Respond With Life!

After practice tonight I was polishing my sword (no, that’s not a euphemism (and yes, I can hear you snickering back there, Joshua)) and D mentioned that while she feels like she’s able to do the stances when we’re just practicing the stances, she has a hard time recognizing them in the katas.

And I missed out on the classic “Horrible Things Great Teachers Say” moment — I totally FAILED to say, “Don’t worry, you aren’t doing them right in practice, either.” Damn. That would have been pretty funny.

What I DID say was something or other about how they’re supposed to be different, because the kata aren’t just there to link together each stance in a particular order so that you can pretend you’re swordfighting. The kata are living, breathing intellectual artifacts that only exist because people embrace them, possess them and then pass them on to others.

I said, “It’s a practice, not a formula.”

So I was riding the Ossington bus back down to King Street and listening to the Propellerheads’ version of “On Her Majesty’s Secret Service” (which if you don’t know is MIND-BLOWING) and thinking about D’s question and how that principle of practice over formula really applied at every level of Katori practice.

When I am going through the kata with my partner, I cannot just “do the moves”. The “right” stance will be fatally wrong if my partner is doing something other than what I expect. Katori asks you to pay attention with your WHOLE self to your partner, and to adapt your body, your posture, your soul, to what they bring.

To respond with attention and focus and vitality. With life. Respond with life.

And I thought, as John Barry’s fantastic horns rose up around me, as the bus turned onto Strachan Avenue, that “Respond With Life” was just a great… I don’t know. Thing. Saying. Stance.

Hey, yeah. Stance. The “right” stance in Katori, always, is to Respond With Life. SEE what’s really there, shed your expectations and see through to the heart of things, and then see into yourself and find exactly the position, the posture, the STANCE that will make the most of it. That will be alive and vital and strong and courageous.

Respond With Life. It’s a stance.

Photo by Arty Smokes

5 Replies to “Respond With Life!”

  1. It WOULD have been funny!

    Katori and traditional music have a lot in common: living, breathing, different every time because of the heart and mind and soul and ability of the people around you. You can find it written down (or YouTubed), but the second you start actually doing it, it changes and becomes something more and different and bigger somehow because of the decisions and the interactions of the other and your responses to it.

    Very cool.

    Oh, and never underestimate the importance of a properly cleaned sword!


  2. To add something more meaningful, I always thought the kata were there to subconsciously train your mind and body to swordfight “correctly”; i.e., you do the katas enough so that the ways to move become almost instinctive.

    Then again, the only fencing I’ve ever done was “Western” fencing, so I I’m completely talking outta my ass here.

  3. Well, that’s basically true, but you have to keep in mind that “correct” is going to be different every time you go through the kata, because your partner is going to be in a different position relative to you.

    The correct posture cannot be determined without considering the posture of the partner. If she comes forward more than before, you must retreat more. If she over-rotates when cutting for your hip, you have to adjust your alignment to take advantage of that.

    It isn’t so much the MOVES that need to become instinctive so much as the ability to perceive what is happening and respond appropriately.

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