I used to have a cheap fixed focus digital camera that was just perfect for shoving into or against holes so that I could get a look at what was inside the drainpipe, the old warehouse, or whatever. It was always a surprise, sometimes boring, sometimes interesting but always surprising.
Kata are like that if you look. There is a kata in Niten Ichiryu that is called Uke Nagashi. What a surprise, neh? It involves walking toward uchidachi, then moving to the side while covering your shoulder and back with your sword, then cutting uchidachi on the head as he moves back. Pretty standard, done both sides.
The difficulty for a beginner is that he thinks he should receive and cut all in the same movement, so he cuts uchidachi before uchidachi moves back into position.
What’s the problem? The problem is that the beginner, shidachi, broke the kata. The kata says uchidachi moves back and shidachi strikes when the distance is created. If you don’t do that the kata is broken, but if you can cut without this move back where’s the problem?
You have to look into the kata, accept that it is what it is, for a reason, look at it. Look into it. Why does uchidachi move back? “Because the kata says so” is the surface, of course he moves back, sensei says he does, so he does. Underneath that, we must find a reason and we may decide that uchdachi is too close to shidachi to continue his attack. That works, shidachi not only moves to the side to receive and deflect the strike, he moves in toward uchidachi, jamming him. This puts him inside uchidachi’s sword so uchidachi must step back to strike again. When he does, shidachi strikes just as uchidachi is starting his second strike. Hit on the H of hit as Musashi tells us.
Still, sometimes uchidachi doesn’t move back, so how do we make him move? Well we could turn toward him and “become big” this intimidates uchidachi, we look like we’re getting closer when we get bigger. We could do tsuka ate and drive uchidachi back. We could do tai atari, or put in the left shoulder, all sorts of things. This also we find within the kata, but once we are on uchidachi’s side, and we accept that uchidachi is not really an unintelligent cutting target, but an opponent who is trying to cut shidachi, we understand, a bit further into the kata, that uchidachi is trying to regain the cutting distance, so shidachi needs to do nothing, uchidachi moves. Full circle yes, still, we have found things inside that are useful. Seniors move without thinking, they perceive a bad maai and they adjust. Beginners first do the kata by rote, then find (often complicated) reasons to do the kata, then eventually just do the kata because it is the right thing to do.
Don’t believe me? Watch a bad movie sword fight, do you see things that are “just the wrong thing to do”? That means you are starting to understand what makes sense and what looks good for the camera. Usually not the same thing.
The other day we had a snap class with the seniors and we were doing this very kata. As we looked inward we found yet another surprise, in this case we not only move barely out of the way of the strike while defending, but we move strongly forward and actually complete the uke nagashi with a tsuka ate. Not the same tsuka ate we show the beginners, but one that comes from the body movement forward. The hips turn the shoulders off the line then back on again. Of course uchidachi moves back, he has no other idea in his mind because we are attacking his face. It is not a choice, it is a necessity.
Good for beginners? Not a chance. Should we tell the beginners, show them? No, not at all, they will find it when they are ready to find it. Until then let’s keep the broken noses to a minimum shall we?
Musashi said that whether you are cutting, deflecting, adjusting, avoiding or anything else, one must keep in mind that one is cutting. If you use this mindset while you practice the kata you will find out what is within.
Look, you won’t know what’s inside if you don’t look.
June 21, 2017
July Niten and Kage seminars: