Chapter 3 The “waza” learnt through “kata” brought to life through “randori”

Contemporarily, the practice method that preserves safely the dangerous “waza” from olden times is “kata”. Old bu jutsu was 99% “kata” practice. Furthermore, in order to deal with the limitless attacks of an opponent all the responses were practised through “kata”. This meant that old jū jutsu had an extraordinarily large number of “kata”. For example, tenjin shin yō ryū jū jutsu had one-hundred and twenty-four “kata” and only ten “ran bō” (freestyle fighting) practices. To reach an expert level of ability to apply the “kata” required many years’s practice, and practitioners went straight from “kata” into challenges of violent “shiai” contests in the street to claim superiority by throwing or cutting with a sword. This was the only way to breathe life into “kata” practice in the dojo and to objectify real power through tests on the “battleground”. The techniques to deal with conflict that had no rules sat firmly in the domain of brute strength. One had to be resigned to the possibility of death.

In “ko den sho” (Book of Old Traditions) there is “the prohibition of shiai” (shibukawa ryū jū jutsu tai sei roku) (Complete Directory of shibukawa ryū jū jutsu). Inexperienced young people who risked their lives by partaking in these “shiai” contests were admonished. Moving with the times, by the middle of the Edo period these “shiai” that could cause severe bodily harm were strictly forbidden. Therefore, the study of bu jutsu came finally to rest solely with “kata” practice. Because jū jutsu had lost the “battleground” for practising and experiencing “shiai”, it became impossible to physically research and test “majitsu no chikara” (true power) and “jitsu ri no kakushin” (the essence of the practical principles) and thus it began to show signs of corruption.

For example, within ken jutsu during the middle of the Edo period,“hana hō ken hō” (flower sword way) was frowned upon. This was because flaws and defects manifested readily in “kata” when practised in isolation. The severity of disciplined training in bu jutsu was forgotten and the new easygoing direction it took was not a means by which to realise “jitsu ri no chikara” (true power). The story goes that exaggerated movements were added over time. In short, “kata” of the sword as budō had been corrupted to “kata” of the sword as theatrical performance. What remained was a kind of “kata” practice which had divested the last vestiges of power in an effort to ensure that safe practice was maintained.

As a way to rectify this problem, within ken jutsu “shinai keiko”13 (practice) was invented, and within jū jutsu “midare keiko” (freeplay practice) was developed. In the case of using a katana or bokutō one learnt “the principle of ai uchi” (two opponents attacking simultaneously) that is “kawa wo kirashite niku wo kiru ri” (When you cut the skin you cut the flesh)14. Whilst it is possible ninety-nine times out of a hundred to interpret through “kata” the practical principles, it is necessary to test in a contest the final moment of collision through the use of “shinai keiko”.

Within jū jutsu, too, the training discipline as free practice “midare keiko”, using “katame waza” and “nage waza” that exploited the last moment when an attacker closed in, was quickly devised. Using these examples as a basis, after the Meiji Era Kanō shihan accomplished a “randori” practice system. This is today’s jūdō.

As we already know, in order to bring to life “the real power” of “waza” learnt through “kata”, “randori” practice played a part in jū jutsu. Put another way, “randori” was seen as “completing the eyes of a painted dragon” - applying the finishing touches to the true power of “waza”.

However, the “waza” of ko ryū jū jutsu that possessed comprehensive bu jutsu characteristics were multiple and diverse in their type and variety of attacks. It is not possible to place all of these “waza” within “randori” practice. It therefore follows that we are left with the issue of creating another practice method of “randori” that gathers together the principles of “atemi waza” and “kansetsu waza”.

  1. The shinai is a sword made of lengths of bamboo lashed together with a cloth or leather handle. There is a cord running along its length to denote the blunt edge. In the same way, Tomiki sensei devised his own tantō with a line down it to represent the blunt edge. They are both weapons designed to strike without injury.

  2. In other words, to make significant contact with a weapon was sufficient to determine win/loss, as with the tanto strike in aikidō tantō randori or the scoring of modern fencing.