Iaido Journal Jan 2007
The Role of Uchidachi in Kata
copyright © 2007 Steve Quinlan, all rights reserved
This short article is in response to the article written by K. Taylor
regarding the “Fallacy of Expanding Time in Kata”. The article examines
a common trap that I think all martial artists who study Kata are
guilty of falling into at some time or another. The issue is falling
into a “well what if I did this instead…” line of thinking. The article
gives some wonderful insight into why this is so commonly done, and a
means of preventing ourselves from succumbing to its call.
This article offers another, albeit related, defense against this
trap. Specifically I would like to give some information on the
relationship between the Uchidachi and Shidachi, or “teacher” and
“student”. I am speaking from the point of view of Kendo, or more
specifically the Nihon Kendo no Kata, but the relationship described
herein can be applied to any Kata. If we can understand this
relationship, it immediately removes the potential for us to fall into
the traps mentioned in the above article and many, many others.
This relation is best explored by answering the question “why
does the uchi-dachi always lose” in kata.
I shall limit the discussion to primarily uchidachi and not devote much
of the discussion to detailing the role of shidachi.
First, the translation for uchidachi may be useful. Uchidachi
translates to “the striking sword” or “the presenting sword”, whereas
shidachi translates to “the serving sword” or “the doing sword”. As
such it is the uchidachi who “presents” the shidachi with an
opportunity to practice their waza via initiating a strike (hence the
role of “teacher”).
The uchidachi, aside from controlling the pace of the kata, performs
each strike with proper form, strong spirit, proper distance etc… in
order to help the shidachi learn to react (via waza) in a concise and
structured environment, all the while maintaining the tension of real
combat. The uchidachi must also, and quite possibly most importantly,
verify the shidachi’s form, posture, zanshin, etc… before moving
forward with the next sequence of steps in each kata.
With this in mind, one can see that the uchidachi must perform their
portion of the kata with the utmost precision and intent. Anything less
and the education and training of the shidachi is sacrificed or skewed
away from the proper technical form. This is done even though the
outcome of the kata is known, i.e., the inevitable “loss” of the
In order for the uchidachi to truly assume the role of an “uchidachi”,
all sense of competition, ego, arrogance, and other potentially
competitive or self-centered thoughts must be discarded. A true
uchidachi is ready to assist the shidachi without any other
intent. This is expressed through the uchidachi performing their
strikes cleanly and purposefully, allowing the shidachi a proper
opportunity in which to practice. Again, this is done even though the
outcome of the kata is known, i.e., that the uchidachi will “lose the
combat” by the act of making their strike.
This purposeful sense of “self sacrifice” is the foundation of the
“rei” (etiquette / formality) between the two roles and quite possibly
in kendo itself. On the one side, the uchidachi “sacrifices himself” in
order to instruct the shidachi, while on the other side he shows the
utmost respect and benevolence toward the shidachi by striking
properly, cleanly, and with full intent. The shidachi learns through
the uchidachi’s technical and spiritual examples, while also being
given the opportunity to practice various waza.
Thus the role of uchidachi can be considered as a nurturing role; one
that allows for both the technical (waza) and spiritual (zanshin)
growth of the shidachi, as well as to foster a true sense of “rei”. It
is these aspects of the shidachi’s education, and one that all kendoka
should strive for, which embodies the “Do” of modern kendo.
With all of these ideas together, it is clear that in order for the
kata to have any meaning, other than to teach simple combative
techniques, the uchidachi must “lose”. It is through this seemingly
simple “combative loss” that we all are able to gain so much.
It is when we bypass this deeper aspect of kata, or are simply ignorant
of its existence, and the kata are done with only a sense of “combative
training” that we allow ourselves to begin the “what if” scenarios and
a whole host of other types of fallacies on both the uchidachi and
shidachi sides of Kata.
Approaching Kata in this way, i.e., that of nothing more than combative
practice, is not the purpose or the intent of Kata. The hard part is
being able to honestly and sincerely know that that is true.