Kata vs Waza – Kim Taylor, Renshi, CI Sei Do Kai Guelph ON, Nanadan Iaido and Roukudan Jodo

Watkin sensei was discussing the difference between these two at last evening’s class so it might be useful to go over his definitions once more for our students.

A waza is a movement that has been tested, that has been used successfully at some point in the past. I believe it was Iwata sensei who pointed out that we don’t have any new waza because we don’t use the sword in battle any more. A waza is what we learn in Kage Ryu.

A kata is a teaching tool that includes waza, but it can be old or modern, it is something that can be created, changed and forgotten. A kata is what we create for public demonstrations of Kage Ryu. A kata is that thing that changes from teacher to teacher in a ryu, waza is what doesn’t change.

When I use the terms I use them more or less this way. Sometimes I speak about kihon, these are parts from a kata that we practice to improve our understanding of the kata. They may be waza or they may simply be transition movements within a kata that are a little rough. I have mentioned movement patterns recently, these would tend to be waza, the important bits in a kata that we string together, but they may also be the transition movements between waza.

Suburi, the repeated swinging of the sword in a cut or a thrust would usually be waza, but often only part of a waza. Think of stepping off the line and cutting, that would be a waza, something found in pretty much every Japanese sword art. The cutting down is the suburi, the kihon, the movement pattern within the waza, the waza is the complete movement pattern. The kata would include the partner cutting down or thrusting or whatever, and perhaps movements before or after the decisive movement.

Watkin sensei was speaking about waza and kata in a slightly different way last evening. He mentioned that sometimes we do kata and sometimes we do waza but we ought to be aiming for waza. In this case kata refers to slowing down the movement to learn it, to get to the full movements. Practicing with full extensions, with relaxed shoulders, with movements that come from the hips rather than the arms. This slow and careful practice is not how one would perform it “on the battlefield” but it is necessary to learn the waza. Simply speeding up a kata will not create the waza, it usually creates a small, cramped, ineffective movement in the attempt to gain speed. Only by doing kata correctly and fully can a waza be created (or perhaps appear). You must “slow down to become fast”, the waza is something that is fast, certainly, but more importantly it is correctly timed, it is “fast enough”. Waza and kata may be identical but waza contains intent, timing, distance, accurate targeting, hasuji, and power. It is what kata is teaching. Waza is more than placing the sword here and there as described by sensei or in a book.

We are speaking of Niten and Kage here, arts with very short kata, each with maybe one to three waza. Other arts may have many waza, think Ran Ai in Jodo, when we break it down into seven parts we are looking at seven different waza at minimum. As we have heard before, the very first movement is the end of the encounter (the waza) the rest of the kata is practice. Can we do the kata as seven different waza with nothing to connect them? No, that makes a lousy kata and a proper waza cannot be done from a careless posture within combat distance. This is why our kata start from well outside combat range. Ran Ai should eventually be thought of as a single waza, as having full attention throughout, with no lapses, without just “going through the motions”.

So perhaps a bit simply put, the cut down is kihon, the step offline and cut down is the waza, the full story including approach, attack, response, and disengagement is the kata.

Could there be waza with more than a single avoid and strike? Sure, perhaps we stop our opponent with a sword movement toward his face, force him to move backward, chase him down and cut him. Perhaps we block, chase and cut. In that case the waza has multiple movement patterns within it.

Pay attention to that terminology this weekend at the seminar, it may help to understand what is being taught, beyond “which foot goes where”. It’s quite common for instructors to exaggerate certain movements while trying to show the feeling of moving with intent here or there in a kata. Don’t confuse these exaggerations with instructions on how to move correctly, you can get some pretty funny hitches in your kata if you do, and then I hear “but you just told me to do a big windup there and now you’re telling me not to do it”. Or “you just showed us two different ways to do it and now I don’t know which one to do”.

Yep, kata and waza.

Kim Taylor
July 14, 2017

photo 4 (2)

July Niten and Kage seminars:

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