The time has come to prepare for the 2012 NKR shinsa (kendo exams). As we already mentioned, the exam consists of four parts:
- Gakka (written test)
Many things have already been said about kirikaeshi and jitsugi, so let’s spend a little more time preparing for the kata exam!
In his 2012 book “Kendo Coaching: tips and drills”, George McCall writes on the subject of kata:
If we look at the word KATA in Japanese, its usually rendered as 形. However, the actual proper usage is 型. Both read the same, but what’s the difference? The former simply means “shape” or “form.” It describes the form that something is in, what it looks like. The second kanji, on the other hand, is the thing that is used to create items of the same shape, in other words, a cookie cutter like device.
Kendo-no-kata can therefore be thought of as a kendo shaped cookie cutter and the students who practice it cookies (hopefully kendo shaped). Although non-Japanese readers might not be interested in the difference, I think that one of the main purposes of kata study is revealed: i.e. kata training was/is traditionally thought of as one of the main vehicles to teach people correct kendo.
Kendo kata help us study proper posture, maai as well as seme. By practicing sword fighting in a simulated and choreographed fashion we can focus completely on the intricacies of our body, of our movements and of the connection with our opponent. We also learn to judge distance, which helps us in our kendo.
Also, while kendo is an abstraction of true sword fighting, the kendo kata approach “real” fighting closer. Both the techniques used, as well as our bokken help us understand the more serious side of our art which entails life or death situations. They’re no kenjutsu of course, but the kata are absolutely a useful tool in understanding and learning kendo.
Some suggest there is also a spiritual side to kendo kata. In Inoue-sensei’s “Kendo Kata: essence and application” it is said that kata #1 through #3 show the progression of a kenshi in his studies. While at first he will win a fight by outright killing his opponent, he will then move on to win by only dismembering. Finally the kenshi will grow so far that he does not have to strike at all, winning by pure seme (kata #3). The UK kendo foundation has some further reading on this subject.
Students first learning about kendo kata are advised to first observe a number of videos. The web is rife with kata videos, so we’ve taken the time to choose a number of good ones.
First up, there is a series of classic AJKF training videos (in Japanese). They are a bit dated, but they go over each kata in exquisite detail by filming from various angles and by zooming in on important parts. They also show examples of what not to do. Below are the first four kata, the other videos can be found under the YouTube account that posted these videos.
Another excellent video was made by Kendo World at the 2012 keiko-kai. While it only shows each kata once or twice, the demonstration is still very impressive.
Should you be inclined to deeply study each kata in written form, then we heartily recommend Stephen Quinlan’s “Nihon Kendo no Kata & Kihon Bokuto Waza”. In this excellent and thorough document (free PDF) mr Quinlan analyzes each kata, which is accompanied by many photographs.