I think we should not confuse kata as means of transmitting information with kata as method for developing fighting skills.
Also, weapons like the sword didn't played a relevant role in japanese battlefields. Japanese warriors were mounted archers (of course, with the help of drafted peasants who were given a long pointy thing... so you have schools like the Owari-kan ryu which starts with sparring) and sport like archery was as alive as it could be, for instance inouomono. Of course, when firearms arrived to Japan (mid 16th century) battlefields changed a lot: thousands of guys firing matchlocks and muskets at each other while thousand of guys with pikes covered their asses from cavalry charges.
We sould also consider training weapons like the fukuro shinai were developed in the Sengoku era and is still used for sparring in the Maniwa-nen ryu with minimal protective equipement. Alive training in JSA was important when life was short and cheap and one could be drafted and deployed the next day and masterless soldiers and bandits roamed the countryside.
IMO, today's kata based classical arts are mostly the product of Edo era, even in schools established before. Not real combatives but hobbies for LARPing courtiers and boureaucrats: enough for self defense against some drunktard in an Edo whorehouse or for duelling against another poorly trained accountant.
When **** hitted the fan, i.e. Shimabara rebellion (17h century), firearms were the weapons of choice, not swords, naginata or spears.
Last edited by DCS; 4/23/2012 6:18pm at .
The dominance of projectile weapons on the battlefield is a good point. In an essay in Budo Perspectives Vol. 1, Dr. Karl Friday goes into detail on how many koryu arts emphasize swordsmanship and couldn't have been mainstream military training in the warring states era and only became de facto training during Edo times.
On the other hand, Owari Kan Ryu was formed in 1671, well-into peacetime, and yet is a very combative school. As an otome ryu of Owari province, it wouldn't have been taught to outsiders, and although teaching commoners is certainly plausible I'm not aware of whether or not this was the case here.
Secondly, fukuro shinai are attributed to the 16th century Shinkage Ryu, but Maniwa Nen Ryu probably developed its shinai forms around the mid-Edo period in response to increasingly one-on-one fighting (Ellis Amdur, Old School, p. 57). Interestingly, there was also an attempt to use bamboo naginata which was ultimately discarded due to its tendency to break and discrepancy with the weight of actual naginata, which undermined correct usage (p. 61).
So again, the history is greyer than how you put it. Despite ashigaru being in a position to greatly appreciate practical fighting skills, as commoners they did not necessarily have great amounts of time to dedicate to training, and this being the period were there was considerably less koryu around and that koryu teachers couldn't train en masse (as opposed to generic military training) in addition to the fact that these arts were ostensibly upper class, arguing that this training was better at this time because of their involvement is not very convincing.
Further, the examples of Owari Kan Ryu and Maniwa Nen Ryu demonstrate that despite a generally acknowledged stagnation in Edo-era ryuha, there still were developments under way by individuals in touch with combative realities. The examples of Maniwa Nen Ryu and the aforementioned Jikishinkage Ryu and Itto Ryu also establish that Edo Japan, what with its regulations against firearms and increasingly urban lifestyle, was a time and place where swordsmanship was of greater utility.
As to large scale warfare, there were schools of strategy that attempted to influence things like that which are now long defunct (although I think some martial ryu maintain portions of these in their curricula). In any event, the martial koryu pedagogy didn't allow for large-scale training of troops and IIRC they never had really sophisticated group tactics anyway; I think their footprint was small, reserved for the dedicated and elite members of clans, family, etc. who wanted to be better fighters (of course I'm sure there are exceptions; I seem to recall Nodachi Jigen Ryu being influential in the Bakumatsu era).
Last edited by DARPAChief; 4/24/2012 12:53am at .
Well, since my name is on the thread
You all could go down the garden path for pages, arguing on my behalf or against my perspective, without it being fully on point.
First of all, I’m a proponent of live training. I’ve never sparred with live blades (that would be stupid, and not realistic either), though I have with wooden weapons on a number of occasions (also stupid, at times, but productive as well), and have suffered a few broken bones. In my professional and personal life, I’ve dealt with people on a few occasions with knives in their hand and the sum total of all my training, koryu and gendai, enabled me to manage things in a way that worked out well.
I still do different levels of cross-training in which we don’t just show each other kata – we try out things and see if they work. I’ve thrown out techniques from kata or reworked them – even abandoned kata – when I find that the technique will only work against someone who moves a certain way (the person from another ryu moving differently – I certainly can’t ask someone to attack me with a bent elbow because the technique doesn’t work against someone whose elbow is extended).
My statement which was quoted at the beginning of this thread merely made the point that some of the most powerful schools in Japan trained exclusively in kata training. Perhaps a prime example is Yakumaru-ha Jigen-ryu, which hardly even has kata – they just practiced berserker repetitive attacks on a bundle of sticks – yet they were among the most feared swordsmen in Japan, because of their impeccable use of spacing, coupled with absolutely committed power.
Besides that, kata training in Japanese koryu can be a lot more alive than one would imagine. The most basic example is to "break-out" one technique within a kata and pressure test it.
In my own training:
In the grappling component of Araki-ryu, we use each kata as a template to define some parameters – for example, getting stabbed in the belly. We practice the kata, as is, a couple of times. Then, one or both people “breaks” the kata, and it becomes free-style. Each different kata, thereby, presents a different “starting point” for live training. At a more advanced level (which doesn’t need to be mystified – students can do this in a couple of months), two or more kata are merged together – or even a whole set. We’ve been wondering about including those new “shock knives,” so no one can b.s. about what really happened in such training.
People without grappling skill cannot learn Araki-ryu – and this includes the weaponry as well. The grappler’s body is educated differently. And BTW – that six month requirement? – actually, one must continue one’s training – it’s just that it takes six months under one’s belt to start. Beyond that and more generally - it’s really hard for me to imagine a grappling training without a live component that is worth much.
Weapons training is similar: One misunderstanding about kata training is that it is rigid and choreographed. Well, lots of it is. But not necessarily. The real purpose of kata is to structure certain situations that <will> happen if one is in combat (a battlefield or duel, as the case/ryu may be). But that sometimes very intense, even dangerous training is only the first level. At the second level, uke (the teacher) starts breaking the kata, merging two or more kata together. The value here is that one improvises within a theme, and these parameters enable one to go all out within its criteria. THEN, you change the criteria. For example, I have mostly trained spear with one of my guys, and he and I are regularly experimenting with all sorts of alternative movements. One limitation is that, from the sword’s side, we can’t afford to strike the spear full-force – they just break. I’ve got some vera wood/laminated spears on order, that should be hard and flexible enough to take a full force blow, and then and only then will we know if certain deflections will really work.
Some weapons, however, are difficult to spar with. The nagamaki, for example, is so heavy that any physical contact will break bones. But if you slow it down for safety, a lighter weapon wins every time – therefore, kata is the best one can do.
Anyway, a higher level of kata training, tori, also breaks the kata, but there’s a certain level beyond which the tension between trying to train realistically and trying not to injure each other limits “freestyle.” One might raise the possibility of lighter weapons and protective equipment and they, too, have their place. But consider this. How about if a technique is predicated on hitting the person so hard that they brace to receive the strike and this lock-down of their muscles makes them unable to deal with what comes next. With lighter weapons, that wouldn’t occur and the technique might seem useless. Note the slow-motion sequence on the FAQ page of my arakiryu.org site. Aaron hit me so hard on the second cut that the IPE - (ironwood) naginata deformed in a pressure wave, and my wrist was sprained on the impact.
For this reason, the best way for us to practice live is to keep changing parameters, like cutting different wedges out of a circle the point of each just touching the center (the "center" being pure combat).
This ryu did not have, to my knowledge a sparring component at any time in its history, and yet, it was a very powerful school, and several of our previous instructors were well known as fighters. Murakami Hideo, for example, used to get on a stage with an array of weapons and take on anyone who took up the challenge in the Gekkiken Kogyo. These days, we definitely do break out techniques and pressure test them.
And furthermore, does anyone here imagine that hot-blooded young people (THBR had women in its school as well) did not test things on their own time? I know of several ryu that are “strictly” kata based – where, in private, the youngsters are testing things out, against each other or those of other local ryu. And as for shiai against other ryu? Entry vows in most ryu do not forbid taryu shiai. They simply say that one cannot engage in such until receiving a certain level menkyo – the idea being that if you are going to fight, don’t embarrass the ryu.
When I did taryu shiai and later reported to my instructor, he was pleased, when I “won” was pissed if I didn't (or even if I was "scored" upon) – but in discussions he focused very much on when I was struck/”cut” – which resulted in two kinds of R&D – either he taught me something to counter it or, on a number of occasions, he and I worked out that something in the kata didn’t work. So we changed it – we maintained the principles and core parameters of the school, and honed down any dross that made things dangerous or ineffective. I've continued this in the last 25 years of my own tenure.
Really, my whole point in my initial quoted statement is that what people usually refer to as kata in comments like Thornton’s dismissive statement that was quoted seem to misunderstand the full scope of what kata – at least in <live> ryu really is. I don't blame him for his perspective, based on most of what is publicly presented, fwiw. In other words, real kata includes liveness training, one way or another, even though what passes for kata in many koryu does not.
Last edited by Ellis Amdur; 5/23/2012 3:20pm at .
Thanks for the detailed explanation! If I put you in an awkward position, I apologize.
Last edited by DARPAChief; 5/23/2012 10:56pm at .
Not at all. I should have also emphasized that one of the most important aspects of kata training is pattern drill - a movement done often enough that it becomes a pseudo-instinct. (really a more elaborate form of uchi-komi). I've been having some conversations with police combatives experts who have emphasized the importance of pattern drill. (Of course, "live" training is requisite - but kata sometimes enables one to engrain a specific skill to a greater degree than in freestyle). Anyway, both are necessary. With just kata, one quickly gets an artifact, a "form," but with just freestyle, one can quickly devolve into sport. I like, therefore, a blend of both.
Sir, thank you for your elaborate response.