, “if I was the attacker I would have to pause and consider if he was just nuts, or like a coiled rattlesnake.”

In this case Musashi is obviously an integrated individual. His Kamae shows no Gaps (Suki), even though he looks innocuous.

Kamae is a reflection of thinking. You understand this, you begin to see Gaps (Structural, Movement, Execution and Mental) and understand what you will do from this posture—and that creates Gaps that can be anticipated. Having no Kamae makes you unpredictable and very hard to read.

Shizentai is actually the epitome I strive to find in my Budo. It encompasses not only the relaxed body that embodies Eye Position (Metsuke), Breathing (Kokyo Ho), Abdominal Convergence (Tanden), Stance (Dachi), Timing (Hyoshi), Distance (Ma-ai), Changing Speed (Johakyu), Coordinating and Expressing Ki (Kiai and Aiki), and Voice (Kake Goe), but also a mental state that we describe as Immovable (Fudoshin).

Shizentai is found in any stance—every stance has a Naturalness (Shizen). Shizentai is not just standing naturally, and yet, it is.

Recognizing Shizentai for what it is, has expanded my understanding well beyond Budo. I can see this Natural State (Shizentai) in artists, painters, gardeners, poets, authors, craftsmen, orators and philosophers. My search for truth by studying Budo has led me to a much broader understanding.

I have a question for you at the end of all this. Is the long-eared owl shown at the top of this article, showing Kakashi Jodan? Is he a scarecrow, or a Musashi of the night sky? How was he thinking of me when I photographed him? What was he telling me? And finally, can you see how your postures and those of others during everyday situations reflect a person’s thinking?

Engagment Posture (Kamae) is a reflection of thinking.

by Rick Rowell

Interested in delving deeper into many martial arts principles? Consider Budo Theory: Exploring Martial Arts Principles as a reference.

References:

1. Kakashi Jodan. 2011. http://kenshi247.net/blog/2011/11/09/kakashi-jodan/ accessed 10-Nov-11

Terrain – A Tactical Analysis Of The Competition Area

Competition - tactical analysis

For the competition minded, a tactical analysis of the match areas for Karate, Judo, or Kendo can yield some interesting insights to how to deal with an opponent. The competition area is flat and usually square so there is no terrain to hide in or use for cover, but there is terrain that limits or enhances movement. If you have studied the game of Go then you will be able to appreciate corners, edges, and the center in both defence and offence.

Often in competition, you see two contestants circling each other, or one circling the other. Sometimes when the clock is ticking down, the person that is ahead in points circles to avoid combat and wastes time to win the match. The person that is behind wants to force interaction to try and catch up, but lets his opponent win at his strategy of letting time run out.

Edges

By eliminating opportunity for your opponent to circle, you can immediately and effectively limit the opponent’s freedom of movement to half the competition area (if he declines to attack) simply by shifting to cut off the circling (see figure). By shifting, you are using the edges of the competition area to support your flank and limit the opponent’s movement to that side. He is forced to circle the other way, attack or withdraw. Edges can also be effectively used to limit a strong opponent’s to attack on his preferred side (left or right).

Corners

A few more shifts and you can maneuver him into a corner. When your opponent is in a corner, he has to divide his attention between you and the match area boundary, which invites a mental Gap (Suki) that can be exploited if you chose to attack.

In a corner, two sides restrict movement. Your opponent has two options; he can either attack, or avoid. Avoidance can take two forms, 1. He can step out of the match area in which case he will get penalized, or 2. he can try to slip out one side. Using maneuver and just offering combat by shifting to block the opponent’s circling means you have degraded the opponent’s freedom of maneuver. Further degrading it into a corner now allows you anticipate a reaction—coming at you, stepping out, or in a moment of indecision your chance to attack. Depending on the opponent and his strength and weaknesses you can choose to attack or counterattack based on your preference.

Competition - tactical analysis

Using the center, edges and corners of the match area tactically.

Centre

Taking the centre of the match area can create a psychological advantage right from the start.  It also does not impede you because you are not affected by edges as much as the opponent who is forced toward them. Competition area geometry of the  at the tactical level can have great effects on the outcome of the match if you can capitalize on it—but first you must be aware of it. There are other ways to analyze the competition area tactically, I leave it up to you to discover.

Considering Terrain

One factor that we typically loose sight of in the Dojo in Tactics is the effective use of terrain. Not all combat is likely to occur in an area were there is a clear unobstructed area to maneuver, and terrain can be an advantage or disadvantage, depending on how you utilize or fail to utilize your environment.

Take these ideas outside competition and consider how your environment can create advantages and disadvantages. Edges such as a wall can limit movement but also protect your back in a scenario with several opponents. Many Kata consider confined spaces, such as using a sword in a narrow hallway.

Terrain is a major consideration in modern tactics, why should it be any different in the martial arts? There are literally countless examples of using terrain to advantage during combat. As one example, 17th century swordsman Araki Mataemon used a bamboo grove to his advantage while fighting Yamada Shiryukan who specialized in the Kusari-Gama (a sickle with a chain and weight attached). Yamada could not use the chain and weight effectively with all the bamboo stems and died at the hands of Araki. Mataemon functionally dislocated the Kusari-Gama’s advantage by luring his opponent into the bamboo. He used terrain to his advantage.

The use of terrain in combat includes, barriers limiting the opponent’s movement or protection against the opponent’s techniques. You can use terrain to hide your entire person or just part of your body etc. You may even find some of these ideas in your Kata. Karate Kata show ways of using sand, rocks, farm tools, boat oars and even turtle shells as ways to use the environment and terrain to your advantage, as well as night fighting and fighting on boats.

Application of some of these techniques include fighting along narrow pathways between rice paddies. Iaido has Kata that reflect limitations imposed by the environment, such as narrow hallways, obstacles overhead, and even friendly noncombatants. Even some Engagement Postures (Kamae) in Iaido are related to environmental constraints (e.g. Hasso no Kamae and Waki no Kamae).

Practice in different environments to get used to the variation in terrain. Not all fights will be in areas that are free from obstruction or allow freedom of movement. Think about how your martial art uses these ideas in relation to individual techniques, tactics, and a combination of both.

by Rick Rowell

Check out Budo Theory: Exploring Martial Arts Principles  for more ways to improve you martial journey.

Ways to look at Budo – Great Way, Small Way

Different ways of looking at the Way

Big Things Can Come in Small Packages and Vice Versa

I reviewed some old notes scribbled down hastily after a lengthy conversation with Akutagawa Sensei, and I found a little gem to share. We were discussing the concept of Do or ‘Path’ as it relates to Budo. Sensei Akutagawa is no longer with us, but the echoes of his thoughts in my notes allowed me to reflect on these ideas after all these years, and he still teaches me.

Daido - Great RoadDaido can mean a main street or highway, but in our Budo context, it can mean a great principle. Sensei described Daido to me as the main stem, like the trunk of a tree, the spiritual or intangible truths, the core of our being and our martial journey.

He contrasted this with the Small Way – Shodo, by comparing it to a single branch tip—to a single technique, action, or experience.

We all start our training in martial arts by learning little truths; for example, how to make a fist, or hold a sword. That little branch tip of information that your Sensei shares with you, along with others, merge into a twig that encompasses how we use our fist.

Shodo - the branchEven though I learned these small ways from my teachers, there was always something about my teachers, something deeper that made me want to learn from them. Was it their knowledge, wisdom, ability, and confidence? Yes, all that, but there was something else. There were all these intangibles that I wanted to acquire—something deeper that I could somehow feel but not experience directly. I had to train.

But I saw that deeper intangible in their Shodo—their technique, the way they helped me learn, the way they were hard with me when I needed that too. Another interesting thing that Akutagawa Sensei said to me was that Shodo is always inspired from Daido. The beauty and strength we see and appreciate in a well-executed technique is created from something deeper in the individual. We see only the downy tip of that creation, and yet, as a beginner it was technique that inspired us to want to learn more. To capture that something is what drives us to train and strive.

As I think about these ideas, I realize that Shodo gives me the pathway I can use to understand larger principles in myself from a single technique. Will the pathway be exactly the same as my Sensei’s? No. It may merge with a different branch, just like all trees are different. But if I follow it back far enough, my branch will merge into a single trunk and then into the soil. That soil is the same soil my Sensei’s tree grew from.

We spend a lot of our time out in the branch tips seeking new technique, action and experience. As we struggle to integrate these into larger meanings in our life, we realize that our roots are embedded in the same matrix as everyone else.

The point of this essay is that our teachers show us only the tips of their branches—their Shodo—because we can never directly experience the deeper core of their being. When our tree touches theirs, a new twig emerges in our tree. That new downy branch tip can sometimes drive our understanding straight down to the trunk like a lightning bolt, can whither, stay dormant, swirl around for years in the high branches, or reach further down to something deeper—the core of our being.

We need to experience the Small Ways (Shodo) of our teachers to seek the Great Way (Daido) underneath, and we need the Great Way in us to inspire us to search for the techniques, actions, and experiences that shape who we are. When Shodo becomes Daido is something hard to figure out. One can’t exist without the other.

Our techniques, actions, and experiences (Shodo) are created from something deeper in us (Daido). At the same time the Great Way in us is inspired by the Small Ways of our teachers. And that is what we call the Way.

Budo Theory: Exploring Martial Arts Principles

by Rick Rowell