More than one way to skin a cat

For most of my time spent studying aikido, life was pretty straight forward. We had the "walking kata" (tegatana no kata), the 8 releases (hanasu no kata), "the 17" (junana hon kata), and "the Big 10" (o-waza ju pon). We had the advanced katas (though we started with koryu dai san kata, and then did yon, go, and roku katas), but for the most part, our day-to-day class time was spent on those fundamental 4 kata. And life was pretty simple.

Then, not too long ago, we added a series of renraku waza (combination) techniques, which started with a given release and continued with a string of various techniques (mostly from the 17) that branched off in different directions depending on possible situations or responses from uke, etc.

And they've worked out great. We understand so much better how to flow from one thing to another, obviously, but it also helped us to keep moving, to use our centers, to maintain principle. It even managed to magically deepen our understanding of a given technique somehow better than doing that technique by itself had. Beginners picked up techniques quickly that they would normally not have seen until nikkyu.

The only down side, in my eyes anyway, was that there are just so many of them. And we kept coming up with more and more. There's just no way to memorize them all like any of the traditional kata. After we covered a section in class, I would go home and make notes of the different series, which has so far taken up several pages. I feel a bit silly when it comes to leading a class, when I don't know exactly what we're supposed to be doing (we have notes written on a dry erase board describing what we're to go over for the week in class, but I don't always remember everything just by reading a name or two). Junior grades probably don't think much of it, but I can't help but feel somehow inadequate.

Then on top of that, lately we've been exploring a number of different variations on how to do the techniques from the 17 based on other Tomiki styles, some classical Ueshiba ideas, and few others of our own. Which, again, has been really eye-opening. It's wonderful! Once more, I'm understanding each technique a little better when experienced from different approaches.

Then, on top of THAT, we've been working on ura waza (counter techniques) for the first time since I can remember, plus all the various possibilities that can branch off from there.

Good grief, my brain is overloading! It may help to understand my predicament to know that I am, by nature, a very neat and organized person. I like having everything mapped out in my head, so it's somewhat disorienting to not have all the techniques or variations of my art committed to memory.

And while I don't plan on starting my own dojo any time soon, I am still relatively young with a long future of budo ahead of me, life has a way of changing in drastic ways without consulting you first. Should the need arise to begin my own program, what pieces will I teach? Will I even have the necessary notes and recollections to pass along even half of what we've been doing?

Perhaps I shouldn't worry so much about it. I can always start with the basic four, just like I did when I started, and go from there. Perhaps, rather than worry whether I can keep everything organized in my head, I should enjoy the fact that there's always something new to learn; that, after 15 years, there's still more to discover and probably will be 30 years from now. Which is always a good thing.


  1. I agree-- it has been a wild ride this past decade or so -- i dont know any high rank that hasnt felt inadequate in the face of all the material and evolution-- upgrades upon upgrades --wow
    The discomfort this provokes reminds me a little of the fact that Ueshiba Sensei himself didnt systematize, didnt even name techniques per se-- he just got up and taught and whatever that was that he did, just was "aikido"--people copied what he did and they just learned "aikido"
    all the styles and systems and katas and kihons and descriptions-- all the organiztion was cooked up much later by folks with minds like ours, and at it best all that addendum does serve to transmit principle in a more efficent manner-- at its worst it makes us blind to possibilities--

    sometimes i think we slip the bounds... and we're back at just "aikido"-- which aint all bad -- the broad perspective sure can leave one feeling like a beginner again but again that aint all bad either

    to borrow a line from the zen tradition--all the katas and forms are just fingers pointing at the moon-- the moon itself is what we are here to apprehend


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