Importance of Kata in Kendo
In an era when Kendo was practiced by practitioners sans any protective gear and with swords, it was a do-or-die affair wherein either the kendoka would win and walk out of the arena alive or face defeat and simultaneous death. Of course, this was many centuries ago and was the earliest form of Kendo but it was the deadly nature of combat that prompted the Kenjutsu, or Kendo teachers, to evolve a style of fighting which was unique and bore a distinct stamp of the teacher. Referred to as Kata, this style reflected the ethos of the ryu-ha, or school, and comprised of a particular set of core techniques that were kept as closely guarded secrets by its alumnii and passed on to the next generation as legacy.
While this is how Kata came into being, it soon became the essence of Kendo training and a yardstick for determining the skill-set of the master as also his trainee. Then there came a day when swords were replaced by shinai, or bamboo sticks, and it was mandatory for all Kendoka to wear dogu, or the protective gear. but the Kata retained its importance and continues to do so till this day. Only one change that distinguished between Kata of yesteryears and that of modern day was unification of all the traditional styles under a single heading known as Keishicho Gekken or Attacking Motion Kata.
Even now Kata in Kendo follows fixed patterns wherein the Uchidachi, or teacher, imparts instructions to Shidachi, or student. Circa 1912 was witness to Nihon Kata being incorporated into the school curriculum as form of compulsory kendo training and remains as such till this day. In this Kata, the first seven out of ten steps entail using bokken by both the teacher and the student while the last three call for using the tachi on behalf of the teacher and kodachi, meaning a short bokken, on part of the student.
Why is it important to learn Kata in Kendo training?
One of the reasons as to why trainees, especially children, refrain from practicising Kata is because of its predictable nature. 'Boring' is how trainees describe kata because the methodology of attack and counterattack is same every time it is practiced, thus rendering the entire exercise monotonous.
However, it is in the monotony that benefits of Kata lie, the primary advantage being developing a good sense of direction for striking and thrusting the sword. Timing attacks at regular intervals, perfecting body movements and adopting the right attitude that would facilitate flow of positive energy are some of the long-term benefits to be accrued from practicing Kata on a regular basis. Concentration is a must during Kendo practice, especially while mastering Kata, and it is but natural that the trainee is bound to experience improved focus courtesy of prolonged practice.
Nihon Kendo Kata Explained
Time and again, various sensei of Kendo have reiterated the importance of Kata training and that of Nihon Kata.
To begin with, it is the only connection between ancient and contemporary Kendo. meaning the only common ground shared between the techniques of death that were employed by traditional practitioners and the way of life as adopted by contemporary trainees. Therefore, without Kata, Kendo will just degenerate into a stick-fighting spectacle and hence lose its basic character. Nihon Kata is also important in the sense that it aims to disarm the enemy without inflicting any mortal wound so that while the winner is in control, not a single drop of blood is shed and the opponents remain unharmed. Learning to build and use pressure, channeling spiritual energy and developing a spirit of kinship are some of the motives that Nihon Kata inculcates in its practitioners and hence is a valuable aspect of training.
Competition In Kendo
Although a typical Kendo team comprises of three to five members, the competition is fought between two practitioners, meaning a single member from each team. For adults, every encounter lasts for five minutes while for children the duration is shortened to three minutes and it continues till either one of the opponents has scored the requisite two points or the closing bell has rung.
Scoring in Kendo occurs by making an accurate strike or defending with a perfect thrust, maintaining a correct posture and fighting with a right attitude. Awareness is another aspect which is also checked and it is observed by continually keeping an eye on the physical and mental alertness of the contestant. Points are awarded to a contestant if the strike is made around the head protector, wrist protector, armor that covers the torso or the protector that guards the throat.
Every competition is presided over by three referees wherein each is armed with a red and white flag. To indicate awarding of a point, the referee is required to raise a flag whose color corresponds to the color of the ribbon sported by the scoring competitor. Likewise, minimum two referees must give consent for a contestant to be awarded a point. If there is a tie, the match is either declared as drawn or continued till either contestant scores a point or the decision is left to the three referees.