I seem to have missed an interesting kendo kerfuffle on Facebook this week. A Japanese sensei from Brazil posted on The British Kendo Association’s page that if you wish to learn kata correctly then you should be taught directly by a Japanese sensei and should not learn from a video. Good advice! If I had the chance I would love to take some kata lessons from Inoue Yoshihiko sensei, who has spent a lifetime developing his knowledge of the form.
On the other hand the assumption that only a “Japanese” sensei could understand the riai of kata to a level where they can teach it seemed a bit harsh and a number of my friends took exception to the apparently xenophobic tone of the post. Some of the loudest comment came from Japan where people made the point that kata is often ignored by the majority of kendoka and that more focus is put on its practice by kendo countries outside Japan. It was also noted that not all Japanese kodansha are good at kata.
I have some sympathy with this point of view. When I lived in Japan, I asked a very strong kyoshi 7th dan teacher to teach me kata. He was delighted to help, but did so with a bokuto in one hand and a kata instruction book in the other. I don’t know if the rules are still the same but in Osaka and Hyogo it was possible to be excused the kata part of a grading exam by showing evidence that you had attended a kata course. I took advantage of this several times.
On the other hand I have seen people fail the kata section in the UK and in other European countries for what by Japanese standards are minor mistakes.
The All Japan Kendo Federation strongly promote the correct understanding of kata for both foreign and domestic instructors. The ZNKR kyoshi examination (which is open to non-Japanese teachers), focuses heavily on the teaching of kata and reigi, both of which I see missing as often from Japanese kendo students as from those from other parts of the world.
Let’s face it; learning from a teacher is better than learning from a video – fact. Some teachers are better at teaching kata than others- fact. On the other hand I strongly believe that the ability to teach kata correctly is based on years of practice and research rather than DNA.
Oh and talking about Brazil; a Brazilian sensei from Hong Kong just passed hachidan. It’s a funny old world. Congratulations Kishikawa sensei and Merry Christmas to you all!