Jonesy wrote:On page 33 of Judo Formal Techniques Otaki and Draeger write:
“Kata may be likened to handwriting. There are many types and many standards; it is less a matter of being “right” or “wrong” than a matter of preference when it comes to chosing a style to suitoneself. Equally important, kata is an expression of one’s personality. (…)”
Given the minutae and granularity of the evaluation criteria that is being superimposed on kata (from kata competiton) and the idea of “Big, Medium and Small Mistakes” for supposed deviations from a standard, do Otaki and Draeger’s views have any relevance for contemporary kata study?
One of the diifficulties of discussing kata is to carefully choose one's words so that a statement universally applies. I think that in the past the inaccuracy of statements without people realizing or knowing caused many of the problems we have today. Both the statements "it is wrong" and "it is not wrong" can cause such problems. Rather, one needs to define criteria, criteria that are purely based on the principles of jûdô and the principles of that kata to qualify and quantify any right/wrong statements. Kata is 'wrong' if either the form or the principle is violated. However, properly knowing and understanding the principle to its fullest is not an easy task. Because of that what has happened ? Kata has been largely interpreted according to rules written by someone, which at a national level was usually the person in charge or the person with the highest dan-rank irrespective of his/her understanding of that principle and form. 'Wrong' then became "not being in accordance with what was written".
Draeger and Ôtaki's statement is correct, but ... the statement does not say at all that there is no 'right' or 'wrong' in kata. What it says are a number of things, such as that it is LESS at matter of 'right' or 'wrong', in other words, 'right' or 'wrong' do exist, but that USUALLY is not the essence, meaning only in extreme cases it is really a matter of 'right' or 'wrong'. An example of this is ... 'ryôte-dori' in kime-no-kata. Uke instead of grabbing tori's hands, suddenly grabs a tennis ball from inside his jacket and throws it at the Kamiza. That is clearly wrong, but why is it wrong ? It is wrong because it violates both the principle and form of the kata.
On the other hand, something that is not a violation of either form or principle would be in Kôdôkan goshinjutsu, morote-tsuki whether tori either crosses or does not cross the hands. This has been changed back and forth. In the old days we crossed, then around 1993 we suddenly couldn't cross anymore, then in 2008 or so Fukushima taught it at the Kôdôkan to my surprise crossed his hands, which nobody had done in 2 decades. When I asked him about this he pretended that this was the new way, and not crossing was the old way. I told him he was bullshittng people and that this was re-iplementing the former way. I thought ... well, let's do this the smart way, and I caught Abe Ichirô at some point at the 6th floor because of the size of the group it had been split over the several dôjô. Abe-sensei had not been present when Fukushima was teaching this morote-tsuki, which was excellent. So, I walked up to him and asked him about it making sure I did not first say how Fukushima did it, and I said "sensei, I apologize, but I am somewhat confused, could you please, tell me how the position of tori's hands is in morote-tsuki ?" Abe-sensei explained to me that it was hands parallel. To make sure there was no misunderstanding, I repeated what he said and added "so, it is not hands crossed ?" and he confirmed that. Only then I added "well, you know sensei, this is exactly what I thought, but you do realize that Mr. Fukushima here is teaching it the exact opposite ?" Abe-sensei shook his head and walked away. So, that day all the Westerners were carrying out morote-tsuki with their hands crossed whereas I was performing it with my hands parallel leaving Mr. Fukushima sufficient room and space to go F*** himself if he wanted to. But it is these sorts of right/wrong and then linked to passing/failing a dan-rank exam or winning/losing a medal that has caused so many people to justifiably have a disgust of jûdô kata, and that is sad, very sad.
The story does not really end here because if it did, it would be a simple matter of whom you like to attach credibility to. What does matter is the why. I did not follow Abe-sensei's recommendations because he is a 10th dan and because Fukushima-sensei is 'only' an 8th dan. More importantly I did not follow Mr. Fukushima's way because he was lying. Or, let's correct that, since 'lying' implies consciously telling something knowing it to be untrue. To be fair, I can't prove the 'knowingly' leaving the alternative 'ignorant' or 'stupidity'. This is not a matter of ad hominem or accusation of an individual, but it is the status of expression of the words which were supposed to be a guidance for over 450 people many who had traveled from other countries and invested a small fortune. What Fukushima gave as explanation was historically wrong, whether he knew it to be wrong, whether he was bullshitting everyone or not, whether he did not know, whatever. Since I cannot read someone's mind I do not know the motivation and reasoning, but it was wrong. A quick analysis of the official printed booklets which were the one by Takata-sensei and the one Onozawa-sensei showed he was wrong. Abe-sensei's explanation at least was historically correct and in line with how the booklets too showed the evolution. If Fukushima had given an honest explanatoin such as "sorry I am not sure", "sorry, I can't remember", "sorry, I don't know", "sorry, I may well be wrong", "sorry, but I do this differently to hom Onozawa-sensei did it because I like this more", it would all have been much less of a problem..
My point is, in the end neither is 'wrong' because of this or that rule; it does not violate the principle or form irrespective of what way you do it, but in this way among the alternatives I chose the one which was taught consistently with history and communicated in way that was truthful, but if you choose the other way, in particular because you were not there, probably did not know what happened, you would not be making a mistake irrespective what the IJF guidelines say. If on the other hand, irrespective of what way you choose, you fail to bring your partner out of balance or fail to lock his arm with the jô, then the level of adequacy of performing the technique is lacking hence violating the principle of maximal efficiency.
I think that this illustrates what I was trying to explain. What wdax says is correct too, but there are many other examples that are somewhat different and where nobody has the balls to perform it alternatively even when it is clear it is correct. One such example is the bowing in Koshiki-no-kata. It really is open to the person doing it whether they elect to perform the seated or standing bow. This has never changed, and was also confirmed by Daigo-sensei a couple of years ago. Now, when have you for the last time seen someone merely do the standing bow, especially during competition ? People don't dare, being afraid it will cost them marks. This motivation is false, and the opposite is that you now get situations which stiffly adhere to what the protagonists think is the rule while it violates the principle. Many people who perform these advances kata are old, or have had serious injuries. They can't properly go down on both knees and perform the seated bow. Instead they do something that is clearly painful and difficult to them and the result looks comical like a caricature. That cannot possibly be the aim of this kata. It's not meant to be torture, it's not meant to look ridiculous, it's meant to realize its principle. There is no doubt that these people instead should elect to perform the standing bow only, yet nobody dares. This is a problem. People no longer embrace the principle and form of the kata, but a rule book which changes depending on who is in charge, whereas the principle and form of the kata per definition remain unchanged.
As you can see, it's a bit more complicated than simply stating there is no right and there is no wrong, and expressing in words in such a way that it is exhaustive, accurate and understandable taking into account various scenarios is not a simple endeavor.
Kanô-shihan did not like it when people violated the principles of his kata and there are several examples of this. He was not pleased when Koizumi demonstrated his views of jû-no-kata. But this was not because of style or a foot or hand here or there but because of principle. For Kanô, Koizumi by doing what he did showed he failed to properly catch the principles as Kanô viewed them. That is at issue, not because he might have done something else that written down.
If one really wants to dive into this, it gets even more complicated since it is obvious that various of the things Kanô did or said evolved throughout his life. In that sense one could even challenge the absoluteness of some of those principles. Doing that though, at least still is an intellectual effort, is studying jûdô, but to approach kata as a rigid thing, where there is a some standard (e.g. a Kôdôkan DVD) is absurd too and violates the very being of kata itself. Kata is a living thing, there is no doubt about that, and those are the words of both Kanô and Mifune, but much of that exists only in Japanese. To understand how kata is alive, one has to catch the heart and spirit of kata, and to that extent what wdax is saying is important too. What kata obviously is not is someone who skips all the study, does not know all that, trying to impose his personal inadequacy as merely personal style. It is easier to write about this in words that to ecognize those differences in practice. It is also very confusing. For example, for years, people who have been attending Daigo's course have been trying to copy what they saw there, producing and total spirit-deprived mechanical marionet-like sort of moving. If they deviated it was perceived as 'wrong', now only to lead to Daigo himself (correctly) saying that this isn't at all what people should and should have been doing. Clearly there are massive communication errors. Daigo-sensei is not wrong, but what he is teaching and how he is teaching is simply over the top of the head of most people. The majority simply cannot differentiate between copying what they perceive is a mechanic movement, and trying to catch the spirit of what is happening with any mechanics merely being at the service of that spirit. How can one apply mu'i when one has not achieved that through years of training ? One can suddenly pull a blank face stare into nowhere, sure, but that is nothing but fake superficiality. To make it even more frustrating, the framework we practice kata in today, is virtually always one of judgment, be it for a dan-rank exam, a certificate, a medal. That isn't very helpful either. Even at the Kôdôkan, let's assume that Daigo-sensei knows and sees 08:30 would mean the kata is 'wrong'. In that kind of mind and framework, kata becomes nothing else but an exercise in futility, and this is something people should submit to, never.