The Iaido Journal  Jan 2007
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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 uchidachi.

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.

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TIN Jan 2007