“Ji Yu Kata is a natural evolution of formal kata training.” Sensei was beginning the lesson…
“In some ways it is like formal kata but in other ways very, very different. Tonight I’m going to show you why….” It looks like it’s going to be an interesting lesson. “If your formal kata training doesn’t lead to ji yu it will definitely be lacking.”
‘Ji Yu’ means ‘free style’ and most people these days when they hear the words ‘free style’ kata think of music, flashing lights, glittery gi’s, box splits, flips and cartwheels, but we knew that Sensei wouldn’t be talking about that!
“Okay guys, pair off.” We each found a partner. “What I’d like you to do now is for one to attack the other in slow motion using a ‘street type’ of attack from any angle. The defender should wait until the attack is initiated and react in slow motion with a strike that would disable the attacker.”
“How’s that possible Sensei?” queried Jeremy, “surely we would have to block the attack first before we can respond?”
“That is is what this training is all about” answered Sensei, “I want you to see what your natural reactions are and train them. I want them to be the reactions of a hunter. I want your awareness to be heightened and you to have the confidence in your reactions from your training. If you think, you lose – even at slow speed. If you think of defending and blocking you will probably lose. The only thought you should have is that of attacking and disabling your attacker. Trust your reactions, trust your training, you should utilise the ‘wedge’ and ‘spirals’ naturally in your response. If you feel that its life and death, go for vital areas, go for targets that will do the job, not ‘tournament’ style responses.
Then I want you to go into ‘overkill’ mode, taking the opponent to the ground and finishing them so that they would not be able to get up and continue fighting.
Remember to keep it ‘street’ keep it slow, keep it safe, don’t get excited and don’t panic. If you’re going to make mistakes, here is the place to make them. Make sure you’ve got it right for the street.
Okay rei – hajime..”
It was hard to stop myself from thinking, I couldn’t help ‘planning’ my attacks, but when my opponent did the unexpected, it all went awry and I couldn’t adapt. Then I remembered Sensei’s ‘hunter’s mindset’ and stopped planning and started to ‘hunt’ targets, it then gradually started to come together and I could react more spontaneously.
“Yamee…. Some of you are still intimidated by the attack and need to let go and trust your trained responses, others are still planning techniques that are bound to fail in a real fight. Use the hunter’s mindset, hunt the vital targets, trust in your training and work on distance, angle the principles and timing in the way that you hunt. Change partners!”
Practising with different shape, weight and gender partners really helps. It’s too easy to train with the same people each time and get into habits and techniques that only work on one type of person. We continued training in this way and with varying partners for some time.
“Okay guys, now let’s up the ante… split into groups of 4 and this is what I want you to do… Whilst the person in the middle finishes off the first attacker, I want the second to attack so that the defender has to defend from an ‘unusual’ position. As the defender finishes the second, the third attacks and so on… Again, keep it slow, keep it safe, don’t get excited and trust in your training and instincts. Also keep changing the defender so that you all get an equal go.”
Not getting too excited was not as easy as it sounded; Sensei had to calm us down several times as the process started to speed up. Now we had to deal with a variety of people quite quickly and from unusual positions, usually bending over or still being held in some way by the previous attacker. To do this properly we really did have to utilise the principle based thinking that Sensei expounds alongside the hunters awareness. As soon as we started to panic, everything went wrong.
“Yamee…”. Sensei then produced a variety of weapons, rubber knives, foam baseball bats and plastic bottles and passed them around. “This will heighten your awareness and a little bit more….”
And it did, as we moved around Sensei then dimmed the lights, turned on loud music and moved some chairs out from the edges. Now it really did feel like a controlled version of a real fight. Sensei spent most of his time grabbing people and saying ‘calm down’….
When we stopped Jeremy asked: “This is all very well Sensei, but didn’t you say that this lesson was about ji yu kata?”
“Well timed Jeremy, because as it happens, this is the point where we have done the bunkai and now need to do the kata. ‘Free style’ kata is where you now remember what it was like to be the defender, with multiple opponents, some armed, with loud noise, lots of aggression, and various things lying around that you can fall over or use as a weapon. Now find yourself a bit of space and use your imagination remembering how the experience felt, visualise your opponents attacking and just react principally based with the hunters awareness. I will set the clock for 5 minutes and if you stop moving at any point you have to drop and give me 20 push ups. Hajime!”
We all moved with a much stronger intent and the 5 minutes seemed like a 30 minute workout! When we finished we were all dripping with sweat….
“Shouldn’t all kata be like that Sensei?” asked Jeremy.
“It can’t be like that until you’ve got the tools to be able to do it, once you have the tools, you can reintroduce the ideas into your ‘formal’ prescribed kata because your level of understanding has been raised” answered Sensei.
“Free style kata is often misunderstood these days with the musical, gymnastic forms performed at various tournaments, but traditionally it is learned at the point that you have learned the basics and have the tools to defend yourself and need to put them to test, gradually and as safely as possible. Freestyle solo form is the process of training this method when you are on your own and a means of developing your fighting techniques from the training techniques traditionally found in kata.”
“So formal kata isn’t about fighting then Sensei?”
“We have already covered the answer to this question many times Jeremy, it’s about health, skill and application, you need to develop these ideas before leading up to free style kata which, although containing the other facets, focuses on self defence. This changes the way in which they are trained. It would be very difficult to become a martial artist without developing the tools in basics, formatted pairs work and kata and then putting them into free style in the most realistic way possible to test how they work.”