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Learning judo kata for shodan

This weekend I'm going to be working with some of the Unionites on kata in preparation for shodan.  It is going to be either Goshin Jutsu or Nage no Kata - I'm not sure which because there was some clamoring for both of them. Traditionally, folks do Nagenokata for shodan, but I don't mind them substituting Goshin Jutsu if that is more up their alley.
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Anyway, switching from an uchikomi/randori/shiai training mode to a more co-operative kata mode just before shodan freaks a lot of people out.  So here are some hints that might soothe some of the Union judo beasts before I get up there...
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Much of the frustration with learning kata comes from our desire to look like the World Champion or the 10th dan that we see on the example video.   We think that in order to say we have “learned” the kata, we have to be able to do it like the old dead guys.  This is dumb, because…
  • The folks you see on the videos have done those kata FOR YEARS longer than you.  When you have done the kata as long as them, maybe you will have a basis for comparing your kata to theirs.
  • Why should a shodan’s kata have to look like the World Champion’s kata in order for him to be good enough for shodan?
  • Believe it or not, you are a different person with a different body and different upbringing living in a different society with different needs than the Japanese 10th dan that you saw on the 1950’s B&W video.  Your kata will teach you different things than it taught them because your NEEDS are different.

So, what should our kata be like in order to be good judo and good kata (or good enough for shodan)?
  • For one thing,  you do not have to know the whole kata at shodan. Traditionally in the Kodokan, the first 3 of 5 sets (9 techniques) of Nagenokata were considered sufficient for shodan. So don't fret over the sacrifices.
  • The kata is a form, or format - like an outline of ideas to demonstrate.  For shodan, you are to demonstrate three specific hand throws in a certain order, three specific foot throws, and three more specific hip throws.  The kata has to be recognisable - you can’t just do any nine things in whatever order you like.  This is because there is, embedded within the format and order and technique selection, some ideas about strategy.  These strategic hints can become garbled if you rearrange or replace the techniques.
  • The kata, as you demonstrate should be a reasonable vehicle for self-improvement.  The folks watching the kata should be able to agree that this is a set of exercises that you can use to improve your skills.  It should give you ideas about which techniques or groups of techniques you are better at and which ones could be improved upon.
  • The kata should be a reasonable vehicle for mutual-benefit.  Both tori and uke should be able to learn and improve using this exercise.  Uke is an active participant rather than a throwing dummy.  Even the audience should be able to gain something from watching you do this exercise.
  • The techniques of the kata should illustrate the ideal of maximally efficient use of the power you have.  If this thing is to be required at shodan (relative beginner level) then it should not take extraordinary power or skill that you have not had time to develop.  This means that a small woman (with a couple of years of training) should be capable of expressing and demonstrating the ideas in this kata just as well as a 200 pound male (with a couple of years of training).

Within this framework, There is a lot of leeway for you to express the kata your way, as only you can.  There are some gray areas for you to work through with your sensei...

  • Do you have to do all techniques on both sides or can you do the kata one-sided? Or might you even have one partner demonstrate a technique and then switch roles and the other partner demonstrates the same technique (like I-Do-You-Do)?
  • How close to the standard form (like the iron cross kataguruma) do you have to be?
  • How rigorous do you have to be on the Japanese cultural elements of the thing (like all the crazy crawling around on katame no kata?


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Patrick Parker
www.mokurendojo.com