The Boring Side of Kata – Apr 2, 2015, Kim Taylor, Renshi, CI Sei Do Kai Guelph ON, Nanadan

A quote in a paper I read recently stuck in my head so I had to go through the filing system (the pile of papers in the sauna) and pull it out. The paper is Ozawa, Hiroshi 2005 “Essence of training (keiko) in Japanese Culture: Technique (waza) acquirement and Secret of Kendo” Tokyo University of Science. It’s typical of a lot of these papers I collect in that it doesn’t list a journal but if you search I’m sure you’ll find it if you want it.

Several things about this paper triggered thoughts but I’ll stick with the bit on kumitachi which was a quote from Sasamori, Junzo “Secret of Itto-ryu” Secret of Itto-ryu Publishing, 92, 1970

That, I’m not sure you’ll find.

“If practicing with a beginner, an attacker strikes him as if he is ready to hit him, but doesn’t actually hit him.
The next stage, an attacker will actually strike him.
If practicing with an expert, an attacker will strike as if he wasn’t ready to hit him but actually hit him.”

Mostly I wanted to get that down somewhere that I’ll be able to find it again so there it is. What does it mean?

We’re talking about uchidachi (the attacker) and shidachi (the defender) in general, although in 1970 the quote may have been about teaching kendo in bogu. Either way, it’s about how to teach someone else. It’s about the boring side, the side that swings and gets killed.

You can see it in students’ dead eyes as they get on the uchidachi side and their only job is to walk three steps and swing their sword while shidachi gets to do all sorts of cool moves to win the fight. They are bored, they are counting the reps so they can go back to the fun side.

They’re missing the point. Uchidachi isn’t boring and shidachi isn’t fun and the more important, the more difficult side is the side that loses. Both from a technique point of view and from a spiritual / self-improvement place as well. Uchidachi is the sacrifice of the older to allow the younger to live. It’s the whole reason we should not be working toward immortality. The old have to pass on their knowledge to the young and then get out of the way for the young to go beyond. Immortality equals stagnation, no change in a changing environment. The instant humans, as a race, gain eternal lifespans is the day we make it easy to disappear from the universe. It’s not conservatism that got us where we are, not “good enough for grand-dad” either culturally or genetically…

Oops, sorry, back to uchidachi who is the one who gives a good attack so that shidachi can learn all the stuff that can’t be learned by reading books and watching videos. Uchidachi is in charge of distance and timing which is the “fun stuff”. Uchidachi has to be just a bit better than shidachi, has to resist the urge to attack into openings while somehow pointing them out, has to resist being irritated when struck, has to “take one for the team” and die repeatedly so that the juniors can learn not to.

I still get irritated when students scrape a bokuto down my entire frontside after I’ve opened up to let them “win”. Mostly because they ought to know how to stop the sword before it makes contact. I never got used to aikido partners who would fiddle fiddle fiddle in front of my free right hand while trying to put a wristlock on my left wrist… only to crank me through the floorboards once I helped them into the right position.

You know, I don’t teach aikido like that any more, I pretty much teach the first half of a technique and leave it there. I figure if you can’t get to the point where your attacker is off balance and at your mercy you’ve got no business messing about trying to find a lock. You’re not going to get there if he’s allowed to punch you in the face as you try to work out which way to turn his other hand. If you do get him there, the lock is just so over the top.

Doing your job as uchidachi means keeping the rhythm understandable, keeping the correct speed, keeping the distance uncomfortable but realistic and keeping the actual strike just beyond what shidachi thinks he is capable of.

With a beginner, look like you’re about to hit him on the head and swing for his head but don’t hit him on the head. Eventually shidachi gets the dance steps down and can start avoiding the strike.

At that point, look like you’re about to hit him and then hit him on the head. Fair warning. Of course, if you’re not in bogu you’re still going to be prepared to stop the strike just before you do hit, or at least release the grip so all that does make contact is the bokuto and not your bodyweight as well. A bit of training in how to stop your arms or how to let go of a grip ought to help here. If you can’t avoid concussing your partners perhaps you ought not be playing uchidachi in this movie.

Once your partner has no trouble dealing with an attack he knows is coming you ought to hit him with things that he doesn’t know is coming, you ought to strike “from the void” with Munen Muso. This isn’t really “without warning” so much as it’s “oh, I hit him!” And with that I’m convinced that Sasamori was talking about practice in bogu. It’s an expert uchidachi indeed that can strike without thought during a kata and still pull the strike before damaging shidachi. It’s not a level of practice that lends itself to heavy bokuto and bare heads.

OK next time you’re on the boring side walking across the dojo to swing and get killed, open your eyes. Pay attention to your partner and see what you can do to help him better perform his side. Do you cut a bit short so he can stretch out to cut you? Do you crowd in a bit so that it makes sense to his hind-brain to step back like the kata says?

Once you figure that stuff out can you swing a bit faster? Cut a bit sharper?, Stutter a little to see if he jumps before you cut? Go for it.

Later still can you suddenly swing into an opening after you are done the kata and your partner has looked away? Can you do it without breaking ribs so that the next time your partner blocks it?

Can you do all that without pushing your partner into knocking you out?

Bored now?

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