© 2010 Douglas Tong, all rights reserved
Case #1: A Matter of Geometry
kata is not working right.”
have moved 45 degrees back and I’m still too close.”
maybe you need to adjust the angle more.”
that’s not what the kata says to do. Isn’t that right,
Sensei? The kata prescribes 45 degrees.”
look at where your partner is. In this case, if you just move back 45
degrees, you will still be too close. You need to re-adjust it.”
Sensei, the kata prescribes 45 degrees.”
Case #2: A Matter of Proximity
doing everything right but he’s still getting in too close.”
see it done, one more time.”
he gets in too close to me. It’s like he’s running in.”
he’s just got longer legs. Hence, a longer stride than you, so
naturally he covers more ground in one step than you. So, readjust
your footwork to compensate.”
doesn’t the kata say to only take one step back?”
it does. But...”
if I take two steps, then it will screw up the rest of the footwork
for the rest of the kata, won’t it?”
if you only take one step back, this is what happens.”
Sensei, the kata says to take only one step back, doesn’t it?”
Case #3: A Matter of Perception
Kevin, let’s analyze how the kata went. How do you feel about
guess it went OK.”
Why do you think so?”
did all the moves correctly.”
you did. But let me ask you a question. What was your partner doing
after the second move?”
he did something. Did you see it?”
curious. Why not?”
don’t know. I guess I wasn’t paying attention.”
Case #4: A Matter of Time
Christopher, what went wrong?”
don’t know. I got killed.”
you did. But why?”
think for a second. How did you get killed?”
walked right into his sword.”
Why did you walk right into it?”
guess because he hadn’t withdrawn it into gedan yet, like he’s
he is supposed to withdraw it into gedan. You are right. But why
hadn’t he withdrawn it yet?”
he was still in the previous position.”
And when are YOU supposed to move?”
he… withdraws his sword into gedan?”
Did you wait for him to withdraw his sword into gedan?”
I suppose I didn’t.”
interesting cases. Let’s look at each one.
deals with angles, lines, geometry
. But the issue is
one where the student wants to stick assiduously to the precise
wording of the kata, irregardless of the tactical situation.
. The student is reluctant to
re-adjust the footwork to compensate for this particular
circumstance, which in this case is an attacker who is taller.
Consequently, he is over-run.
Case #3 is
of one’s opponent. The student is
so engrossed in his own movements and performing them, that he has
completely forgotten that there is an opponent.
talks about timing
. The student is rushing ahead in the
kata, performing the kata robotically. The moves are done in
sequence, yes. The student knows what
to do. But there
is no attention paid to when
to do it.
Why do I
bring these up? Because in this article, I would like to talk about a
concept that constantly comes up in teaching martial arts that
involve the practice of partnered kata: the issue of “absolute
an interesting story about this very issue:
One day, I
was driving with my wife down the 400, one of the big highways in the
GTA (Greater Toronto Area). I was driving well and was busily engaged
in talking to her. All of a sudden, she remarks: “You’re
“No, I’m not.”
I’m not. Look at the car ahead of us. I am still the same
distance from him that I was 5 minutes ago.”
I look at
the speedometer. I guess I am, slightly. Going 120 on a 100 highway.
look at this guy!” (a car goes whizzing past which is not
uncommon on the 400 where it seems 100 kph really in secret means 140
to some people. Go figure.).
matter. You’re speeding.”
and convinced I am right, I propose:
AM going with the flow of traffic.”
course, it matters. Some people drive 80 on this highway and cause
accidents because they are going too slow and causing people to slow
down and it’s like a chain reaction. They are not going with
the flow of traffic.”
they aren’t speeding.”
I know that. But if you don’t go with the flow of traffic,
relative to what everyone else is doing, you’ll cause
you’re still speeding.”
in my mind, there’s two ways of driving. Absolute and relative.
Absolute is driving with no regard to anyone else. As long as I go
that speed, I am doing fine. Like the 80 kph driver I was talking
about. Like a robot. I don’t believe in that. You’ve got
to drive relative to others, relative to what everyone else is
won’t belabour the point. I did not win that argument. She
remained unconvinced. But that conversation turned a light on inside
it apply to partnered kata? Like our examples.
#1, absolute thinking is 45 degrees only. No permutation allowed.
Doesn’t matter what my opponent does. I must do 45 degrees.
#2, absolute thinking is one step back only. Regardless of my
opponent’s footwork, I will do one step only. Reminds me of
For Red October
. One ping only, Vasily. One ping only…
#3, absolute thinking is I focus on my own moves. Is there an
opponent? Who knows? Who cares?
#4, absolute thinking is I do this, then I do this, then I do this.
Timing? What’s that? Waiting for my opponent? Why on earth
would I do that?
(no pun intended, of course…)
have to be relative to what your opponent does. If he changes the
angle, you have to change yours. If he changes the distance, you have
to change yours. If he changes the timing, you have to change yours.
like the old argument of the letter of the
versus the spirit of the Law
. Same issue:
absolutism versus relativism. Look here:
. Literal interpretation of exact wording versus the intent
the creators of the Law.
interpretation of exact wording gets us into trouble if there is no
flexibility in interpretation, no accounting for circumstances.
this apply to teaching?
We have to
be careful that we don’t become so rigid that we see things in
absolute terms. Students reflect their teachers. If you become
inflexible and absolute, the same attitudes will be mirrored in your
students; in their approach to kata, in their approach to martial
arts, in their approach to life.
When I was
in Japan, I frequently asked my sempai and teachers about issues in
swordsmanship. Is it this way or this way? What’s the right
way? What’s the correct way?
was always the same, no matter who answered, even from different
dojos and styles. They would say it in what English they knew, simple
enough that I could understand it. They all said:
those of you who are not experienced in Japanese language, it is a
Japanese approximation of the English phrase: “Case by case.”
appreciated those words of wisdom and I continue to appreciate them
more and more, as I become increasingly more experienced in teaching.
It is deeply philosophical, without seeming to be philosophical at
Case by case…
words, nothing is absolute. It’s all relative….
Mr. Tong has a Master’s
in Education in Curriculum Studies.