Below is an essay I wrote on Kendo Kata and its implications. It is in no way a complete statement of thoughts on kata but a strating point for discussion. Enjoy.
Kendo Kata: The importance and continued relevance of kata in modern day kendo.
By: Eric J. Abbey copyright 2005
The aspect of kendo kata is extremely important to the entirety of kendo and it’s progression through modern times. Kata allows for many important concepts to be established within the art form and continues to maintain a link to many of the thoughts maintained within shinai kendo. Kendo kata allows for the kendoka to experience the actuality of sword use with the bokken and demonstrates to all kendoka important elements such as uchidachi/shidachi relationships, kamae, and kendo theory. All of these allow for the furthering of thought within shinai kendo and root modern day kendo, as an art to be studied not simply a sport that allows for competition. Many people view shinai kendo as a competitive and sport orientated process but with the practice of kata the art of kendo can be studied and developed further.
Kendo kata allows the practitioner to begin to understand the important relationship of uchidachi and shidachi. Throughout the entirety of the kata this relationship plays an extremely important and vital part. The uchidachi becomes the instructor and allows for the maai, seme, and kamae to be determined throughout the kata. In each kata, the uchidachi must consider the proper kamae in which to attack and then, with correct seme, progress forward with the attack fully in mind. This feeling must be taken into consideration when looking at the uchidachi’s role within the kata because the shidachi falls into the counter of each stage of this process and the kata is performed. Without this first, and most important, relationship the kata would become lifeless and not allow for the proper progression of thought within kendo. The uchidachi/shidachi relationship immediately transfers to shinai kendo in many ways.
The uchidachi/shidachi understanding allows for the practice of shinai kendo to take on many important elements within the dojo. This relationship also transfers into the sempai/kohai relationship and creates the teacher and student structure of the dojo. The most important concept that is derived from kendo kata within shinai kendo is the fact that the sempai/teacher/uchidachi/motodachi must be active and full of the proper kamae, maai, and seme to allow for the kohai/student/shidachi to properly advance throughout kendo. These aspects allow for the kendo kata to play an extremely important role in the relationship between everyone in and out of the dojo.
The relationship between kendoka continues with the importance of the varying kamae used within kendo kata. These kamae play an extremely important role in developing an understanding of how kendo relates, reflects and reconsiders traditional kenjutsu and kendo. The varying kamaes; migi and hidari jodan, gedan, wakigamae, hasso and the kodachi kamae’s all relate to different aspects of the entirety of kendo. This discussion will only consider jodan kamae but all are equally relevant and important. Jodan kamae represents the sky position and is extremely aggressive. In ipponme, both uchidachi and shidachi take jodan stances and the kata/fight progresses. The kamae that the uchidachi takes is answered by the shidachi and allows for the continuation of concepts from the past to be included within modern kendo. The translation of history continues as the other kamaes are put into use. Kendo kata becomes the link between the historical importance of these kamaes and modern day kendo. Throughout the kata the kamaes must be studied and considered from the point of their actual use in combat and their relevance to today’s kendo.
Although, many of the kamaes used in kata are not directly translatable to shinai kendo, the concepts and thought processes behind them are. These concepts include taking an offensive versus defensive stance, constructing a counter kamae to your opponent and many others. Shinai kendo allows for the focus to be, specifically, on chudan no kamae but within the kata the kendoka is given exposure to differing kamaes that were used throughout history and allowed the opportunity to study the reasons behind each kamae. This study is vitally important to an understanding of shinai kendo and becomes one of the most dominant aspects of the varying kamaes used within kendo kata.
To fully consider the kendo kata is to become immersed in the actual theory and thought behind modern and traditional kendo. This, by far, is the most important aspect of the kendo kata. The theory and reasoning behind each individual kata plays an immense role in the full understanding of kendo. The kata is used to allow for kendoka to grasp the ideas and feelings behind actual combat, through the use of a bokken. This is where kata becomes so important to every kendoka’s development. The thought process behind each kata signifies different principles that directly correlate to shinai kendo and the continuation of kendo as an art form and not merely a sport.
In modern day kendo, the sporting aspect is gaining ground and kata must be focused on to allow for the continuation and rooting of the kendoka in the art form of kendo. Shinai kendo, and shiai are vitally important and are the basis of kendo, but it is in the kata that the truth, history and art of kendo lay. Without the practice and knowledge of kendo kata the kendoka falters in shinai kendo and in kendo overall. Kata must be used effectively to gain the understanding of the theories and philosophies of kendo in shiai and shinai kendo. The comprehension and understanding of kata allows for the main aspects of kendo to come to the forefront and through this shinai kendo develops a stronger and more beneficial aspect throughout. With the conceptualization of the uchidachi/shidachi relationship, the differing kamaes, and the theory of kendo, kata vitalizes shinai kendo and allows for living and active participation in the art of kendo and the development of kendo in modern day society.