Kata Seminar 2010

Reason, reaction, result…
This was the theme of the second Kendo Kata seminar run at Hizen dojo.

Saturday, to be fair, the National Kata Taikai took up the bulk of the time, so the practice was limited to a few hours prior to the actual competition. But for anyone whose kata was in any way shakey, these hours were an intense recap.
As I mentioned – the overall theme of the seminar was to explore why you move in kata. What is the reason for you to cut? What is the reaction this creates? And what is the ultimate result. This has obvious and direct links back to improving you shiai kendo because it’s all about distance, control and seme.
Why, for example, does uchidachi make the first cut on ipponmai? What’s the psychological trigger that gives uchidachi the impetus to try for a kote in nihonmai or tsuki in ropponmai? What should you be thinking when you look death in the face as shidachi’s sword wavers between your eyes on sanbonmai? Why doesn’t he kill you?

And then there were the practical issues. If you owned a sword that historically probably cost you as much as a modern car – would you run the edge up the blade and hit the tsuba – potentially either blunting or chipping the blade – as you are instructed to do in the third kodachi form? And how would the do cut actually disembowel someone in nanahonmai?

Do you cut, slash, slice, place, or just hold the blade in position to wrap around your opponents abdomen as they step on to it? How would that actually work – with a real person, a real body?

A long and physically hard day, Yes, kata can make you sweat.
The group was divided – those who could not yet do 1-5 focussed on these. Shodan and Nidan attendees focussed on the kodachi forms – something that has caused several upsets at recent gradings for Sandan, when participants have been asked to do these forms and not been able. And those who were sandan plus started with a session aimed at refining their kodachi techniques and then moved on to other things.

Midday, John Howell sensei gave a lecture on the history of kendo, explaining how it had survived through the Meiiji Restoration and early modern period in Japan – when the sword arts had appeared impossibly outdated and as fashionable as flairs, almost dieing out due to the lack of participants. And then again, the crisis that followed WW2, when sensei had buried their armour to hide it from the occupying powers and the tenuous link that connects us to medeaval Japan was almost broken forever. The role of the kata forms in the survival of kendo – and their necessity in preserving its authenticity, were key themes of Howell sensei’s talk.
And then back to practice. But practice with a difference as Humm sensei demonstrated a selection of koryu techniches (again, focussing on the use of the kodachi). These were noticeably more ‘violent’ than the three kodachi forms incorporated in our current syllabus, but gave you real pause for thought when considering the real utility of a short sword. It was a fascinating show – which really helped inform our understanding of the use of the kodachi and of the link between

modern kendo kata and of its bloody origins.

In addition, a final session gave students some tools for visualizing a real fight with real, full length swords – again based on the kata forms. Humm sensei showed a version of the kata ‘sewn together’ and performed at speed and with deadly intent. Suddenly, the kata came much more to life. Gone was the laborious reiho – bow, draw, three steps in, cut, zanshi, chudan, kamai-otuku and five steps back routine which is ground into us for grading purposes. Now there was fluidity, force and real fear. All seven long sword forms were performed as a single integrated unit with each cut followed by the next so that the entire set looked like a real exchange of blows between two combatants – with give and take, parry and riposte, attack and defence following on from each other. Given the chance to try this out ourselves, we gradually became more confident with the basic choreography of the form and added greater intent, kiai and speed to the movement, so that by the end one had an exhilarating and exhausting exchange which, if a move was missed or forgotten, posed the real risk of a crack on the head or hand or wrist from your partners bokuto. This was a thought experiment, explained Humm sensei, not an attempt to revise of change the actual kata forms, but a means to help you understand their underlying principles and their practical merit. Well, yes that’s certainly true – but it’s also the most fun I have had learning kata in years!
So thank you to John Howell sensei and Jeff Humm sensei for a fascinating weekend, which both polished our practical kata skills and provided us with a deeper understanding of the forms, their dynamics, their mechanisms and their meanings, as I said at the start: the reason you move the reaction this creates and the result you achieve.

The Kendo Kata Taikai 2010 was held on Saturday, March 27th, hosted by Hizen Dojo in London. The results were:
2 Dan & Under
Winners: David Jordan and Dillon LinSecond: Narendra Arjan and Chi Li FungThird: Stewart Daniels and Lewis Guneratne
3rd Dan Plus
Winner: Natasha NogicSecond: Jeff MartinThird: Adam Tennant

2010 Kata Taikai Winners (Back Row, l-r) Chi Li Fung, Narendra Arjan, Adam Tennant, Natasa Nogic, Jeff Martin, Stewart Daniels, Lewis Guneratne (Front Row seated l-r) David Jordan, Dillon Lin Natasa Nogic presented with the Senior Plate, by John Howell sensei, Nandan Kyoshi and Jeff Humm sensei, Nandan Renshi

Report Paul Gray
Photos Jeff Martin