Monday, October 11, 2010


This issue's quote; "Train hard. Fight easier. No fight is easy." Clint Smith

By Steve Scott

A number of years ago, someone asked me how often we did kata in my club. I told him "every time we work out" and I meant it. You and I both know that he meant one of the standardized kata of Kodokan Judo...Nage no Kata, Ju no Kata and so on. But I was entirely serious when I told him that we did, indeed, do kata every workout (and still do). The person who asked the question views kata in the light tht it's a series of movements that resemble more of a performance that a training exercise. Obviously, we were talking about two different approaches to the purpose of kata. I suppose it all depends on how one looks at "kata" and how it's used in training. I tend to view kata as a method of training effeciently.

Kata is structured training. The word means" form" or "shape" and the context for which it is used definitely implies that "structure" is the core of its meaning; and the use of it when discussing the teaching or practice of judo (or anything else for that matter) directly indicates that there has to be structure to any training program, workout, practice or class.

Kata, for about 50 years, has been thought of (and practiced) as a pre-arranged performance in judo and not the vital training methodoligy that it was inteded to be. It's a fari question to ask me; "So you're tuned in to what Jigoro Kano was thinking? Who are you to say this?" Actually, when doing more research for my upcoming book on judo, I found a lot of information that leads me to believe that Prof. Kano (among other early leaders of the judo movement) used kata to infuse structure into their dailing training programs. Kata was used by Kano to make sure that his early students at the Kodokan learned the skills of judo and didn't simply randori all the time. Kano developed the two kata known as the "Randori no Kata;" Nage no Kata (form of throwing) and Katame no Kata (form of grappling) to specifically provide structured training for his students at the Kodokan in its early days. Initially, the training at the early Kodokan consisted of a lot of randori. Prof. Kano was an adherent of the Kito-ry school of jujutsu and they used "ran o toru" (a phrase meaning "freedom of action") which Kano modified and became "randori." Randori mad eup the bulk of the training at the early Kodokan and Jigoro kano was concerned that his students were not sufficiently skilled in the technical aspects of jujutsu (soon to be called Kodokan Judo by most people). Practices at the Kodokan were rough and tumble; people were getting seriously hurt, but most importantly, Kano didn't want his Kodokan Judo te be just another form of rough-house jujutsu. He wanted his pupils to be skilled. Drawing on his formal training as an educator, Kano took the old concept of "kata" and added a new aspect to it. No long was kata only to be used as the primary way of tranmitting techniuqes from one generation to the next (as used in the old jujutsu schools of Japan), kata was to be used to give a structured, disciplined opportunity for training to augment the randori he was using.

In essence, Jigoro Kano developed the concepts of using a three-pronged approach to the overall development of his students; kata (structured training), randori (free practice) and shiai (testing of one's skills). This concept of kata, randori and shiai was innovative at the time, and continues to be used to this day. This is why I can honestly say that we practice kata every time we work out. If you look at it, kata, randori and shiai are used in every form of physical education and sport. In my upcoming book (as well as in COACHING ON THE MAT), I use the example of a football team using kata, randoir and shiai. The coach runs his players through their drills (skill drills where they learn their plays, as well as fitness drills and drills to increas the team's tactical application of the game-the situratinoal drills) during the week (this is the kata). As the team makes progress, the coach has them scrimmage to allow the football players a chance to execute their skills in a more realistic, game-like situations (this is the randori). On game day, the team plays another team in a real game, and this is their shiai. So, the concept of kata, randori and shiai are all part of a total appraoch to development.

By relegating kata to the stiff, regimented performance that it has become is to do it a dis-service. Kata is the structure that allows us to retain the skills of the past, practice safely and in an orderly, structured way and provides a framework that enables every judoka an atmosphere to learn.
Here's a photo showing kata during a workout at John Saylor's training camp. It may not look like the "kata" people are comfortable with, but it's a kata in every sense of the word nonetheless.