GregW wrote:This is an old thread, but I've been thinking about something related to Jason's question above. My question is how much leeway does a kata team have in adjusting the kata, so long as the integrity of the techniques remain intact?
I've read the written descriptions of the NNK I can get ahold of. I've watched nearly every YouTube video of the kata. I've been coached by my own sensei and several world-class clinicians. Every single expert I have worked with has a different way or philosophy about how the techniques should be done.
For example, a world champion showed me an alternate way to do tsurikomi goshi, an adaptation that was developed to compensate for a shoulder injury. That particular individual couldn't get the right shoulder into the nominal position because of a permanent injury. Nevertheless, it didn't keep this judoka from being recognized as having mastery of the kata.
When I watch the old film of Mifune Sensei doing the kata, it doesn't look nearly as precise and mechanical as today's practitioners, but it is more lively and vibrant. Yet if I were to perform the kata in that manner, it would surely be criticized. I still have a long way to go before I feel like I have it down well. I guess my question is how much leeway do we have to interpret the kata based on personal "artistry," one the basics have been mastered?
This is probably a question of aesthetics more than technique, but I would appreciate the insights of the more expert instructors on the forum.
As much as what you write might make sense, it is a bit more complicated than that. What may look like an expert to you might be very far from an expert to me. It's not about personalia, but about what is required before you really have expertise in a kata. But, in order to asses that, you would have to know what material and steps there are to go through, and you would need to have studied and read them all. Simply having the ability to win medals does not make you an expert, but obviously one can be an expert and win medals too. When you write "Every single expert I have worked with has a different way or philosophy", sure, but that does not mean that these are equally valid. It's a free world so anyone can say about judo what they want. That does not mean that these opinion would have any similar value. To someone who has expertise it is promptly noticeable if someone else does, but how would someone who does not know ? This is especially so since there are many things kata about which the Kôdôkan talks complete nonsense and yet they are considered by so many as experts. Well that is to say ... the Kôdôkan is obviously a building and a building is inanimate, so it is some odd denominator to describe anyone who has Japanese looks and fulfills some function there whether it is cleaning the floor or signing off on documents. Whilst no doubt Daigo-sensei is very well read and experience there are others who also wear the Kôdôkan instructor badge who are as knowledgeable as pigeon that has been hit by a car. I do not mean this in a condescending way ... only to indicate that they simply do what is proper in the Japanese system, and exactly and slavishly carry out the mechanical instructions of their hierarchical superior, but they never learnt from Kudô, Nagaoka, Mifune, never were brought up in the tradition, never read the words of Kanô, the classis, and are honestly completely cluesless about the rather complicated theories of Japanese aesthetics.
When I first read about Itsutsu-no-kata I was obviously completely clueless about it. I remember at one of sessions where someone showed the kata (long, long time before video existed and there were any Kôdôkan DVDs) and I distinctly remember the guy saying how in the fourth movement someone is showing how to throw a net over the opponent. So we went home and if anyone asked us about it we would relay the same complete nonsense to others. It's this pattern or regurgitated nonsense that is how kata traditionally has been taught in the West. In time each Western country would have his authority, namely the person the federation sent out to the Kôdôkan and who returned proudly announcing everything "that had changed". This put the person effectively in a position of power, and they liked that so reason to repeat that trip to Japan. The small detail the forgot to mention is that they usually did not speak a word of Japanese, and that what they brought with was sometimes the opposite of what had been said. Rarely those people truthfully said "well, I have no clue either because I didn't understand a word of what they said, so I just watched it like a Charlie Chaplin movie and I am here now with information that would suffice to allow us all to mindlessly copy those superficial patterns. And so kata became the brainless monster we are all so familiar with in the West and which most people thoroughly hate, and this for good reason.
The same goes on today. There are clinics on YouTube where the national "kata specialists" teaches all the high-dan rank holders and I am sitting there wondering "where on earth does he get all this nonsense from ?" For some obscure reason, no one there seems to be asking those questions, just like no one ever asks the question what the person's primary sources are to underpin those fantasies ?
Does one need to know all the details of how an engine works in order to drive a car safely ? Probably not. On the other hand, when you are aboard a plane, wouldn't you prefer a pilot who understands the mechanics too rather than just having the ability to steer for in that rare case that things do start to get awry. Jûdô is not a mechanical entity like a car or plane that is rigid and unchangeable in its form. It is more like a piece of music that can sound very differently depending on who plays it. Some of those different version will be good, some even excellent, but many also rubbish. Clearly there needs to be something that determines why some differences make something splendid and others make it rubbish. We are not talking wrong notes here as we might assume that we are talking about musicians who all know how to play a note correctly. Playing a note correctly does not require a musician, since a computer or automated device can do that. It is still music since it is an intelligible chain of musical figures, and there is rhythm, and still it is bad music. Any real musician whose intent would be to exactly replicate what the computer did is still going to bring a lousy piece of art. That's why musicians do not simply "play" but "interpret". Kata is not a matter of replication but also one of interpretation, but that interpretation can't be erratic and is bound to a plethora of artistic conventions, humanistic insights, and a deep knowledge of the composer. This is not any different for kata in judo. The ultimate purpose of kata is the same as randori. The purpose of randori is not to win, and it is not even to score ippon. The purpose of randori is for your judo to improve. There isn't a ref or jury needed for that. The purpose of kata is for your judo to improve, no jury or ref needed for that too. But your instructor will give you clues during randori as how to improve your timing or how to look for this or that; same for kata. The purpose of randori is not to replicate someone else, and the purpose of kata is not to replicate someone else. Most people in music who have the ability to bring authoritative interpretations are usually very senior who have devoted a lifetime to study what is relevant to understand, although there are also cases of people who are still relatively young, but blessed with truly exceptional gifts and affinity with some piece. For many people de name Jacqueline du Pré is connected for ever to the Elgar Concerto, just like there are other examples of people became so authoritative that they "owned the piece". This is possible in jûdô kata for some kata, but it is rare. Most jûdôka, even the best, still do not do what the best musicians put in study. Claudio Arrau is said to have practised for at least 12 hours/day when he was studying Liszt's Etudes d'Execution Transcendantes. Not too many experts in judo kata practice 12 hours per day, every day, although practice for kata means more than repeating patterns on a tatami. It also means discussing, reading, fulfilling all the steps which Kanô recommended to study jûdô.
When younger people make some imrpression in kata, it often involves rather superficial characteristics that match their physical prowess, such as speed, power, the kind of things they can grasp and for which they are not too young. The same applies to the aesthetics. They are so complicated that barely anything has ever been written about it in relation to jûdô and this is no longer given knowledge amongst Japanese people either unless you are dealing with a certain privileged intellectual and artistic elite. When you reach or approach that level, no one will need to explain to you anymore what is possible and what not, and those people are at a level that the conventions as most people see them do no longer need to be there as helplines in order to bring the core of what is contained in that what they do.
There are parts in jûdô which do not require an explanation since if you have reached that level it will be obvious why it is there. There is a reason why in nage-no-kata there are generally three consecutive steps and not two or four. You do not even need to know any jûdô for that if you have reached that level. Any master of Kabuki or Nô theather will understand. If one does not know and see why, one is also not ready by far for such things to be taught. Of course you could write that all down, but to the learner, all he will see or learn is then also just a detail of information and not something he truly knows what it is about
In the light of these limitations we work with a tool that is not a good tool but that in most cases serves most people well: the somewhat idiotic way for teaching kata as some kind of standard that needs to be replicated. It's wrong, but everyone without any advanced knowledge or much seniority can "get" that. You can "get" that without having the ability to read or speak Japanese. so that approach works for more. Of course, if you do happen to be Jacqueline du Pré such approach would be highly desrructive, but one can trust that if ever there is a Jacqueline du Pré among you, nothing will contain here and she will break through that straightjacket of nonsense they try to teach everyone.
A important criterion of achievement for any kata is "naturalness", that is naturalness as it is perceived by Japanese, not a Western. In some cases by watching kata (not all cases, and not all kata) it is something most people can form some idea about. Is what is being natural, with naturalness needing to be understood in the framework of that specific kata. When one has so much experience and insight that form should no longer restrict what is happening, naturalness should still be there and hopefully to a greater extent. In kime-no-kata or Kôdôkan goshinjutsu, efficiency is critical, more important than most things, with that efficiency obviously limited by the technique itself. It may very well be that a technique that is contained is not the most effective, but your practical application of that technique still needs to be the most effective possible. It is not your task to replace that technique by a different technique that you find or that might be more effective. That is not the purpose of this exercise. If you want to practice other self-defense which you find effective, that is great, but there is no need to incorporate them in this, since as I said, the intent of kata has never been to bring a show for others.
In a kata such as nage-no-kata, the most important things that reflect you are reaching your goal is improvement in kuzushi, timing, and efficiency. As long as you do not master those to perfection there is no need to interpret and attempting to interchange one for the other will be detrimental. This may be obscure to you, but I assure you it isn't. It is really obvious when someone truly masters kuzushi in judo and there are very few who do. But if you do, why would you still have to be occupied by those things that are just trying to teach that to you. It is now your kuzushi that is ready to support the other goals that nage-no-kata aim to achieve.
You write "For example, a world champion showed me an alternate way to do tsurikomi goshi, an adaptation that was developed to compensate for a shoulder injury. That particular individual couldn't get the right shoulder into the nominal position because of a permanent injury. Nevertheless, it didn't keep this judoka from being recognized as having mastery of the kata."
There is a lot of info in that sentence, some good, some open for discussion:
- "being recognized as having mastery". As already said, the purpose of kata is not "to be recognized", but for your judo to improve.
- "an alternate way". Nage-no-kata is not about "alternate ways", but about a specific principle that is illustrated there, one that also has historical connotations. You are not going to cut out a part from a Monet painting an replace it with a digital pictures because the colors are more truthful. The painting conveyes a specific atmosphere and situation. I already told you that "adjusting" is a difficult word since we will understand different things under.
- if you have an injury that makes something impossible in nage-no-kata,then questions need to be asked. Can you illustrate that same principle in a way that is proper to your body ? Can you replace it by familiar principle that is proper in this context ? There are pianists who at certain instances in some pieces when it is possible, play some notes intended for the left hand also with the right hand. Is that permissible or not ? Obviously the intent of music is not your technique but the music itself. If you can to he fullest bring with the same hand what is intended to be brought by the other hand, then that is fine. BUT, if you consider the piece also something intended to improve your technique you might want to take that serious and do practice it with the left hand even if that feels not so comfortable. if you don't you might still bring an awesome interpretation of this part but possibly not be able to involved to the next piece where the configuration is such that the right hand is not free at the moment the left hand comes and you HAVE to play it with the left hand, a skill you might now have never developed. In that case your approach did not have as its highest goal improving your judo but to bring the best. Ultimately that is a lower goal in judo since being obsessed by being the best is not really reaching a level of "without ego". So there you go, the road is long and complex and nothing comes easily.
There are other aspects, it cannot be the purpose of kata to insist on doing something that worsens your injury because if it does your judo will be deteriorating too. so it is the old discussion. You know the Western philosophers which Kanô was keen on appreciating were utilitarians and pragmatists, so the answer should come by itself, but ... then again you should already have known that if you were really ready to interpret kata.