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A Common Sense Look At Aikido

by Yoshio Kuroiwa

Aiki News #66 (February 1985)

Since there are no matches in Aikido we should give careful thought to the nature of our practice. The spiritual side of practice is also important, but if we overemphasize it our training becomes idealistic in nature and the realistic aspect is neglected. “Kata” (form) and “waza” (technique) must be correctly recognized in practice.

Yoshio Kuroiwa Sensei

Kata to Waza

Kata should be practiced according to a certain order or prearranged method which is based on a rational relationship (riai). Thus, we are not falling because we are being thrown but rather we are practicing a kata designed for us to be thrown. When we master a rational movement (kata), it is expressed as a natural movement (waza). That is, if you become able to execute a kata spontaneously as a result of repeated practice, you are no longer performing a kata but are executing a waza. We learn through kata and become unconscious of the fact. In other words, as long as movements require our attention they are kata, when the kata become spontaneous they become waza.

We first practice basic kata (kihon waza, basic techniques) to learn the movements of Aikido. The basics are the standards (the way of seeing and thinking) and a common sense perspective for correctly observing things. We must understand the essence of kata, not their outer appearance.

For example, in a puzzle involving interlocking wooden pieces, one knows the placement (stability) of each piece by understanding its form and nature. In the same way, we can express kata which are common to all people by showing the basic common parts of the structure of the human body (for example, points like the elbows bend only inward) and we should use these basic parts rationally. It may seem exaggerated to use the terms “rational” or “logical” but these concepts are just a matter of common sense and need no explanation.

As long as we persist in viewing kata superficially, we will begin to think that they are of special importance. One cannot systematically or rationally explain any kata merely by learning in a repetitive manner without an understanding of why certain kata are considered to be basic. What we acquire by learning only repetitively is the preservation of form (the transmission of external form) and not the ability to create (understanding of the essence of kata). In other words, one does not understand what he is doing.

Basics are not something to be practiced but to be understood. What they demonstrate are the mechanics of how to unbalance an opponent and create an opportunity for the application of a technique. If you misunderstand this to mean leading and guiding it will give rise to the belief that one can lead his opponent circularly. This happens because one is unaware that leading a partner circularly implies separation and doesn’t notice that practice is an expression of yin and the use of power in Aiki involves pushing.

Kata: A Training Tool

In training we practice many techniques but they are all variations of a single stance. Therefore, ikkyo, shihonage and other techniques are the same. The reason they appear different is only because their outer appearance is seen. Kata are the expression of a number of variations through movements from a single stance and are nothing more than a tool for training the body to move freely. The idea that one is all and all are one is not just a spiritual matter. It is true for our bodies as well.

It is not that there is a different method depending on the technique, for example, saying that ikkyo is practiced in one way and such and such a technique in another way. They are all manifestations of a single movement. That is to say, we practice various kata in order to understand an original single movement. It is not that ikkyo and shihonage are of value as basic techniques. We practice them only as a convenient means to understand the yin and yang of a (fundamental) stance.

Aikido practice is a yin practice. Using Judo as an example, it is like partner practice rather than randori (free practice). Yin practice represents primarily an agreed-upon practice sequence. Thus, the changeover in training from the reception of the attack to the application of the technique is only possible where a difference in ability exists. When the ability of one’s opponent is superior this is not possible. This is a key point in practice.

Waza (natural movement) are expressed according to one’s level and their substance (techniques) is manifested differently each time. This is because what one naturally possesses (one’s ability as brought out through repeated practice) is expressed through certain relations (forms).

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