The Tyranny of Kata – Kim Taylor, Renshi, CI Sei Do Kai Guelph ON, Nanadan Iaido and Roukudan Jodo

Aikido last night, we started with katate dori, a one handed grip, gyaku hanmi, so uke uses his left hand to grab nage’s right wrist. We worked the three body movements, irimi, kaiten and tenkan. Within that framework we started with sumi otoshi and wandered down a rabbit hole of various techniques which were more or less dictated by what the students were doing. In other words, I took their difficulties and made the next technique either fix the one before or use the off-footed movement to do a different technique.

Depending on your definition of kata, this was either a series of kata, or kata variations, or an escape from the tyranny of kata. To me it feels like the escape. Sure I provided a movement and the class copied it, and sure the movements I provided were standard Aikikai style, but I didn’t feel like I would betray the founder if I didn’t do it like it was in the book. For instance, at one point we did a somewhat unusual (because a bit clumsy) change of hands as we did tenkan and switched a wrist grab to kotegaeshi. This involved taking our held hand out of the grip and then gripping with it, assisted by the other hand. At the throw, the students were sometimes letting their partner regain their balance so that they could take that balance again by applying kote gaeshi. My comment was that if he’s already falling over why would you help him up again just to make him fall over. Seems dangerous to me, combatively, but the main thing was that we were looking at balance and I didn’t feel any responsibility to get caught up in doing the wrist twist “by the book”.

In many ways, teaching aikido is a lot more fun than teaching the various kata-dominated arts I practice. I am a natural noodler, I have a set of designs for speakers that I ought to crank out, but I’m still noodling around with experimental boxes. With the other stuff I do, my urge is to try something different rather than repeat what works. This means that when I teach iaido or jodo I am in a constant struggle not to wander off into variation-land. Vacation by variation!

Yes, I know that aikido is tested by kata, and I’m not always happy when doing test-practice, but it’s good to do that once in a while. The kata keep you centered, on message. Too much wandering off the path can lead to being nowhere near the path. That’s one reason for grading, it keeps instructors near the curriculum as much as it tests the students on that curriculum. The kata being the curriculum of course.

When I wander off-kata in the weapons arts I’m being self-indulgent. When I’m exploring the details of a movement in Aikido through variation I’m teaching as I was taught, so I feel more comfortable going down that rabbit hole.

To escape the tyranny of kata.

Kim Taylor
Sept 29, 2017
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Sept 30-Oct 1 Ottawa iaido, jodo and niten seminars, Galligan and Taylor
Oct 28-29 Peterborough koryu iaido, Ohmi sensei, Galligan and Taylor
Nov 17-19 Jodo Grading and Seitei/Koryu Seminar, Shiiya sensei and Kurogo sensei, past and present heads, jodo section ZNKR. Mississauga location tbd

iaito, bokuto, bokken, jo, shinken, karate and judo uniforms, books, videos and other supplies for…
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