How do we impart knowledge in a physical sense? How do you imbue a student with not only the information that is contained in a physical culture of budo, but also with the fully embodied realization of said information—knowledge made manifest in action? The answer is inevitably drills, drills and more drills. Repetition of the physical information (aka waza) and lots of it. In Budo training such drills come in a variety of shapes an sizes and go by a variety of names.
Sometimes this information is structured pretty informally—the parameters are kept rather loose to allow more free-form variability. This level is typically kihon and because it is designed for building practical skill fast, it is kept pretty short sweet a and simple and it is also where we spend most of our initial time in training. Even a few months of kihon work does wonders.
“Nothing is more advanced than the basics” and we know this because we have seen that folks who do lots of kihon stuff (like the 8 releases aka shichihon-no-kuzushi and renzoku (chains) in aikido, and uchikomi/nagekomi and later point to point control drills (judo renzoku, particularly ashiwaza) in judo get really good at randori in short order.
Next we have kata, which tends to be more or less exacting, particular and precise. In Kata we have Seitei or standard form and Henka for variations on the themes. Standard forms tend to be the central ideas of application that cover the widest set of parameters and that aim the application of a given technique towards the most failsafe options. There may be 17 ways to do each of the 17 randori waza (or more), but only a few of those methods will be nearly universal for all shapes and sizes and also be structured for failsafe. Because of this, seitei are foundational, central. Henka provide the fleshing out of the foundational ideas in a wide variety of application so that the rigidity of the standard form does not ossify into the hazard of “the one true right way.” Standard form is preferable for your daily diet of practice (because you want to shoot to the middle of your target most of the time), but without exploring Henka peroidically one can get myopic and stale. The narrowness and rigidity of seitei kata work also does not lend itself readily to the quickening of randori skills. Many a player has delved deeply into perfecting kata – ceaselessly polishing–only to find that the super refined item just doesn’t serve in the hurly burly chaos of randori or real life. Henka and study of Ura waza (counter throws) are a nice curative for this syndrome since they reintroduce the looseness of kihon and make the chaos of randori more manageable. They form a bridge from the rarefied activity of pure kata to the nitty gritty mess of realism.
In some ways the Tomiki system’s Koryu kata set (the “higher” katas) can be viewed as an extension of the Henka theme writ large. We see repeated themes from both kihon and seitei in the koryu. In other ways, these kata themselves can be studied in seitei and henka forms. Koryu as the name implies point to the antique forms and are Tomiki’s repository for all the rest of aikido that didn’t work so well in the context of playing toshu randori (either too dangerous or just outside the scope). Here is a mixed bag of stuff , some of it more theoretical and some more self-defense oriented, an amazing conglomeration of ideas. Each embodying a set of interesting themes, central variables and each expressible as a unique artistic demonstration. A repository of treasure and much food for thought.