Entrance to the Barn Dojo....

Sunday, July 31, 2011

A little more on sanseiru

I suppose blogs are where you can air your complaints to no one in particular and not offend anyone...because no one's listening anyway. The airways are too full of noise. I read one time in an Alexandra David Neal book how the Tibetans, she says, believed that once upon a time everyone had telepathy but that modern inventions--telephones, television, radio, etc.--have messed up the airways so that nothing else gets through. There is a lot of noise out there, but not much worth listening to.

Anyway, I was watching a video of Dan Djurdjevic doing Sanseiru "as a cluster M" kata. Now what does this mean and why would one bother? What Djurdjevic was attempting to demonstrate was what the kata would look like if it were entirely "symmetrical"--that is, if all the techniques done on one side were also done on the other side--right and left equality. Mario Mckenna did a piece a while back where he talked about the evident differences in structure, trying to prove some link between some kata (Sanchin, Sanseiru, and Suparinpei) in the Goju canon and how structurally they were very different from the others, possibly evidence of different origins. Certainly there may be some truth to this--there are structural differences--but there are perhaps more similarities overall than differences and a "cluster analysis" based on so little is perhaps not the most convincing method of scientific analysis. Be that as it may, it also begs the question: A thorough understanding of the subject one is examining--that is, the bunkai of these katas--might prove more helpful than a comparison based on appearances, what the kata techniques look like.

Anyway, back to a symmetrical performance of Sanseiru. Why bother? Two questions occur to me: Where do you break the techniques apart to show repetition? Some techniques are combinations. And, this sort of performance tends to ignore the directional and angle movement demonstrated in the kata, not to mention the lesson of the 90 degree/180 degree turns. If you repeat tecchniques in a way that moves differently from the original kata, it affects the bunkai or the analysis of the kata moves.

Along these lines...I was watching an old video of Morio Higaonna doing some bunkai from Sanseiru. His bunkai for the last move of the kata was: The opponent punches to the chest with the right hand. The defender (doing kata) blocks this with his left hand. Then the opponent punches with his left hand to the head. The defender blocks this with the rising wrist block (te kubi uke), and follows this with a crane's beak attack to the opponent's eyes or face (hard to tell in the video). So what's wrong with this? Well, there's a bunch wrong with this bunkai, but most importantly it ignores the movement that the kata shows. In the kata, the defender steps back into shiko dachi at more than a 180 degree angle. The steps and turns in kata are just as important for understanding technique (bunkai) as the hands, so why are they so often ignored?!?

Saturday, July 30, 2011

The End of Sanseiru

Now William of Ockham (1285-1349) must have been an interesting guy. I often think of him when I come across inventive interpretations of kata applications. A lot of explanations of bunkai stray pretty far from kata movement. Some may be quite effective, but I have my doubts about whether one should actually call them bunkai, if bunkai is the analysis of kata. Logically, if kata is a means of remembering technique, and in applying the principles to the movements of kata one can discover the bunkai or applications of technique, then straying from a strict interpretation of kata movement would seem to be wrong-headed or at least counterproductive. On the other hand, there are those who see everything overly simplistically--that is, their bunkai tends to always be on a beginner level: block, punch, kick. Goju-ryu employs many more techniques than this and often to far deadlier effect. For example: The bunkai for the last technique or combination in Sanseiru may not be readily apparent but illustrates the softness of Goju with the first absorbing "block," the simultaneous block and attack with the hooking palm strike to the opponent's head, the stickiness of following the opponent, the use of the forearm instead of a basic punch in what looks like a double punch, and then the simplicity and control of pulling the head in with the crook of the arm, stepping back to unbalance the opponent, cranking the chin around and attacking the throat with the fingers in the crane's beak hand position. To me, this follows kata technique exactly, and yet is simple, deadly and highly effective. That's Ockam's Razor--an effective principle to use when studying bunkai.

To get there: Though the illustrations show the opposite of kata side for the last technique/combination, using kata side you have just finished the first of the double punch techniques in a right foot forward basic stance, facing west (if we imagine the kata begins facing north). Imagine the opponent coming from the west and step back with the right foot, starting the block in the first illustration as soon as you begin to move. You are intercepting the opponent's right punch. As you block, you are also attacking the opponent's head, then the left hand/arm comes down into "changing gate" to take his right arm out of the way. You are stepping to the east in order to follow the opponent and, as you do so, you execute the double punch shown in the second picture. You are punching across the opponent's throat, clotheslining him if you will. Then immediately draw in the right arm, cradling the opponent's head. Step back with the left foot into shiko dachi, pulling the opponent off balance. The left hand comes up and around to grab and pull the opponent's chin to the left. The right crane's beak attacks to the throat.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Blogs and pictures

Every time I write something--whether it is working on an article or writing a blog--I can't help thinking that this is time that I could be training. When I used to drive a half hour to train with my teacher, I remember him pointing out to me that I was spending an hour in the car to train for two hours--that is, for every two hours I was training I could have been training another hour.

Pictures. Many people look at the final moves in kata and use that position to interpret bunkai, missing everything in between. The application of the move can often better be seen in the movement from the previous position to the end of the next move. Like this move in Seipai. Many people look at it and see the lower hand blocking a kick simply because its final position is pretty low. But if you look where the technique begins, where it passes through the centerline of the body, you will see it as a middle level circular block. It starts on the outside of the opponent's punch and brings it across and down, opening the target.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Random thoughts on Sanseiru

We've been working a bit recently on Sanseiru. There are those who have suggested that the canon of Goju kata should be separated--based on some selective historical hearsay or what seems to be slightly flawed "cluster analysis"--with Sanseiru, Seisan, Suparinpei and Sanchin on one side, and Saifa, Seiunchin, Shisochin, Seipai, and Kururunfa on the other.

But, using only one example, how does one then explain the similarity between the "changing gate" blocks of Sanseiru and Seipai--open hand in the first kata and closed hand in the latter? Admittedly, there does seem to be a kinship between the structures of Seisan and Sanseiru, but there are many more similarities between all of the different katas, those included.

I find the changing gate block (the illustrated technique and the move that follows it) a fascinating technique--typifying many aspects of Goju, from the simultaneous block and attack, to the "softness" of the technique, to the ability to almost instantly change attacks. Another aspect of this combination fascinated me as well: The first time it occurs in kata--facing north from the double open-hand down technique in shikodachi--the attack is from the front or north. The defender (kata) is in a 90 degree relationship in applying this technique. In the second instance, facing west after the double punch, the attacker is coming from the west, and the defender (kata) "absorbs" the attack, stepping back with the right foot, right forearm blocking and left open palm attacking, and then follows the attacker along the west-to-east line into the double punch; that is, in this second application, the relationship has moved to one of 180 degrees. Interesting, because both Sanseiru and Suparinpei employ this 90 degree/180 degree movement in the structure of their center sections.

Of course, this directional turn does not occur in the way Sanseiru is done in all schools. The Toguchi Shoreikan, for example, will turn to the left into a closed hand chudan block (done twice with a step) before this second technique. They also don't quite employ this "changing gate" block, though one can see a vague similarity. And there are certainly other differences as well.

The opening of Sanseiru is also different to some extent in the Shodokan of Higa Seiko sensei. After the three "punches"--or tsuki-uke (my own thoughts on the subject)--there is a right open hand block (or grab), followed by the left open hand coming to the right elbow and stepping back into a front stance as the left hand is swept out along the right extended arm. Some have described this as a grab release. Some have even suggested that the hand follows your own arm as a means of situating your technique in the dark! I believe this is an arm bar, which follows the tsuki uke and grab. Once you have stepped back into the front stance, levering the opponent down, you then reach over for the head (in the Shodokan version), as you step forward. In the process of stepping forward, the left hand quite naturally scoops the opponent's right previously barred arm up and locks it out of the way. The defender's right arm is now grabbing the opponent's head, the left arm controls the arm and is lying on the opponent's back. This is then followed by a left knee to the opponent's ribs, moving forward into a right elbow attack, etc.

Curious to me how the different schools of Goju developed different versions of this opening. And more curious still, how some schools "fudge" their explanations by saying things like: "The kata may show one stepping back into front stance, but in reality one would step forward." Or, trying to block and grab an opponent's kick with this technique...as if, one, his kick is really that slow, and, two, he wouldn't then punch you in the head! Anyway, just my own random thoughts.