Entrance to the Barn Dojo....

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Themes in kata?

Are there themes in kata? I don't mean whether a kata is a monkey kata or shows clear evidence of dragon-style kung fu. I've actually read these debates. They sound so erudite...so filled with posturing and punditry. And where do they get you in the long run? I once asked Matayoshi sensei this sort of question--whether the different Goju katas showed the influence of different animals--having been, of course, raised on the stories of the fighting of animals influencing early martial arts teachers or martial arts masters basing their techniques on the movements of various animals. But Matayoshi sensei said that the different techniques were spread throughout the katas instead of each kata being thematically influenced by a single animal. So that in any given kata, he suggested, you might find snake or leopard or dragon techniques all mixed in together. So much for theme.

But I'm not really thinking of kata themes in that manner anyway. The problem, however, when you think of different katas exploring different themes, it seems to me, is that it raises so many other questions, regardless of whether or not you get the themes right. For example, if you suggest that Seiunchin is a kata that was created to explore responses to pushes and grabs--since that is certainly not enough to base one's self-defense on--then other katas would be needed to explore other self-defense scenarios. That in itself presupposes that some or all of the katas go together in one system, whether they were created that way or whether they were merely collected and put together in that way. Which raises the question: Is it a complete system? Of course, this thematic analysis of kata is based on bunkai or application of moves, which itself is a matter of some disagreement or at the very least multiple interpretations.

In any case, I find it an interesting exercise because it is a way to "see the system" or at least a way to organize a seemingly random and large collection of techniques. For example, Kururunfa seems to be a thematic exploration of one kind of an outside block--the defender's right hand blocks the attacker's right punch or the defender's left hand blocks the attacker's left punch. We see this over and over again in the kata. In fact, all of the initial or receiving "blocks" seem to show this, in various forms. There is some variation; that is, sometimes it is shown with the hand vertical, sometimes with the palm up, and sometimes with a palm-up hooking block. Seipai, on the other hand, seems to be a thematic exploration of another kind of an outside block--the defender's left hand blocks the attacker's right punch or the defender's right hand blocks the attacker's left punch.

The problem is that Seipai is also about "twisting the head off." This comes up a lot in the combinations of the kata. And Seisan seems to be a thematic exploration of the "sun and moon block." But one of the problems here is that the Higa dojo (Shodokan) seems to be the only school of Okinawan Goju-ryu that even does the sun and moon block in Seisan kata. And how are we to look at Shisochin? Is it an exploration of four direction fighting, as its name implies--responses to attacks from the front, sides, and back--or is it an exploration of how to use the forearms in blocks and attacks? Is Saifa a basic beginning kata that deals with responses to grabs, pushes, and punches--why it's taught first? Or is it taught first because it shows how to use the waist or koshi?

In any case, I don't think this is a fruitless journey or pointless question just because there is no definitive answer. The understanding you gain is certainly beneficial to your ability to see variations within the different kata and beneficial to your ability to use each of these techniques.

1 comment:

  1. I really appreciate how this post tickles the old grey cells ..... I am thinking that the "theme" to kata is not something that can be put into words.

    I will try as that seems Human. Kata theme for me is "chaos." No rigid or specific bunkai for the kata and its techniques.

    Rather the use of bunkai to set a floor plan that will inspire random-chaotic derivative applications or techniques based on the moment which is based on the chaos of conflicts.

    I feel strongly that most systems today are allowing the comfort of strict dogmatic kata and bunkai with small variations to drive the entire system of practice where it is in my view only a basis by which one individual person begins.

    It is up to the individual to achieve a proficiency that allows them to reach past the moon and out to the stars.

    Letting the moment determine which star, how to reach for it and to reach it.

    Thanks again, wonderful post!