Wednesday, February 25, 2009

How Kata Change...

5 or 6 Years ago I had the pleasure to teach a Yoshukai Karate seminar in France at the Kidokan Dojo where I had first taught Ju Jitsu in 1989. It was attended by people from various martial arts : Kendo, Judo, Aikido, and several Karate Styles : Shotokan, Wado Ryu, and another ryu I cannot remember.

At the end of the seminar one student of each Karate Style demonstrated his version of Bassai Kata. These were 4 very different versions of a beautiful kata. Differences were huge !

I have often wondered how Katas do change - One day, one guy invents a kata - he pours into it all he knows about a certain situation, and teaches it to his students to train them. Years later, after it has been taught by several generations of instructors, the kata might have changed so much that it is hard to find similarities between several versions, and everyone swears the are practicing the TRUE version of the kata...

I believe there can be several explanation to these deviations - I read this week in Tales of a Budo Bum an interesting history that well illustrates one of the ways kata have to change.

I hope you enjoy it... By the way, this is a true story.

A Iaido Story

A few years ago, an earnest student who learning swordsmanship from a kindly old master. The master was well past his heyday, and his body was weak. His arms and legs shook if he practiced too hard or too long. Neither his hearing nor his vision were quite what they used to be. Nevertheless, he was devoted to his art, and practiced as much as he could. When he wasn't practicing, he researched the history of the art, and wrote down pages and pages of notes.

The student was happy to have such a master. Because he was old, and lived far away from the city, the master had few students, so most of the time they practiced together, just the two of them. The master was strict, but fair, and after seeing that his student had reached the point where he was ready, he began teaching him the local koryu that he had learned from his own master.

Sometimes, the student would attend practices in the city where a large group of people was practicing the same koryu as his master. When they found out that the student was learning from him, they laughed. "That old fool? He has no idea what he's doing! He does this wrong, and that wrong, and he's too stubborn to admit that he's wrong. He used to train with us from time to time, but I suppose he got tired of us telling him how wrong he was!"

The student asked them how they were so sure that they were right and he was wrong, since their original teacher had died many years before. They answered, "Because we have a videotape our teacher made before he died. And it is the final authority on what is right in our koryu. We tried to show it to your teacher, but he said he doesn't need to see it. He's so stubborn, he doesn't care about right and wrong !"

The student was hurt and angry to hear them talk about his teacher in this way. He went back home and at the next practice, told his teacher what they had said about him.

"Yes, it is true that there is a tape made by our master before he died. I have seen it, and in fact, I own a copy of it. But what the others don't know is that my teacher always considered them to be too arrogant for their own good. He sent me a letter - I have it here, with his personal seal on it - detailing all the things that are wrong on that video. He has gone through step by step, point by point. For example, the others always told me that I do this part too slowly. But in the letter, my teacher explained that he is doing the motion too quickly - it's not good budo to do it in that way. None of the others knows about this letter."

"Master, did your teacher perform the techniques wrong on purpose?" asked the student.

"Not at all, but he was human. Our actions and our intentions are rarely the same. He did the best he could, and then he analyzed his own techniques and found this long list of problems, which he passed on to me, but not to them."

"Well, then, you have to go to the city, and show the letter to the others! Then they will realize that they were wrong about you all this time, and they will have to respect you!"

"Why do I care whether what they are doing is correct or incorrect? It has nothing to do with me. I'm old now, and you're my only student. I only care that you do it the right way, and that you try and teach your students the right way."

"But master, don't you care about the Truth?" asked the student, who was getting quite upset. "Don't you have a responsibility to make sure that the Truth gets passed to the next generation?"

The master said: "Don't confuse telling the Truth with being recognized by everyone for telling the Truth. You want to be rewarded and respected by everyone because you know better than they do. This is vanity, and vanity is self-deception. It is enough to know the Truth, and to do what you think is right."

No comments: