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03-19-2012, 10:59 AM

photo: jion (http://www.flickr.com/photos/elsueniero/623882169) by elsueniero/Juan Batman
Kata is necessary for learning the correct techniques of throwing and grappling. Especially important are the taisabaki, kuzushi, tsukuri, kake, and riai.
Shokichi Natsui, in Judo Formal Techniques
Because they are dangerous if used in free practice, atemiwaza are practiced only in controlled model techniques, what are called kata.
Isao Inokuma and Nobuyuki Sato, Best Judo
Ten chief purposes of kata:
To afford a basic training method for judo
To develop representative basic judo techniques
To ensure harmonious technical development and a wide range of judo techniques
To ensure a harmoniously developed body
To improve mental control
To display the mechanics and spirit of judo by exhibition
To promote the development of the judo spirit
To ensure the development of self-defence principles and values
To provide a suitable kind of judo practice for all
To ensure the preservation of the traditional symbolic values of judoTadao Otaki and Donn F Draeger, Judo Formal Techniques
Kiai is not well understood by Westerners; you may even think of it only as the shout that is emitted by a judoist when he executes a technique. This is an extremely narrow meaning. There is no single word in the English language which is precise enough to explain what kiai is. But for your purposes you may think of it as an aura of controllable, plastic nervous energy that can be made to "flow" physically, as it is perceived by the mind. It is essential that you witness kiai as generated by an expert kata instructor so that you may come to understand the spirit of kata.
Tadao Otaki and Donn F Draeger, Judo Formal Techniques
Uke's role is to attack with vigour and conviction, not anticipating Tori's movements.
J C Heppenstall, Nage no Kata and Katame no Kata
Kata is the aesthetic, ballet-like exercise composed of serial patterns.
Gosei Yamaguchi Sensei, The Fundamentals of Goju-Ryu Karate
In practicing a kata, the following points are important:
Correct sequence: The movements themselves are predetermined as is their sequence. No deviation is allowed from this.
Embusen: This refers to a prearranged line of movement. The performer of the kata must follow this floor plan if the kata is to be done correctly.
Correct understanding: Each movement in the kata, whether offensive or defensive, has a meaning. The performer must show that he understands the rationale of each through his performance.
Application: As each move has a meaning, one must learn all the possibilities from each position. This is the hidden meaning of the form and is not readily understandable to the casual observer.
Rhythm: The rhythm of fighting is varied; sometimes it is fast, sometimes slow. Techniques are grouped, punctuated by pauses, continued, and combined. Thus, the rhythm of kata must follow that of actual combat. Each kata has its own particular rhythm that the performer must master in order to demonstrate its relationship to combat. Rhythm includes timing, focus, and smooth flexible movement.
Breathing: The conclusion of each movement usually coincides with exhalation, while the prepatory positions and movements are ones during which the performer inhales. Knowing how to do this is an important part of the kata. One must also give a kiai, or shout, and tense at the correct moment in each kata. In most, there are two moves that call for a kiai.
Correct positioning of the body parts: This is especially important in the case of hand techniques, as a little variation in the position may render the form incorrect. Robin T Rielly, Complete Shotokan Karate
Kata: the "form" of Budo. Every martial art - judo, kendo, aikido, etc. - has its own forms, actions, procedure. Beginners must learn the kata and assimilate and use them. Later, they begin to create out of them, in the way specific to each art.
Taisen Deshimaru, The Zen Way to the Martial Arts


Kata 形 or katachi in Japanese means shape or pattern or form. In Japanese they say everything starts from the form (katachi). Kata in budo - Japanese martial arts - are stylized forms. Kata are usually chains of individual techniques - waza 技.

Japanese martial arts can be divided into kobudo - traditional martial arts - and gendai budo - modern martial arts.


There are many styles and schools - ryuha - of kobudo. Probably the most well-known are jujutsu and kenjutsu. Kata are one of the main training methods in kobudo. In kenjutsu for example kata are done in pairs. The teacher or senior partner is usually the attacker who eventually loses the stylized encounter, the uchidachi or ukedachi. This is equivalent to the uke or attacker in aikido. The student or junior partner takes the role of the winner, the shidachi. This is equivalent to the tori in aikido who executes the technique. Different ryuha might use different terms.

Gendai Budo

Unlike kobudo which use kata as the main training method many gendai budo include kata as just one element of training. The techniques are strung together in a logical order for study. In judo and karate a single kata can take several minutes to complete.


For example judo training is made up of preparation training like uchikomi - practice movements - and nagekomi - practice throws, randori - informal competitive training, shiai - matches - and kata - stylized forms. In recent years judoka who are interested in kata can also participate in kata competitions. But I think it is fair to say that kata training in judo is not emphasized at junior grades. Young judoka especially tend to concentrate on randori and shiai.

Nearly all judo kata are done with a partner. The techniques in judo kata are mostly representative techniques chosen for specific reasons. In the Nage no Kata - kata of throwing techniques - techniques are practiced from both sides, left and right. This is important because judo is usually only practiced from one side.

Kenji Tomiki Sensei a senior aikido and judo teacher was involved in the formulation of the judo kata for self-defence, the Kodokan Goshinjutsu no Kata. One of the principles of this kata is that the ma ai or critical distance is a little wider than the grappling distance of most judo techniques. So it was influenced by jujutsu and aikido.


Karate training is made up of preparation training and basic movements, kumite - informal competitive training, shiai and kata. But in contrast to judo, in karate kata is perhaps the most important element even for young karateka.

Kata in karate are normally done solo. The attacker or attackers are imagined. In bunkai - breakdown or analysis - a kata is done in an applied version with a real attacker so the kata becomes a pair kata.

Kata Training

Kata require precision, rigour, complete concentration and awareness. When you are doing a kata you have to find its true rhythm. And you have to tell a story. So that people watching can feel the real meaning of the kata and feel a satisfaction when it ends. Just as if they had been listening to a good story. With a great ending.

To be able to tell a story you have to find the story. Kata seem very detailed and complex at first. The first stage is memorizing. Then gradually you move from remembering to understanding. Then you are ready to tell the story. In karate and recently in judo there are kata competitions. Competitors are judged on various technical and mental and spiritual aspects.


So how does kata relate to aikido? There are no specific kata in most styles of aikido although there are weapons kata: bokken - sword - and jo - staff - in some styles. Some people call all the techniques of aikido kata. But the freedom of techniques in aikido seems to be far from the precision of formal kata. Karate kata for example are very detailed. The feet and toes have to be in certain positions, the hands have to be in the right places, and the hips have to be at the correct height. Some styles or some dojos emphasize uniformity. I have seen choreographed aikido demonstrations with everyone doing techniques at the same time like synchronized swimmers. But that is rare and unrealistic and most aikido is rather free. Techniques change depending on thousands of factors. Things like the experience of the uke and the tori, their body sizes, the energy of the attack. Or what their teacher has tried to emphasize for that lesson or what they themselves are trying to understand in their training at that moment.

Aikido does not have the external rigour of kata. That could be a weak point. If our training is careless or unfocused. But it is also a strong point if we train with our own internal rigour.

So although aikido does not have the precision and detail of formal kata we can still think of it as kata. Kata but free and open.


Background Articles

kata http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kata

judo kata http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Judo_kata#Kata_.28forms.29

karate kata http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Karate_kata

bunkai http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bunkai

kendo kata http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kendo#Kata

kenjutsu http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kenjutsu

iaido http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Iaido

article on koryu.com: uchidachi and shidachi http://www.koryu.com/library/tnishioka1.html#f2

my blog on aikiweb (http://www.aikiweb.com/blogs/moon-in-the-water-19051/) | my blog on wordpress (http://mooninthewater.net/aikido/)

niall matthews 2012

Niall Matthews lives with his family in Japan. He teaches aikibudo and community self-defence courses and has taught budo for twenty-five years. He was the senior deshi of Kinjo Asoh Sensei, 7 dan Aikikai. He was the exclusive uke of Sadateru Arikawa Sensei, 9 dan Aikikai, at the hombu dojo in Tokyo for thirteen years until Arikawa Sensei's death in 2003. He has trained in several other martial arts to complement his aikido training, including judo (he has 4 dan from the Kodokan in Tokyo), kenjutsu (for about ten years) and karate (for about three years). He originally went to Japan as a staff member of the EU almost thirty years ago. He received 5 dan from Arikawa Sensei in 1995. This 5 dan is the last aikido dan he will receive in his life. His dojo is called Aikibudo Kokkijuku 合気武道克輝塾. Arikawa Sensei personally gave him the character for ki in kokki. It is the same character as teru in Sadateru - not the normal spelling of kokki 克己. It means you make your life shining and clear yourself.

03-19-2012, 12:59 PM
In Tomiki's aikido (JAA - Japan Aikido Association) we have :
Randori no kata omote waza and ura waza (the techniques for randori)
Koryu no kata from dai ichi to dai roku. Six series of waza basically with a prewar origin.
Every kata has some "didactic" element.

There are also other groups of techniques, but they are not considered as kata.


03-19-2012, 04:48 PM
having trained in TKD, and some Karate and Judo in the past, i always thought Aikido didnt have katas aside from the weapon katas, but that (for reasons described above) it'd be great if it did...

in iwama style, the techniques from static positions are explained as being just that--techniques from static positions.

It sounds like the conceptualization here is that these techniques-from-static-positions can be thought of as katas?

is that another way of explaining the difference between kihon and ki no nagare? --that kihon waza is kata pratice while ki no nagare is the "free movement" kata described above?
but if so, why still call it kata?

is it just another way to say the same thing, or do i have it wrong?

p.s. lately, im starting to feel like what ive learned in iwama style makes it confusing sometimes to hear/see/read what others do and think ... back to the drawing board

Janet Rosen
03-19-2012, 05:22 PM
I actually believe that most aikido dojo, even under the Aikikai umbrella, do have kata but don't call it that: For a given attack/technique combination there is an idealized form for both nage and uke, which may be very different from dojo to dojo, but can actually be demonstrated.

Depending on the dojo, it might or might not include specified places to include atemi or where it expected certain balance-taking will occur.

Folks often focus on learning the idealized form for nage. It was suggested early on in my training that I also focus on learning the idealized form for uke because it makes it easier to work w/ newbies with less "mouth waza" by encouraging them to stay with me as I move.

03-19-2012, 05:46 PM
Lovely article and much to ruminate on

I rather like the idea of aikido techniques being kata, it helps uke understand their role better as well as addressing the idea of co-operative based training that can then be advanced to have more contention in it. Nishioka sensei of SMR addresses it nicely in his article Uchidachi & Shidachi
http://www.koryu.com/library/tnishioka1.htm (http://www.koryu.com/library/tnishioka1.html)

In my own school aikido yuishinkai there is a lot of precision at the kotai (static stage) and see the same in quite a few other schools as well.

The trap is thinking that aikido is just these kata and we can become trapped in it, rather than set free by it. Seeing aikido techniques as Kata then enables us to see specific examples of 'aiki', rather than being definitive 'aiki' and the spontaneity of the uke-nage dynamic

Janet Rosen
03-19-2012, 06:47 PM
The trap is thinking that aikido is just these kata and we can become trapped in it, rather than set free by it. Seeing aikido techniques as Kata then enables us to see specific examples of 'aiki', rather than being definitive 'aiki' and the spontaneity of the uke-nage dynamic

Agreed 100% :)

graham christian
03-23-2012, 10:19 PM
I would say in my Aikido that the solo and paired Aikitaiso are our kata. I would include kokyudosa.

Nice column once again Niall.


04-21-2012, 03:04 AM
Thanks for the comments.

Eddy Wolput's explanation of kata in Tomiki aikido/JAA was very interesting. So the pedagogical model seems very similar to judo. Which is not surprising because of Kenji Tomiki sensei's background in judo. Some judo teachers even recommend that kata practice should be a certain minimum percentage of practice time.

04-21-2012, 02:52 PM
Dear Niall,
Sorry to say I disagree with your last couple of statements about Aikido kata.I think any Kata has to be done in strict form be it in Judo , Karate or whatever with attention to detail.You cannot approach any Kata with a carefree attitude ,or think anything goes.Since Kata contains within its structure basic core principles [in Judo Nage No Kata teaches throwing waza, Kime No Kata , self defence, Ne Waza -Groundwork, Kojiki No Kata, formal Kata , representing armoured men, utilising spacial awareness] Karate has many and varied Kata depending on style ie Goju, Shotokai , Shotokan, Wado Ryu etc.Each style has its own blend of Katas .As far a rigorous application in Aikido kata is concerned the level of intensity can vary..The rhythm can be slow, or a fast , gentle or as powerful as required by the student..It depends on what the objective is.In Aikiken with solo or partner practice one can use all of the above. Batto Ho also can be done with variations in speed, focus etc. Hope you are well, Cheers, Joe.

04-22-2012, 10:12 AM
Thanks Joe. I agree with you that kata should always be done seriously. All training in fact! The word for seriousness in Japanese is shinken - live blade.

Speaking of which you brought up a new element. Batto ho - techniques for drawing a sword. Do you do that within aikido? I have done some batto jutsu myself but outside (a Scottish friend used to say without) aikido.

I'm doing great, thanks Joe, and I hope you are well too. Cheers,


Eva Antonia
04-23-2012, 05:43 AM

from a not-so-far advanced aikido student and a complete karate beginner's point of view, katas are DIFFICULT.
As a beginner you do not understand what the moves are good for if there is no second person against whom you are defending yourself. You just helplessly try to adjust your movements a bit more to the right, left, turn in an angle of 270 instead of 240, but you don't have a clue what that's good for until you do it with a partner.

We have the 31 kata in aikido, and in our dojo we also do an adaptation in 21 steps. After 5 years of aikido I did the 31 first time with a partner, and it was only then that I got a bit of understanding how exactly I should perform these moves. Last Friday I did (in karate) Heian Shodan for the first time with a partner, and again this helped greatly for understanding what is really the point of these movements.

Obviously the teachers tell us that all kata movements are meant as a defence against some attacks, but until one sees and experiences it, this remains purely theoretical. Then you would need a partner who knows all the attacks necessary for the partnered kata...

I don't write all this in order to say, no, please let's don't do kata in aikido, but I think IF we do them, then our learning would greatly be enhanced by doing them not only alone, but from time to time also with a partner. And this is, in my experience, often not systematically done.

All the best,


04-23-2012, 05:54 AM
It was my understanding that all kata in Aikido are paired.

Kevin Leavitt
04-23-2012, 05:56 AM
Aikido does not have the external rigour of kata. That could be a weak point. If our training is careless or unfocused. But it is also a strong point if we train with our own internal rigour.

Nice synopsis and research! thanks!

I agree. BJJ follows the same basic thought pattern as Aikido as it relates to kata. I believe we have kata in both, however as you state, it does not follow the strictness and precision that we see in other arts. I think this is a strength as long as you set the conditions in the dojo to reinforce "correctness" and "accountability".

Judo seems to do a good job of both, but I tend to like the "looseness" of both aikido and bjj to explore the edges of the dynamic relationship.

04-23-2012, 08:02 AM
Obviously the teachers tell us that all kata movements are meant as a defence against some attacks, but until one sees and experiences it, this remains purely theoretical. Then you would need a partner who knows all the attacks necessary for the partnered kata...

Hi Eva,

I don't think that this is exactly true. Remember that there is partner practice in karate -- it's just not how kata are done. Experience in kumite gives you all that you really need to "see" the application of the kata, if you're having trouble imagining it.

04-23-2012, 08:29 AM
I can see some lack of knowledge. The previous writer is correct. There is more than imagine an opponent in the air. It is an spiritual practices where you find your true self. You work on speed, reaction to movement, power, etc. To reenforce this you have our regular bunka (application of the movement). This also complemented with kumite.
Kata is not an empty movement.