Entrance to the Barn Dojo....

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Thoughts on the Chinese classics--Part IV

"Continuity Without Interruption. The power of external stylists is extrinsic and clumsy. Therefore we see it begin and end, continue and break. The old power is exhausted before the new is born....From beginning to end there is no interruption. Everything is complete and continuous, circular and unending." The Ten Important Points, oral instructions of Yang Ch'eng-fu, recorded by Ch'en Wei-ming, compiled and trans. by Douglas Wile, p. 13.

One should look for this rhythm in kata and bunkai. So often students demonstrate kata with a kind of dead, static movement--as if they were demonstrating each position for judges at a tournament or as if they were demonstrating still postures from a book. However, from the beginning of a sequence till the end of that sequence there should be "continuity without interruption"; the movements should be continuous and without gaps. For example, from the opening technique in Seipai through the grab and neck twist there should be no gaps.

Find the beginnings, where the "uke" or receiving technique begins, and then look for the endings, where the opponent is left incapacitated or down. Everything from beginning to ending should be done in a continuous, uninterrupted fashion with no gaps.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Thoughts on the Chinese classics--part III

"We avoid the frontal and advance from the side, seizing changing conditions." Yang Family Manuscripts Collected by Li Ying-ang, quoted in T'ai-chi Touchstones: Yang Family Secret Transmissions, compiled and trans. by Douglas Wile, p. 37.

"We must quickly evade by withdrawing our center and attacking from the side." Transmissions of Yang Pan-hou published by We Meng-hsia, quoted in T'ai-chi Touchstones, compiled and trans. by Douglas Wile, p. 67.

This is the meaning of the patterns of Goju-ryu kata. We should study all of the turns and direction changes in order to learn how to "avoid the frontal and advance from the side." This is the structure and lesson of the directions in Goju kata. So often, students (and teachers) looking to apply the techniques of kata look only at the hands. It's as if we're lions caught in a cage at the circus and the only thing we can focus on is the chair held in our face. The initial movement in kata--the "uke" or receiving technique in a series--is usually accompanied b the movement, generally off line, of the feet and body. We move in along a northwest or northeast line (supposing that the kata starts facing north) as in the kicking techniques of Saifa or the first three shiko dachi stances of Seiunchin. We step to the side (the attack coming from the west) at the end of Saifa. We step back along a southwest or southeast diagonal at the beginning of Kururunfa. But so often, people either ignore the stepping or directions of kata or they will argue such nonsense as "the kata shows stepping forward but in actuality one would step back" (as I've heard quite reputable people say about the opening moves of Seiunchin). The kata is a teaching device. If you study this one lesson carefully, you will see all sorts of useful things that may not have been apparent before.

Of course you first have to see where the sequence begins, where the initial "uke" or receiving technique occurs. But once you have found these, you have to keep in mind that the kata itself, at least with Goju-ryu, is showing how to "avoid the frontal and advance from the side." The end of Seisan turns back to the front with a right block and left open-hand palm strike. This is a clear example of the kata pattern showing us how to apply this technique by moving to the side, avoiding the attack, removing our center, and attacking the opponent from the side, placing ourselves in a position that is at once safer and from which we are better able to control the attacker. So often those who merely look at the hands and ignore the lessons contained within the kata's pattern simply turn to face a new opponent, one attacking from the kata's original front, in this technique from Seisan. If you imagine that the attacker is really advancing from the east (the right) then a very different understanding of these techniques may emerge.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Thoughts on the Chinese classics--Part II

"The Millstone Turns But the Mind Does Not Turn. The turning of the millstone is a metaphor for the turning of the waist."--Cheng Man-ch'ing. Quoted in T'ai-chi Touchstones: Yang Family Secret Transmissions, compiled and trans. by Douglas Wile, p. 19.

So often I see karate students using their arms as if their arms were disconnected from the rest of the body. The arms are moved by the waist. The waist moves, the arms and legs move. When this is done properly, there is very little effort involved in "blocking" (or receiving) the opponent's attack. But this is difficult to learn from a book or a magazine. Some things are better learned from a teacher.

"The root is in the feet, energy issues up through the legs, is controlled by the waist and is expressed in the hands and fingers."--Yang Lu-ch'an's Commentary to the T'ai-chi ch'uan Classic (Wile, p. 102).

How can you really see what's going on in this technique from Seipai unless you understand the movement of the millstone? It is difficult to learn how to step in towards the attacker, as the kata shows. "The circle of retreat is easy; the circle of advance is difficult," it says in the "Yang Family Manuscripts Copied by Shen Chia-chen" (Wile, p. 89). And it is especially difficult without first learning how the waist enters into all movement.

"The hands and feet work together and likewise knees, elbows and waist." From "Yang Family Manuscripts Collected by Li Ying-ang" (Wile, p. 36).

You can learn kata and bunkai--from watching or looking at videos or even from books and magazines--but you can't really learn how to move until you train with a partner. And even then, if it is not under the watchful eye of someone who knows these things, you won't get it. But once you do see this, then you will see the "hard and soft" in Goju. This is just good martial arts. It cuts across style lines.

Thoughts on the Chinese classics -- Part One

"All the joints of the arms should be completely relaxed, with shoulders sunk and elbows folded down." --Yang Ch'eng-fu, quoted in T'ai-chi Touchstones: Yang Family Secret Transmissions, p. 6. Compiled and translated by Douglas Wile.

So often, people collect kata or bunkai without really learning how to move. This is especially a problem for people who try to learn by reading or watching videos, studying photographs in a magazine or talking to others over the Internet. It is difficult learning movement without working with a teacher, without working it out on the dojo floor. It is easy to collect kata or even bunkai, but you won't really learn how to move without doing kata and bunkai in front of a teacher.

Most people who practice karate are far too rigid. It is difficult to learn how to relax. But without relaxation, you won't be fast enough or have real power. If you have never experienced it, then it is also hard to imagine. The joints must be open and relaxed in order to use the whole of the body in each technique. Folding the elbows down--the position of the arms in Sanchin--is one of the lessons we learn from Sanchin kata and one of the lessons we carry over into other katas and many other techniques, in fact almost anytime we "touch arms" with an opponent. It is the structural integrity of this position that is so important. For example, if this position is correct, then one is in a position to effectively withstand the force of the attacker with very little effort. There have been some recent discussions in books and articles, as well as on line, about some of the important lessons we learn from Sanchin, and yet this position is given little or no discussion or emphasis.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Ah, he's just old or what does he know anyway?

I can't remember how long ago it was...maybe twenty or twenty-five years ago...when I came across an article in a popular martial arts magazine. The author--sorry that I can't now remember his name--was comparing the cat stance (neko ashi dachi) of Shorin-ryu with the back stance of Shotokan. His theory was that the mainland Japanese had misinterpreted Funakoshi sensei's stance since he was by then fairly old and teaching young university students. (Of course, there was another theory that the Japanese had lengthened the stances of Shorin-ryu because they were getting pushed around by Japanese judo players.) I have always liked this theory, even if there is little to actually support it.

A number of years ago, I was watching a tape of Yagi Meitoku sensei doing Seiunchin kata. He must have been in his 80s by the time they filmed this. He looked feeble and sometimes even a bit unsteady on his feet. But he began the kata, stepping out with his right foot into shiko-dachi with his hands simultaneously moving up and out, back-to-back with the palms up, and then closing and pulling down, ending over each thigh. The difference I had noticed was that Yagi sensei did not step out to a right shiko-dachi with both open hands pointed down. Nor did he step out to shiko-dachi and then bring the hands up, palms down, fingers pointing towards each other, then separating them, making a circle until the backs of the hands meet again out in front of the chest...as at least one noted teacher does who heads a large "international" association.

I have seen various interpretations (or bunkai) for each of these movements. In the first, people have suggested that the defender is responding to a bear hug from the rear. In the second, the defender is supposed to be responding to a double lapel grab or a two-handed choke. The problem with the first idea is that there is no follow-up shown--that is, the techniques that follow the first move don't have anything to do with someone attacking from the rear. The problem with the second idea is that it ignores the feet, stance, and direction of movement--not to mention some of the principles of Okinawan karate. Why would you step into an attack of this nature?

But I just think--and I mean no disrespect by this, in fact, quite the opposite--I just think maybe the old guys may have known something that didn't quite get passed on to everyone. When Yagi sensei steps to the right into shiko-dachi, he is stepping to the outside of the attacker, who has grabbed the defender's left wrist with his left hand, or he is punching with a left punch. Yagi sensei is stepping in, but off line, to the outside of the attack. His arms move up at the same time as he steps in. As the arms are brought down and the hands close, the left hand turns over to grab the attacker's wrist, and the right arm comes down on the attacker's elbow. This brings the attacker's head down. The defender's right hand then grabs the attacker's head, while the defender's left hand comes in to attack the opponent's chin or throat. This is serious self-defense. It shows off-line movement. It doesn't allow the attacker multiple attacks. And it's far more deadly. Just like Funakoshi sensei and the cat stance, I think Yagi sensei knew exactly what he was doing.