Kata Ido: A Complete Training Method

by William Durbin, Soke of Kiyojute Ryu

Kata Ido, literally translated, means ‘form movement’. It is used by many Okinawan stylists to develop the turns utilized in Kata. Many of the Goju Ryu Karate systems use Kata Ido, as does, Kiyojute Ryu Kempo. Basically speaking there is a formal method of practicing Kata Ido, which utilizes the three basic turns. First of all, there is the one-quarter turn, the one half turn, and the three quarter turn.

Competition or Reality

Due to the emphasis on sport competition in most Karate schools, these three methods have almost been lost. While they are very effective for self defense training, they find almost no application in sport Karate. The reason is simple, in competition; the goal is to be aggressive, trying to score a hit before your opponent can do the same. Thus for the most part, in tournaments, fighting is done facing your opponent, with each person moving linearly towards or away from each other. These three pivots are performed, specifically towards a person standing either to your right, left, or behind, not in front. These positions are not normally found in a sporting event, but are readily prevalent in a self defense situation. This is one reason why tournament Karate is not good self defense; it deals with a very artificial form of combat, which is seldom experienced on the street. Traditional Okinawan Bujutsu training deals with the reality of combat and the potential situation one might face in normal self defense situations. Along with many other types of specialized training, many Okinawan stylists practice Kata Ido.

Ashi Sabaki

It can first be practiced as a form of Ashi Sabaki, foot movement, where the hands are held by the side, as the practitioner concentrates on developing only the foot work. The movements can be performed in two different ways, one which teaches how to step in order to close the distance to an attack coming from one of the three angles, and the other which teaches the method for stepping away from an attacker, creating distance. Both of these methods need to be mastered, since no one really knows what they will have to face when involved in a self defense situation.

Some styles teach only one of these two methods, but for those who want to achieve complete training, both styles should be experienced. Then hand techniques should be added to the training. It is easiest to begin with blocks, simply stepping in the direction of the specific Kata Ido pivot, and then executing the desired block. All blocks can be performed in this drill, which helps to develop not only the turn and the block, but more importantly, the coordination of hand and body movements. Next the pivots can be practiced using different hand techniques and kicks.

When performed properly and with complete coordination, the power of the body can be utilized in the techniques, making it possible for a smaller person to be able to defend against a larger, stronger opponent. It allows the power of the body to generate force, which can be applied in each strike, using the torque of the body as the turn is performed with proper alignment.

Two Main Types of Strikes

There are two main types of strikes, basically speaking, in martial arts systems. There are the power blows, which use the full force of a person’s body weight, in the impact, then there are vital point strikes, which use little power, but strike only those points which can be easily damaged. A basic rule of thumb is simply; use body torque while performing power techniques, have good accuracy in vital point strikes.

All movements in the martial arts should be done with purpose, this includes everything from hand movements to foot movements, but it also includes the very turns you make. Actually it is in the turns that the purpose of the hand and foot movements have their meaning. This is an aspect of movement and training that most people do not understand, or of which, they are unaware.

Distance and Purpose

According to how you turn and the distance, which it creates, determines whether or not, a hand movement is a throwing motion, strike, or block. It determines whether a leg movement should be a kick, throw, or stance. Notice that the alternatives include grappling skills. The Okinawan skills have always included many throwing and joint locking techniques, but for years as the Okinawan martial arts were transported from the Ryukyu Islands to the main island of Japan with it’s grappling heritage, those skills which were always a part of the royal families arts, were either hidden from the Japanese to protect the secret heritage, or were simply not taught, feeling it would be a matter of redundancy.

It is in particular, the preservation of the three quarter turn in the basics of Karate, that we see the grappling skills of the Okinawan heritage. While the one quarter and one half turns make perfect sense from the point of view of a striking art, and even they can have a grappling interpretation, the three quarter turn only makes sense from the perspective of specific grappling skills. If someone is standing to your right, it makes more sense to use a one quarter turn towards, or away from them, rather than turning a full three quarter pivot, however in regard to grappling skills, such as the person having grabbed your wrist, the three quarter turn can have grappling application.

Think of the Aiki techniques such as, Kotegaeshi, Ikkyo, and Shihonage. Look at the performance of them with the three quarter turn, and you will see an extremely effective method of performing these techniques, Karate style. This makes perfect sense, when you remember that the ancient Okinawan martial art of Bushi Te derives from the same Minamoto source from which comes Daito Ryu Aikijujutsu and modern Aikido.

The Ancient Forms of Okinawa

The most ancient forms of Okinawa are much more related to Aikido than they are to modern Karate. As it is practiced today, with an emphasis on competition and prearranged forms, Karate bears very little resemblance to the ancient Okinawan Bujutsu of the pre-twentieth century. Yet in most of the Karate styles today, elements of the ancient art are present, if someone understands the two most important aspects of ancient Okinawan training.

In example, Goju Ryu was founded by Chojun Miyagi, who was one of those fortunate enough to study under Choyu Motobu, the last master of the great ancient Okinawan Bujutsu, generally known as Bushi Te, specifically known in the family as Goten Te. It is almost a certainty that Miyagi learned the three pivots from Choyu Motobu, since they are much more related to the ancient art, than from any other discipline. But like most of the ancient methods, they were absorbed into the prearranged Kata format, where their true purpose was lost.

Bunkai and Oyo

In prearranged forms, the tendency is to analyze most movements from a specific rhythm and distance. Thus if one imagines a person at a certain distance and uses a set rhythm for the movement, it will only be possible to imagine striking interpretations. But in the original free style method of practice, Jiyu Kata, the practitioner moved about freely, visualizing attackers from many different angles, distances, and assaults, including grappling, as well as, striking methods. This allowed for multiple interpretations of the same movements. Thus the three pivots could be analyzed, Bunkai, and applications developed, Oyo, to cover all possible contingencies. The development of the skill was limited only to the knowledge, understanding, and creativity, of the Okinawan Bushi.

This is the first of the two ancient aspects, the use of free style Kata, which allows for the interpretation of movements in a free flowing manner. The second is related to this and can best be described as either the principle of Ju or of Aiki. Some modern stylists, seeking to merge modern arts into a synthesis or composite art, have noticed that the main problem is that modern arts have very separate concepts of motion, making it hard to truly blend, let us say Karate and Aikido. Karate is hard, Aikido is soft, and trying to make the two work as one is extremely difficult, if one operates from that perspective. Yet the truth is, that all non-competitive, combat oriented, martial arts have as their basic and most fundamental principle that of non-resistance or harmony.

Ju the principle of Non-Resistance

Ju is the principle of non-resistance, sometimes called gentleness, or yielding. The idea is that if you resist an attacker with the idea of overpowering them, only if you are physically superior, can you succeed. Ju is the principle that allows one to overcome someone who is physically superior, by using non-resistance, which is the essence of dodging, as practiced in the combat arts and developed through the practice of Kata Ido, along with some other concepts. One cannot utilize the principle of Ju and be competitive. Notice that Judo, the sport, has turned into a rugged and rough form of jacket wrestling. In no Judo competition today does one see the principle of Ju actually in use. To be non-resistance, gentle, and yielding, one must be non-contentious and non-combative. Then when the enemy attacks, it is easy to lead them to defeat.

Aiki the principle of Harmony

Aiki is the idea of harmony. No matter how an assailant attacks, if you move in harmony with them, it is impossible for the person to harm you. At the same time, as you move in harmony, it is possible to establish a lead, taking control of the attacker’s movement and thus be able to turn their own assault back on them. Once again, wanting to attack or be contentious, will cancel the ability to use the harmony principle, since you must first come out of harmony in order to attack.

These two principles form the second of the ancient aspects of true Okinawan Bujutsu, i.e. Bushi Te. Both of these ideas can be developed through the practice of Kata Ido. There is nothing as much fun as taking Kata Ido and practicing it in a free style manner, doing different strikes, blocks, and kicks. Using visualization, it is possible to spend a long time in practice, without awareness of the passage of time, making it a great form of cardio-vascular training.

Kata Ido, being an ancient form of training, helps one develop better turns, improved body coordination, and self defense skill. It can be practiced by those who practice the free style Kata, but is also of great benefit to those who train with prearranged Kata. It is an exciting and interesting method of training that benefits the practitioner in innumerable ways. Most of all it is a part of the grand Okinawan Bujutsu heritage, that has been preserved in many styles and should be a continued part of martial arts training, for now and into posterity.



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