In a message dated 98-03-27 06:45:59 EST, you write

<< Personally, I think the kata are the *WORST* tools possible for learning the basics. The kata, by their very nature, restrict your growth unless the basics are completely solid. Otherwise, the kata break down and dilute your basics. When you practice a kata, you try and make something work in a specific order. By forcing yourself into a pattern many times you compromise subtle bits of the basics that make it up in order for you to get the whole thing to come out the way it's "supposed" to. Again, this is why kata shouldn't be trained until Shodan. >>

I absolutely disagree with you on this one, though I think I see what your misunderstanding may stem from. Actually Kasumi and I have been talking about this off-line and had a similar disagreement, but it turns out that we are actually pretty much saying the same thing.

Let me put it this way Kata training "could" be bad if all you are doing is showing it as a wrote form and having the student memorize it as the one way to do the technique. That is however not the way that the katas are taught in the Bujinkan. What is important is that you learn the principles and the strategies and individual movements and techniques that are found within the katas. This is evidenced by katas such as those in the kihon happo and Sanshin no kata. If you were to show a technique such as omote gyaku from a lapel grab, and say that this is the only way to do the technique, and it must be memorized verbatim and only practiced this one way, then you would be doing the student a great disservice and it is doubtful that he would be able to use the technique in a real defense situation.

Now it is sad but I have seen a few misguided people that want to do exactly this. These are the people that talk about doing a technique the "right way" as if there is only one way to do the form. In my view, this is a mistake and I would hope that most of us do not teach in this way. Instead most of us will teach the kata such as omote gyaku, by first showing a basic form and letting the student practice it. As we are doing that we are trying to let the student get a feel for the principles involved. From there we proceed to show variations and answer what if questions. Then we will show how to apply the technique in many different situations. This is of course something that continues to grow and the technique becomes a part of the persons overall repotoir (sp). I remember receiving a great complement from another instructor several years ago. He commented that he was impressed that I seemed to be able to end up with my opponent in some type of wrist lock from any situation. I certainly would not be able to adapt my gyaku wasa techniques as well if I only thought of the basic technique as the only way to do the technique.

Let me say this again. The katas are not there for us to just memorize and preserve as an exact form. They are there to let us learn the principles and explore the techniques that make up our art. to use a quote from Jack Hoban, " Don't learn the kata, learn from the kata".

Katas give us a chance to practice our techniques and explore different options. I will tell you a secret, any time that you are practicing a technique that you have done before, or that someone has shown you, you are in effect practicing a kata. It could be something as simple as doing a block and then punching someone in the face, or it could be as complex as a complicated series of attacks, counter attacks or technique reversals. The importance is not in memorizing whole sequences, but in learning the principles involved. What small piece of the wasa can you take and make your own? What insights into combat or strategy, do you get from this sequence? What is the lesson behind this sequence and how does it relate to the other lessons that you are learning?

There are certainly people that get too caught up in the "collecting" of katas and try to impress others with how many katas or schools they study etc. These people are usually deluded, and are not really learning the essence of the art. The Bujinkan is not about collecting or preserving katas. If that were the case, then we would be no different than the "classical" Koryu schools that do nothing but practice the forms in precisely the same way and never look at learning the combat principles involved or learning to adapt those principles and lessons to other situations.

The Bujinkan is more about applying those principles to your daily life and actually using those combat skills and principles if needed to defend your community, your family, or yourself. At this point, the forms are unimportant. What is important is that you have developed good skills and can freely adapt them to your situation.

Take care,

Lee Drew, Birmingham Bujinkan Dojo

In a message dated 98-03-24 22:59:20 EST, you write:

<< I agree with what is written below, but I think this point of view looks at where the Bujinkan has been rather than where it is going. The Bujinkan is turning into something much different from the past. It must, in order to remain practically applicable during every day of the future.


Where the Bujinkan is going is based on where it has been. Hatsumi Soke is teaching at a very high level now, and we should all be trying to learn from him. In my opinion, there is simply no one else that can teach at this level. That may be why if you ask Soke which shihan are good to train with, he may say none of them. :)

Still, we all need to develop our basics strongly to make full use of what Soke is trying to teach us. Soke didn't develop his skills and knowledge immediately, he did it by mastering the katas and basic principles and then by going beyond their boundaries.

Bud told me something that Soke said to him once. Bud had asked Soke what was the most important thing for someone that was studying this art to know? Sokes answer was that the most important thing to understand was that training is a process, and to know where you are in that process.

I don't believe that any of us are at Soke's level. We all need to work on our basics and the form. Hatsumi Soke is showing us the way, and their are those that are at the right level in the process to begin to understand what Soke is teaching. For the rest of us Soke is an inspiration leading us to higher levels.

I remember that this was something that Manaka San felt strongly about when he first came to the states and was introducing many of us to the formal katas for the first time. He was upset with all of the people that were going around trying to imitate Sokes movement , ( I believe that he used the term Kamiwasa to describe Soke's movements) , when these people had not developed their skills and basics first.

I am sure that Shidoshi Hayes could further comment on Manaka San's comments as he was the person that helped bring Manaka San over for those important seminars.

I am sure that all of the instructors on this list have seen people from time to time that mask bad technique by quoting Soke saying that the form wasn't important. This is of course lunacy. I have actually seen a student that could not do the basic Kihon Happo, say this. This student actually left training because I commented that she needed to work harder on her basics in class and pay attention to what was being taught rather than just playing around.

Now I don't believe that you necessarily have to know all 500 or so of the katas or be able to recite them in order or something, but you do need to learn good skills and the principles and feelings of the katas and the basics. You then have to put those techniques into your own personal skill base, and make the techniques your own. I am less impressed with someone that can show the basic form of a kata such as Yama Arashi, as I am with someone that can take the technique and principle of the kata and use it effectively.

Remember that the Bujinkan is not a classical art. We are not studying these forms to preserve them as museum pieces. They are there to give you a structure to build off of. These techniques are important but so is the bigger picture. What is important is what you make of the knowledge and skills that you acquire along the path.

I guess that it is true that there are people that can not see the forest for the trees, and vice versa. It constantly amazes me that this debate keeps coming up. But I guess that it is important that people see these discussions from time to time. This is not an either or debate. Katas are important, henka is important, feelings are important etc. They are all part of the same wonderful art. don't limit yourself along the way. Step back and try to get a look at the whole picture and see what is available for you ahead on the path and then work like the dickens to get there.

I would like to pause in my rant here to quote from one of my favorite passages from Stephen Haye's book, Wisdom From The Ninja Village Of The Cold Moon:

"Those aspiring to enlightenment would be wise to hold in their hearts the reassuring truth that the inside of the universe is vast enough to contain comfortably all the pieces of the puzzle that we have not touched."

Take care, Lee Drew