Training with my instructor today he reminded me that “Katori is conversation.”
It’s a pretty serious sort of conversation, of course, being the sort in which, if you do it for real, somebody ends up dead.
Those stakes make it incumbent upon me as I practice to be constantly aware of what’s really at stake here: that this is a conversation of life and death. Only my mindfulness can make it so; that puts the onus on me to ensure I am bringing my full attention and my entire mind to my side of the conversation.
Even in the kata themselves, our posture, our focus, and our swords communicate, one to the other, the life-or-death moment that each strike and each block contain. The topic actually came up today as we practiced a common move in Katori: O-Gasumi.
In this technique, we find ourselves with our opponent’s sword laid overtop of our own — clearly not a position we wish to remain in for long! But the opponent’s mechanical advantage precludes simply lifting up. One way to convert this situation to our liking is to turn the sword over so that it is edge-up, and then lift the tip upwards as we step forward. If our opponent does not step back, we may cut his wrists from below, or even slice open his torso with a rising cut.
Performed quickly, it appears decisive and easy. Break it down into its component moves (or more traumatically, attempt it against someone more skilled than yourself) and you will find that your opponent can easily counter-thrust — IF you fail to maintain contact with your sword against his. That contact is what keeps the “conversation” going. You can FEEL when your opponent attempts a counter-thrust, since their sword is pressed against yours. Likewise, your opponent can feel that no opening is being provided, and has no aggressive options.
Part of practice is learning to hear this conversation between our swords — so that we are training ourselves to look for the opening when it comes, to recognize the moment so that we can speak our piece when appropriate.
Blindly performing moves, lost in our own worlds, is not the way of Katori. This practice requires open eyes, an open heart and a developed capacity to perceive what is truly being said to us.