by Geof Gleeson, A.S. Barnes and Company, Cranbury 1969
By looking at kata, free from the blinkers of blind tradition, ham acting (the false, artificial, purposeless performance of kata technique) can be avoided and “true acting” can be substituted. “True acting” here means that aspect of competition (i.e. movement justification) which must be in the forefront of the trainee’s mind when he is performing these techniques. Kata must not be looked upon as some kind of depository of historical development (e.g. how the life and death struggle in the streets of old Edo stimulated the production of a certain ippon seoi nage), the place for that is in a well-written judo history book. No! Kata is a system for showing what technique is NOW, and how it should be used NOW.
Kano during the early days, when he was establishing his sport of judo, trying to devise and develop the principals and theories of technique, almost certainly realised the intrinsic weakness in randori (free play). And what was the weakness? The infrequency of skill completion, for completion of skill (throw) is essential to progress. Most probably the top performers could repeat their skill (throw) sufficiently on their less skilful opponents, but what about the less skilful people- will they have sufficient opportunity to practise their complete skill (throws)? Some kind of artificial circumstance was an obvious answer.
All this brings me back to the subject of kata. This aspect of judo training has embodied all the worst of Japanese teaching methods. Possibly because it has never had the intrinsic stimulation of competition to keep it virile and alive, it has become the rag-bag of all the empty clichés and all the well masticated platitudes. No longer is there any real attempt to justify kata, or rationalise it, the attitude is- it’s there, therefore do it. Learning kata has become just a case of repeating certain movements over and over again, until a certain fluidity is acquired. No purpose, only continuity! Tedium is the order of the day!
And here, in my opinion, is the only justification for kata; it must HELP competitive judo skill.
Many of us were who brought up in the “old school” often wondered how this rigid, almost robot-like repetition of a series of techniques could help our competitive skill? It contributed to nothing at all was what I concluded and I had to console myself that perhaps the continual beatings I took (for being thrown as many as a 100 times an hour did indeed, and still does, constitute a beating!) was at least good for my soul- very much like the doctrine of the Flagellant Christians.
If kata is to contribute actively to skill improvement it must be open to variation, variations based upon accumulated experience and knowledge.
The transference factor is of course a very ticklish problem in kata. I think it would be safe to assume that Kano was not particularly aware of this hazard in skill training.
I must say that I consider it a great pity that the present IJF still persists in applying to competition, what I consider to be an outmoded concept- the principle of a win by one point. Such an approach can only restrict and limit skill development. In essence it means that a mistake cannot be made. One mistake and a throw is made by the other man- a loss! Because of this, defensive caution takes precedence over attacking skill, and this inevitably results in a dull and tedious match. If the concept of a fixed time with an accumulative score were applied (as in most other sports) the effect would most certainly provide more interest and excitement, comparatively safe in the knowledge that it would be possible to make up for the mistake later.