Kobudo, Vancouver, BC, Mario McKenna, Advanced Bo Kata

Yoshimura Hiroshi Sensei

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Since the lock-down as a result of Covid-19 I have had more time for self-training. This past week I was  able to practice some Kobudo kata that I had been neglecting; in particular Soeishi no kon and Chatanyara no kon. After practice I began to think of a few years ago when I was visited by Fred Lohse and Russ Smith who put on a great empty-hand and Matayoshi Kobudo seminar in Vancouver. Afterwards  we talked about “advanced” bo kata taught near the end of the Taira curriculum: Urasoe, Chinenshikiyanaka, Chatanyara, Sesoko, and Soeishi. These are  very long and complicated kata that are typically taught only at the higher dan grades and after a long apprenticeship under a competent teacher. To give you an idea of how long it takes I’ve compiled a few examples of when these higher level kata are taught based on the curricula of my own teacher Minowa Katsuhiko, and Nakamoto Masahiro. In Minowa sensei’s curriculum, Chinenshikiyanaka no kon is taught at 5th dan, while in Nakamoto sensei’s curriculum it’s taught at 8th dan.

Using myself as an example, I first learned Chatanyara no kon in 2014 after I’d been practicing Kobudo for a little over 20 years. Even then, I still didn’t have the appropriate grade to learn the kata according to Minowa sensei’s curriculum. Of course, Chatanyara no kon is a technically complicated kata, I understand that, but did I really need to have been training 20 years before I could have learned it? I’m not sure. Of course, the ultimate decision is my teacher’s and when he decides that I’m ready to learn something, then I learn it.

At any rate, the conversation with my training partners made me wonder about my own students. Some of them started Kobudo in their 30s, 40s, or even older so that would mean that if they stuck by the typical training times and grading requirements, then they could be quite old before they ever got to these more complicated and technically rich Bo kata; or they may simply never get to them. That’s a shame as these later kata teach unusual angles of attack, footwork, and using a 4’ or 6’ grip to name but a few characteristics. Techniques using the 4’ and 6’ grip, for example, require flexibility in the shoulders and wrists, coordination, overall body strength, not to mention a keen memory to recall the kata . Sadly, some of these attributes may be deficient in older students. Heck, I have these problems now!

Some Kobudoka and teachers may not think learning these kata later on in one’s Kobudo training is a problem, but I personally have issues with the long interval students have to wait before moving onto higher level material; especially with the large curriculum that most Taira lineage dojo contain. Although this long apprenticeship has its advantages, such as developing a strong foundation, ironically it’s also its worst enemy because students only get good at the fundamentals and nothing else.

There are many solutions to this problem. The first would be to simply teach the kata earlier on in the student’s career. A second solution is to reduce the number of kata (as Matayoshi Shimpo did in the 1960s in order to streamline the curriculum). Personally, I have been thinking that a solution for the higher Bo kata might be to introduce a Bo set that covers some of the more common techniques that are taught in the later kata such as the 4’ and 6’ attacks and parries that I mentioned earlier as well as some of the kneeling postures and defensive strategies. I’ve rarely seen these attack and defense combination in most of the two-person sets in Taira lineage Kobudo. Another idea would be to allow students to have an elective kata. That is that they stick to the regular curriculum but are allowed to select a more advanced kata that they are interested in studying before they have met the time or grade requirement for learning it.

These are a few things I’ve considered changing in my Kobudo, but wouldn’t do so without thoroughly discussing it with my teacher, Yoshimura sensei, and getting his approval. I guess I’ll have to Facetime him soon. It’s not like I don’t have the time these days 🙂

Good training.

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As an aside, I’ve also been thinking about a similar model for Karate Do. Something along the lines of teaching the four core Nahate kata of Sanchin, Sesan, Sanseru and Bechurin as compulsory kata and making the other kata elective.