Entrance to the Barn Dojo....

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

Principles of Goju-ryu

There are many "principles" one might apply to the study and training of Goju-ryu. However ambiguous the term may be, I will list a number of ideas that I have found useful in analyzing kata. Here is a short list:

 Katas are composed of combinations or sequences of techniques. Certainly there are an infinite number of techniques that one can study, but one will never truly understand Goju-ryu as a system until one can clearly see the combinations or sequences contained within the katas.

 “Eyes see in four directions. Ears hear in eight directions.” This means that one should be aware of an attack from any of the four directions: front, either side, or behind. The eight directions are not directions of attack, but response. One should “listen” or be able to read the opponent’s attack in order to respond in the correct manner. That is, in reading the opponent’s attack correctly—which side is attacking, where his balance is, how much force is being used—one will know in which direction to move, whether forward, back, to the sides, on an angle to the front, or stepping away at an angle. These are the eight directions which one employs against an attack: in terms of the compass, they are north, south, east, west, northwest, northeast, southeast, and southwest. The katas illustrate this movement.

 Steps and turns indicate directions of attack. That is, directional changes in kata show where the attack is coming from and how to step off the centerline. Turns in kata do not show the defender turning to face the attacker, but stepping off the line of attack in any one of the eight compass directions. Always step off the centerline when this is possible. Always remove your center. Put more simply, get out of the way.

 Each sequence or series of techniques begins with a block and ends with the opponent on the ground or finished. To understand kata, look for the beginnings and the endings.

 Study the relationship between the hand and the elbow in all techniques and all katas.

 Block the arms, but attack the head.

 In karate there is only one attack. This means that the attacker is allowed only one punch. When this is blocked, the karate-ka moves in such a way that the attacker cannot attack a second time.

 Rather than collections of individual techniques, katas in Goju-ryu were formed to show variations of technique or principles.

 Block on the outside, move to the inside. It is safer to be outside, moving in only to attack.

 Look at techniques as if they were applied in combat on the battlefield, not as if they were restricted to competition or demonstrations. Bunkai is a response to fully committed or surprise attacks. It is not meant to mimic sport or a mutually agreed upon contest. Karate is not boxing. However, there are many counters in kata that show responses to an attack that is not a fully committed attack or a response to an attacker that has begun to withdraw. This has to do with listening skills.

 Techniques that appear to be repetitions are often meant to be done together. That is, they are part of the same sequence combination, done against a single attack by a single attacker. This may not always be the case in kata, but such techniques occur often enough that one should not always assume that such techniques are done simply to practice on both the left and right sides. This is particularly evident when there is the repetition of four similar techniques.

 When a block or grabbing technique appears with an advancing rather than retreating step, the opponent is already being controlled. This usually means that one already has control—has hold— of the attacker’s head or arms.

 The cat stance is used to attack with the front knee. Sometimes kata will show this and other times it will only be implied. But it should be noted that the technique being applied makes the use of the knee possible.

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