This page contains a collection of information which explains how you can further your training with a katana, and is for the more serious katana practitioner.
Kata – The fundamental series of movements
First we must acknowledge that at the center of Japanese sword training is a series of movements called Kata, of forms. These change from school to school, but ALL of the significant types of martial arts using a Japanese sword (Iaido, Kenjutsu and Kendo) include the use of Kata in one form or another.
Contained inside these old movements are numerous deadly techniques that have been tried and tested in battle. Most sword schools will introduce the new student to very basic kata before even introducing a katana or bokken (wooden sword). These basic kata , when repeated over and over again, have the purpose of developing the muscle memory of the practitioner so in time the movements will become second nature and can be performed without having to think. This state of development and mindfulness is referred to as Mushin.
Terminology of Japanese Sword Training
Suburi (cutting exercises)
Battoho (drawing techniques)
Tameshigiri (test cutting)
The great thing about practicing kata is that you can perform them by yourself pretty much anytime and anywhere. It is however important that you visualize your opponent at the same time, otherwise your movements will only be exactly that.. a series of movements, and not applicable to fighting when needed.
Iaido, Kenjutsu and Kendo
It should come as no big surprise that free fighting with sharp-bladed swords is NOT part of Japanese sword training. The equivalent of this would be to have duels with live guns and ammunition resulting in fewer and fewer training partners alive.. not the way to go. On the other hand, some sword-masters at the highest levels DO perform battle movements and exercises with a partner and dangerously sharp katanas.
There are similarities within Iaido, Kenjutsu and Kendo schools, but generally speaking we can say that Iaido has a focus on individual kata, while Kenjutsu has more focus on training kata with a partner, and Kendo mostly develops their students using partnered Kata with a Shinai (bamboo sword).
Kendo is by far the number one style of Japanese sword training that truly focuses on free sparring, or real fighting with a katana. Although new Kendo students spend a great deal of their time and energies on learning basic footwork, kata and partnered exercises with a Shinai (bamboo sword), there is no doubt that the main goal is to prepare them for free sparring.
The downside of Kendo is that it is much more of a sport than other martial arts involving a katana. This practice of full sparring leads to a habit of quickly flicking the wrist to be able to strike quickly and repeatedly in order to earn points and hit your opponents targets before he hits yours. Needless to say the habit of flicking the wrist does not translate well to the use of sharp bladed katanas. On the other hand Kendo develops a warrior spirit in its students which is hard to gain from other diciplines that train with katanas.
When students of Kenjutsu have mastered basic kata their teacher may introduce other techniques into the movements in addition to adding a partner. This type of advanced partnered kata can become so fluid and reactive that it mimics free sparring or real fighting. Free sparring is also practiced in some Kenjutsu schools with cushioned bokken (wooden swords) known as fukuro shinai.