Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Pedagogy of Kata

In the context of Japanese knowledge transmission, the primacy of bodily form is evident (Tsujimoto, 1999). Kata is the philosophical principle that underpins the bodily form of artistry transmission (e.g., Hahn, 2007; Matsunobu, 2007b, 2009; Powell, 2004; Yuasa, 1987). Traditionally, Japanese arts have been preserved and transmitted through kata, literally ‘form’ or ‘mold,’ through which students learn structures of art, patterns of artistic and social behaviors, and moral and ethical values, all in accordance with prescribed formulae. Kata is a set of bodily movements that have been developed and preserved by precedent artists. The most efficient and authentic way to master the artistry, it is believed, is to follow the model defined as kata.

Central to this pedagogy is the repeated practice and imitation of the model through the body. The acquisition of kata is thus a ‘discipline for shaping one’s body into a form’ (Yuasa, 1987: 105). Trimillos’ observation of a Japanese teacher epitomizes the characteristics of kata learning: ‘The teacher seldom identifies the error, but waits until the phrase is played correctly and then expresses approval’ (repetition of practice), and its ‘goal is to perform the piece exactly as the teacher has presented it’ (Trimillos 1989: 39). Yano (2002) observes that the Western dualism between form and content, each of which traditionally corresponds to the false and the true, dissolves as continuous and interpenetrating parts in the theory of kata. Kata is content attendant upon form. The creative goal of kata-training is ‘to fuse the individual to the form so that the individual becomes the form and the form becomes the individual’ (Yano 2002: 26).

Kata is also a social practice in that it involves the body directly in a social setting. Through the correct imitation of formal patterns that define not only ideal artistic expressions but also ideal moral behaviors, students participate in the social embodiment of values. The difference between kata and what we are familiar with as ‘form’ (called katachi in Japanese) is that the former is a content-attendant, embodied, habitual, contextualized, and value-laden form, whereas the latter is an abstract and empty form. Kata historicizes, socializes, and spiritualizes the individual, but katachi formulates, abstracts, and standardizes one’s imagination and thought.

In the context of noh performance, the distinction between kata and katachi is explained through the concept of tai (‘embodied form’) and (‘expressiveness’ or ‘taste’). If someone expresses a piece only with yū (that is without tai), the performance is not considered as a representation of the piece. The founder of noh, Zeami Motokiyo (1364–1443), elaborates it in this way:

One must know tai-yū in Noh. Tai is like a flower and yū is like its scent. Or tai is like the moon and yū like the moon-light. If one has a thorough comprehension of tai, one should naturally possess yū…. No one should copy the yū, the outer appearance of the performance. Those who know enough see another actor’s performance with heart and soul and so copy the work of tai. When the tai is closely copied, the actor’s performance will naturally have yū with it. (Sekine, 1985: 117–118)

The core of a piece of work derives from tai (or kata) not yū (or katachi). If someone has copied only the latter, but not the former, then his or her expression becomes superficial and lacks spirit.

KM: Is your embodiment of shakuhachi music based on the kata or devised as katachi?

No comments:

Post a Comment