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?!?


  1. I am entirely in agreement with you: the steps and turns are just as much a part of bunkai as the arm movements! I've written some blog entries on the subject of how I came to chose which movements of sanseiru to repeat and where, but essentially it follows an analysis of the way the other "Cluster M" kata are designed.

    Thanks for your great blog and keep up the good work!

  2. Just to add: my own experiments in "balancing" the left and right in sanseiru should be seen in context; I am "thinking out loud" rather than voicing some sort of definitive view on what the kata "should look like" etc.!

  3. Hi Dan,
    I appreciate your kind words. I have often lurked from the shadows on your discussion forum. Sorry if I seemed like an attack dog in these posts, but there hasn't seemed to be much really productive or investigative discussion going on via the internet over the past year.

    All the best,

  4. You're right - very few discussions explore the issues you have raised. Keep up the good work!