The Iwama-style of Aikido has a fairly simple six-count kata for the jo. So simple in basic form, beginners love it and are delighted to discover that these six moves are embedded in the same style’s 31-count jo kata—the six moves beginning at movement 13.
- Thrust to Uke’s center.
- Block above.
- Strike downward at Uke’s head from above.
- Slide back to your rear left corner, drawing the staff down behind you as if holding a broom.
- Step in and strike at Uke’s calf.
- Slide back to your rear right corner, flipping the staff to parry a thrust downward.
- And now you’re set to begin again with Step 1.
As in the last post, you might ask, “Is that all there is?” Naturally, you can find as much as you willing to search for.
Certainly the description above is very naive and not designed to teach you the kata; it’s just to show you six steps and nothing more. There can be incredible nuance to the movements: how to handle the weapon just so, your posture, your balance and shifting of weight, how to pivot and turn properly, and so forth. We can introduce an imaginary opponent, or an actual opponent, to give meaning and timing to the movements; or, even a solid object such as a tree to give the feel of striking a solid object versus striking air. The blocking movements evolve; they are not just blocks, but rather making contact with and guiding an incoming attack. The robotic, by-the-numbers “one-two-three” performance will smooth into continuous motion.
And, in time, conscious thought leaves the process. The body knows the movements. We can now perform the kata unconsciously, mindlessly, stringing one set of six movements after another until we wear ourselves out. But this is not necessarily meditation yet. Where is the mind while the body performs this kata ritual?
Let’s consider this same kata differently:
- See an opening at Uke’s side; thrust through it.
- See Uke’s head is unprotected; cut downward at it.
- See Uke’s leg is in range; do a sweeping strike at it.
Center. High. Low. Center. High. Low. Center. High. Low. … Consciously identify the targets and, without hesitation, take them. The evasions, blocking, parrying, and so forth? You transition through them on the way to your targets. Launch the attacks like releasing an arrow: your body knows how to perform the strike; your mind does not have to follow it to the destination. Launch the attack and reset your mind, coming back to center, ready for the next target.
Practicing in this way, remaining conscious and aware of Uke and our other circumstances, we work on integrating the mind and the body. Sense the opening and take it. Sense the danger and evade it. Continue with your mission; move toward your intent.
Commit the individual basic methods of striking, blocking, parrying, to “muscle memory,” yes, but learn how to transition smoothly between them. From this position, how can I find that target? This begins to develop “fluency” with the weapon. In time, improvisation appears and is no longer considered an “error” in performing a kata’s form.
Kata is no longer a rote practice, but is alive.
Now it is a true martial practice. Now it is a Zen practice as well.