What is the “right” way to practice Katori Shinto Ryu?

Written by Stephen Snelders April 2nd, 2012

 
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There are currently several Katori Shinto ryu styles in existence, all with their own approach to the techniques. Often a certain approach is claimed to be the right one, either because that’s how it is said to have been done originally, or because it is supposedly the only technically correct way to do it.

The first argument, that of historicity, is basically an appeal to authority. It is made all the more meaningless by the fact that nobody knows how Katori was practiced in earlier times, and that it is highly unlikely that no changes in the techniques have occurred in over five centuries.


The second argument can also be called an appeal to authority within the context of Japanese budo, as it is a claim that is never challenged in an open discussion of alternative approaches.


In my opinion the only “right” practice is to conform to the fundamental principles of sword fighting, which have been the same throughout all ages and cultures, such as:



  • hit the opponent without being hit yourself;
  • if the tip of your sword is pointed at the opponent while his isn’t pointed at you, you can hit him first: the opening;
  • it is dangerous to be within reach of the opponent’s weapon, so control the situation by controlling the space in between: control the centre;
  • keep as much of your body as possible out of the reach of the opponent’s weapon: posture and distance;
  • if there is an opening, attack – the situation may have changed in the next instant: timing and speed;
  • attack the opponent with your weapon first; do not move your body then your sword: weapon moves before body.

Apart from this there are tactical principles, such as provoking an attack by pretending to give the opponent an opening, using speed and agility against bigger opponents, and so on and so forth.


All techniques that make use of the principles above are correct; all others are not. And there is more than one way to execute a technique while conforming to these basic principles.


Katori Shinto ryu kata are forms that can be used to research and practice the fundamental principles of sword fighting, and of martial arts in general. This is what makes it interesting to keep studying them, and this is why more than one approach to them can be practiced in the same dojo.


Stephen Snelders

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