On Kata

Oct 24, 2012

There sure is alot of discussion about ‘form.’ It seems that this discussion is really centered around the varying training methods of instructors in the Bujinkan Dojo. I really don’t see instructors from the Jinenkan or the Genbukan jumping into the ring on this debate.

These discussions about the limitless ways of no-form, the need for form, the burden of too much form, the breaking of form, the sticking to form, rigid form, loose form, no form …. If you’ve been around these arts for some time then you know precisely what I’m writing about.

While you’ll most likely understand my perspective, it’s up to you to agree or disagree. It’s only my perspective, but one that I’ll back with solid fact and experience.

A few paragraphs in, I’ll share some content from my own notes on a form that’s currently being discussed online. I hope to demonstrate that without the appropriate understanding of the precise movement, strategic comprehension, effective application and honest result to the opponent, one is just wasting time. As well, immature comprehension of true form compromises the well being of your training partner, a critical link to your own growth. Immature comprehension also compromises the practitioner’s well being.

A few easy examples are improper tracking of the knees and hyper extension of joints, both being prevented by establishing correct muscle memory and dexterity. Watch YouTube and you’ll see that these absolutely fundamental kinetics are completely ignored by the great majority of anointed instructors. Immature and a result of not training correctly.

The promotion of non-compromise in fundamental form and accurate conditioning of muscle memory, kinetics, physiology, stamina, longevity and intellectual growth must be manifested in the basic training of their martial art. This training can only be done through rigorous repetition of fine motor skill and academic reflection of the purpose, cause and effect of a technique. It’s how I struggle to train and I would argue that every basic military training program in the world would agree.

It needs to be understood that it’s just impossible to “break away” from any model you’ve never truly learned, yet it’s easy to disguise the inability to perform it by simply stating, ‘The reason I don’t do the form is because our goal is to break from it.’ Nonsense and for anyone to accept that is absurd or just a testament to their lack of understanding. 

The day the US Marine Corps tells their recruits to break from form on the firing range, to move ‘freely’ and use their firearm ‘naturally’, is the day I accept the ‘breaking from form’ (too soon) diatribe that so many self proclaimed masters post online. It’s a poor excuse for a lack of willingness to train their ass off until they get their technique and health where it should be as a leader. It’s also an offense to those committed enough to getting it right.

Correct form is a laboratory for the practitioner to drill relentlessly the principles of a specific model of combat, thus providing the student with a path to heightened and measurable levels of strategy and tactics within this model. They can do it over and over again with metrics and witness to progress and failure, meanwhile building their skill set and strength.

Bringing some validation to my point, I’ll use Kokū from the Gyokko Ryū Kosshijutsu.
This is the first kata from a tradition that has great depth in complexity of combat, history and esoterics.

As I write this, it’s being discussed by another instructor, one who I respect greatly and hold zero dispute with his writing. His credentials out gun the great majority of his colleagues. I have and would again proudly wear a white belt under his tutelage. He’s the model white guy under Hatsumi Soke, a true fighter. That said, my points are far different from his, but openly support and have learned from what he’s teaching in his work. My points are to support the fact that childlishly dancing through the forms and showing off, before basics of the ryū-ha are engrained and an absolute holistic comprehension of the individual kata are in place – will be dangerous. This fact is wickedly clear with Gyokko Ryū and if it isn’t, you are doing it wrong.

I can only speak on behalf of ‘how’ my teacher, Manaka Unsui has taught me. It is simply my way of training (which is most likely wrong) and I don’t wish to pretend that I know a fraction of his knowledge. When he teaches, he regularly states that he is teaching precisely how he was taught by his teacher, Hatsumi Soke. It would seem that through the countless discussions I have had with my teacher, that his goal is to preserve exactly how he was taught before the widow to the west was opened. During the time when his teacher’s teacher was still alive.

On the kata. A principle characteristic of the Gyokko Ryū form is discovered in the generation of rotational weight extending from tanden. This alone is a characteristic that I rarely have heard openly taught. It’s everything though! Initiation to the first kata (Kokū) demands a strong skill set of the moto gata, taihenjutsu kihon gata and torite kihon gata combined with a complete understanding of the characteristic uniqueness to this ryū-ha. With the fundamentals in place, it’s obvious to see why this is a foundational kata in this lineage.

We can rationalize all day long about the metaphysics within Kokū, translating the name in so many ways, but at the end of the day if you don’t understand what you’re hitting and how to generate the most effective and efficient means of accomplishing the goal of the form, you really have no place talking about emptiness of space and vortex of cosmic energy that you create with your manifested chi.

Your ability to move from tanden and generate rotational weight can be very basically compared to that of a bicycle. There is a science behind the balance, weight distribution of the rider and momentum created in a pedal stroke, sweep and pull. I don’t want to get too into it, but as the bike rolls, the wheels get heavier due to centrifugal force. Weight extends outward on the wheel as it goes faster.

In regard to the kosshijutsu, your ability to generate this propulsion of outward energy through correct core movement is absolutely foundational. Failure to get this one point, unique from the other ryū-ha, is failure to understand your budo. Your receiving techniques should be like metal whips, penetrating into the nerve centers, small organs and meridian flow of the opponent. Your footwork should be contained in small, dynamic circular patterns and your body should float through the air like an enraged monkey protecting it’s family from a pack of hyenas. Every strike should be like a needle, penetrating the target with the least amount of exposed surface area of your strike.

Study smarter, not harder.

​This is why an understanding of what each kyusho is, what the results will be when striking them in certain ways, from certain directions, under certain circumstances, in certain temperatures…. is ABSOLUTELY necessary… This alone supports my point of the necessity of correct and responsible kata study. A finishing kick to wakitsubo with your heel is absolutely unacceptable if you have no clue what the target or goal of this kick is.

Ask yourself this right now; what is the resulting effect of penetrating and crushing a person’s lymph node have?


There can be long term consequences that you or your partner may never see on the surface. Train smarter, follow form and learn.
Now, with those points made, the characteristic fighting applications of the lineage engrained into your muscle memory and the absolute comprehension of kyusho in place, let’s start Kokū.

Tenryaku gassho uchū gassho, stimulating the meridians along the inside of the fingers to create a mindset of balance within your natural surroundings. Do you know why you do this? …. If you don’t, why the hell are you doing it?

It’s absolutely fundamental when training a soldier, how to overcome the anxiety and confusion of violent engagement. Read “On Combat” by Lt. Col. Grossman to learn more about this … or just understand what’s going on when the correct practice of the gassho studied. Don’t babble to wide eyed students about the kuji kiri of the ninja that you know. It’s not about that. Mindset combined with the major meridians that run along the sides of the fingers stimulate a particular function in the brain that calms, tames the butterflies and allows the sense of fear to pass by. This is highly complex and I don’t want to write about it here, but it can’t just be pretended. It’s form, it’s complex, you’re not just striking some antiquated pose.

Kamae. Ichimonji no kamae of the Gyokko Ryū has a very distinct intention and purpose that is based on proper, precise physiology. The lead arm is canted in alignment with the principle of mutōdori found in all aspects of the Gyokko Ryū. The line of the lead fingers, height/bend of the elbow, alignment of the head, visibility of the femoral.. all this is critical to understand. Exposure to the opponent of the superficial parts of the fore-arm and non-exposure to the vital lines is a whopping priority to this kamae.

Actually, when understood correctly a weathered budōka will immediately see it as a priority when studying any martial art involving edged weaponry. Having your arm stuck straight out in front of you is stupid. Period.

And the opponent preemptively attacks.

(from my notes)
It is critical when striking to the ulnar/radial – hoshi/ jakkin, of the one side, that you are destroying primary gripping function from ring and pinky, then destroying dorsal/forearm muscle groups and wrist function. Both ulnar and radial are traumatized.

Essentially the first two strikes blast the arm upward, which due to nerve shock in that direction, confuses both nerve centers rooted to c5-c8. Equilibrium/balance is broken, meanwhile sending opponent’s balance backward. Striking their arm sideways will encourage their left side to progress forward, does not allow accurate access to the targeted nerve center and will build their momentum for a counter left strike.

As well, with a side-ways strike to their arm, weight distribution is not changed on either leg and can be strengthened by their outward step with the right foot, adding power to their left counter. hit up, hit accurate.

Study, and control their (unweighted) counter kick, pivoting to the outside in perfect alignment to penetrate their sciatic. this is critical. Footwork, distance is relative their body type and skill level. Train it with three directions in foot work that promotes rotational weight into the kick as was to prior uchi uke/shuto. Sciatic is traumatized. Operating hand temporarily loses function.

Rotational whipping movement is characteristic of the ryū-ha. Strike, then strike! It is with the closest foot to their center, not the evading foot. Penetrating sciatic will create a ‘crumpling’ of their kicking leg when weight is placed down, causing them to pivot the torso away from you. With the correct application, there is no ability for them to stand or counter left.

As the torso is turned away from you, the adrenal gland and/or sciatic cluster are now avail for penetration, thrust (boshiken). Direct pressure through this kyūsho before kerigaeshi is complete.

This is why the first step is critical. (butsumetsu says densho, *********** is kuden). Penetrating the adrenal will cause the body to collapse immediately, straight down and the opponent cannot gain air and cannot make a sound other than a whimper. Done correctly, their is zero ability to roll from this technique
Leap away

(End notes)
These are just some of my notes and observations of Kokū. It’s just a glimpse of my understanding and why failure to understand the value of kata is bad. This complexity and level of comprehension is found in every technique, (not that I have done it, no way!) but as you can see, just making variations up as you go with the ambition of achieving the same result makes no sense at all. It’s just ego feeding.

I do agree, there comes a time in one’s maturity that they are able to use each kata to research their own science of movement in combat, true combat. To put the forms behind them, to train freely with a battery of skill acquired through proper training. This is just as important I believe as one’s ability to not get ahead of themselves.

To train the academics of this Kobudo with insane-like commitment comes first.

To not miss a beat, to keep themselves healthy and strong, to not wander off the path into the briars of super-ego.

It’s a lonely path I think. But ask yourself ‘how many people have the dedication of time and willingness to do this?’

My answer to that is simply, ‘only those who should be studying this art.’

And what is at the end of this road, once the academics are understood, the fundamentals are second nature and the ryu-ha are engrained… When you’re ready to break free of form.

What then?

​Begin the study of Kamae.

You actually think a student can move like this by changing up their routine constantly?

Or not drilling absolute fundamentals relentlessly?

For the tough guys who like their ninjutsu hard, beating the shit out of an opponent without comprehension of the biomechanic of the target (ie. cut tricep, what does bicep do, what direction is the arm triggered in?), implications of disrupting nerve centers or meridians is absolutely unacceptable. If you have no idea what the result of a correctly applied uchi-kudaki to the jakkin – Gyokko Ryū style – is, then you have no business pretending to know how to do the technique.