Entrance to the Barn Dojo....

Wednesday, May 30, 2007


In a recent blog, Mario McKenna turns his thoughts to the writings of Toyama Kanken, writing in Encyclopedia of Karate-do, who, according to McKenna, wrote:

Secret technique begins from simple technique.

Simple technique ends in secret technique.

In the beginning there is no secret technique, in the end there is secret technique.

One must grasp and forge the intangible key.

McKenna asks, "is Toyama being [purposefully] cryptic"?

Certainly there is a long history of cryptic statements--or at least poetic description--by practitioners of the martial arts. The Chinese classics particularly abound with poetic description that is perhaps only really understood by those who already know what they are doing. That is, writings would seem to serve as reminders rather than learning tools. So what is Toyama hinting at?

Kata, I would suggest, are composed of basic techniques (usually found as strings of three at the beginning of the kata) and combinations or sequences that show the applications of techniques. Each combination begins with a "uke" or receiving technique, an entry if you will, which is generally followed by a controlling or attacking technique, which is itself followed by a finishing technique/s. The controlling and/or finishing techniques are fairly situation specific and may appear more "complicated" in comparison to other techniques. They also yield up their applications fairly readily to the observer or practitioner. The entry techniques and the "basics" appear somewhat simpler, and consequently seem more cryptic. One needs an "intangible key" to understand them. That "intangible key" is a way of looking at the kata--to see it as a collection of combinations, each beginning with an entry or "uke"; to see the steps in kata as an indication of how to move off-line; and to see that the attacker is not necessarily coming from the front or the direction we may be facing, but from the direction we are stepping away from. In the end, Toyama expresses all of this in a wonderfully simple manner--three little phrases!