Kata is a set of pre-arranged forms (rational movement, forms) used as a training tool in many traditional Japanese martial arts. The kata is a logical pattern of time-tested movements that carry the secrets of learning an art. Through practicing the kata, we become adept at it, and once the kata movements can be done spontaneously and effectively, it becomes waza (natural movement, art/technique). But the kata is not waza.
In mathematical formulas,we all know that the formula will get us to the right answer, but first we have to get 3 things correctly:
(1) we have to know what formula to use,
(2) we have to know the correct formula, and
(3) we have to know how to apply the formula to different problems that that particular formula is intended for.
In Aikido, the kata is the formula- the tool we use to get the answer, and the answer becomes (Aikido) waza-the spontaneous, appropriate, logical expression or applicattion of the kata. The kata demonstrates the technical mechanics of the techniques, revealing the points for atemi, kuzushi and tsukuri which are needed for the effortless application of the technique, should the circumstances require.
Therefore, it is my belief that Aikido uses the different kata in its teaching system otherwise we wouldn’t have a system at all. The basic movements, as I understand, are kata designed for the partnered training of tori and uke. They are pre-arranged, with a pre-arranged result. And the key to learning Aikido is to discover the rational meaning and connections within the movement of the kata for it to be martially applicable in an actual martial encounter.
Aikido training therefore, is immersing yourself with the forms, for the purpose of slowly unfolding its mysteries until the waza is unveiled within you.
I have noticed that there are Aikido dojos that do not even consider that there is a kata, and they think that the kata is the waza. The kata is just the tip of the iceberg. The mysteries are still hidden underneath. If you practice Aikido in such a way that that you think memorizing the kata will make you martially proficient, I suggest you start thinking very hard about the system you use to understand Aikido.
If we are going to look back at those who came before us, and look at how they did their techniques, although it may look the same, they are not. No Aikido waza is the same. There have been adjustments within the kata to compensate for the speed of the attack, the size of the attacker, maai-their position relative to each other, the changes in rhythm and timing of the attack, the environment, among others. These minute details have all been considered for them to have done their waza properly.
Today, we see the instructors perform the kata in Aikido classes especially to train beginners. In demonstrations however, during randori, we see them performing their waza.
In my understanding, Aikido has both visible and invisible qualities. These are trained through memorizing the kata (Shu), then questioning kata (Ha), then understanding the kata and performing waza (Ri). (See: “Shu-Ha-Ri: The Road to Mastery).
On this note:
If a person finds that his techniques does not work, he is in Shu. The reason it doesn’t work is because he does not understand how it works.
To use the analogy above, Aikido is the answer. Don’t blame Aikido if you do not understand the question, or if you do not know the formula, or if you do not know how to apply the formula to different problems. Another analogy would be: Aikido is like a pen: don’t blame the pen for your bad handwriting.
The basic forms (kata) are there not to be practiced and taken as everything Aikido is all about as a martial art. It is there to be used as tools for the Aikidoka to understand how to perform the different waza and is not the end in and of itself. The kata is the beginning from which our knowledge of Aikido can spring from, as such, it is vital, but it is not the goal. For each waza (natural movement) there is a kata (rational movement), but the kata is not always the waza. And the difference between the two is Aiki.
How about you? How did you find your own Aikido? Please share your thoughts.