Lessons from the Budokan via Byakkokan Dojo
Now this is quite subjective for the most case with different teachers. Some like different aspects of what kata teaches and if anything reinforces that over other aspects. I feel like this depends on the teachers background and what other martial arts he has done. For myself, the thing that defines great kata to me, and I use this word a lot in class, is intent.
People can know all the technical aspects of kata (how high the point should be etc etc etc), but the kata can look empty. Some would say that this is more dance than fighting. However, with the proper intent, no matter what kata you do, it’ll have a purpose. The technical points will then become more than just step A and step B, but things that would have saved your life back in the day. Why do we cut certain heights, why do we aim where we aim. The thing I love about Japanese swordsmanship is that it’s so detail oriented. Little things from your placement of your thumb etc. At first all of it is a bit overwhelming but after awhile, it’s not as overwhelming because it just becomes muscle memory (if practiced properly!). All the movements have a purpose, so to me, a good kata will show me that without having to be explained.
How did I come to realize all this? Several ways, but one of the biggest ways was when I went to Japan for the first time and got to train with the Machida dojo members. Primarily with Mukai sensei. He tried to tell me all these things, but in Japanese was quite difficult. However it was very similar to what Dave Drawdy sensei would explain when teaching kata, so it kind of all came together. Gekken is also a huge factor because you realize what kind of intent is needed to make techniques work. But the teaching that made the big light come on for me was this one story.
There’s a story of tetsuzan kuroda sensei’s grandfather that Hasegawa san (one of the members in Hataya sensei’s dojo in Japan) told me about. It was way back in the budokan, Kuroda tetsuzan’s grandfather was giving a demonstration. Now kuroda sensei is extremely fast. His sword movements in kata are always extremely fast. However his grandfather started the demo and then drew his sword to cut very slowly, extremely slow. However his intent was so well understood, that the crowd seated his direction felt like they had to move out of the way of his cut even though they were so far away.
That to me, is what I call the ideal intent. With the proper intent, what comes along naturally with time is, poise and presence. I realized that’s what I lacked for the longest time and I feel like I still do (I’m a young guy so I like to be a bit uppity haha). And from proper poise and presence, people can learn from just watching it. And as a teacher, sometimes the best way to teach is to share your intent.
Master Sang Kim – US Batto Do Federation President