Iaido Journal Jan 2007
What are the Benefits of the Kendo Kata as
They Relate to Shinai Kendo
copyright © 2007 Steve Quinlan, all rights reserved
This is a common question asked by, in my opinion, all Kendoka at some
point in their training. Why bother with these forms? Many of the waza
used in them are not used in everyday shinai keiko, let alone the use
of the various kamae used in the kata. And this is looking at the Tachi
forms. What about the Kodachi forms? How can they be of practical
benefit when nobody uses a kodachi in modern Kendo?
In this article I will attempt to provide an answer to these questions.
Aside from the obvious fact that the kata teach one how to use various
waza, learn about “sen”, kamae, posture, correct striking, etc… the
best description for the benefits of kata is that they serve as a type
of defense from our “ordinary” selves.
By “ordinary” I am referring to our everyday reflexive reactions, such
as our instinctive need to flinch, protect our head / face from an
incoming attack, or very powerful and instinctive need to move away
from a threat. All of these are encountered in a Kendo match
repeatedly, and are the moments at which we are at our weakest. These
instinctive reactions, which all of us have deeply ingrained into our
being, provide an obvious suki (opening or gap in either our physical
or mental defenses) for an opponent to take advantage of. Whether it is
flinching from an opponent’s fake, feeling the need to block an
incoming attack, or simply backing away from the opponent, our natural
reflexes produce suki. This is the “ordinary” way our minds dictate our
By practicing the kendo no kata, we learn how to react, via a specific
waza, to a specific circumstance. Even though these specific
circumstances themselves will most likely never be encountered exactly
as they are in the kata, during a shiai or regular keiko it is the
knowledge and confidence we learn from these situations in the kata
that will aid us.
As we get better with the kata, the movements become more natural. As
the movements become natural, we begin to understand the riai
(principles of why the motions are done as they are) behind them. As we
begin to understand the kata, the movements themselves within the kata
become secondary to that of understanding the principles of their use.
Once we become more aware of these principles, we can internalize the
movements making them our own. In doing this we can apply the movements
to any situation and these movements themselves, adapted or standard,
will become our reflexive instinct because of this internalization.
Thus we adopt and learn a defense from our ordinary selves.
Shiai or keiko should be looked at as an active test against our
greatest opponent: ourselves. Kendo no Kata, their waza, riai, form,
and formality give us the tools and training necessary to help us
defeat this most difficult opponent. By practicing the kata, we will
succeed in shiai by first defeating our “ordinary” selves. Once done,
success against our physical opponent, albeit secondary in importance,