Entrance to the Barn Dojo....

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Forums and stuff

Sometimes when I read posts on the Internet about Goju-ryu (or perhaps martial arts in general), I imagine the people actually having conversations face to face. One I read recently would go something like this:
"Hey, I'm thinking katas have themes...ya know, personalities that make them all distinct." (Does that mean the katas are different...not all the same?!)
"I can see that," his forum friend answers in a non-judgmental way, not wishing to offend. (Sometimes, IMHO, I wish people would be a bit more offensive.)
"So what do you think about Saifa?"
"I'm thinking the name pretty much says it all...you know, 'to destroy and defeat,'" his more knowledgeable friend replies. "The first three moves are the signature of the kata," he adds. (Signature? What's the rest of the kata?)
"Yeah, that helps when I'm visualizing techniques," the other agrees. (Really?! Helps what?)
"What about Seiunchin? I've always been told it means 'to control and pull into battle'."
"Maybe, but I think a more useful translation is 'attack, conquer, suppress'."
"What about Sanseiru? I mean I know that it translates as '36 Hands', but how does that help one understand the techniques of the kata?"
"Well, a very knowledgeable teacher once explained it this way: Thirty-six represents six times six. The first six is the eye, ear, nose, tongue, body, and spirit. The second six refers to color, voice, smell, taste, touch, and justice." (Whoa, those things all fit together, don't they?! What do you suppose my ten-year-old son would say if I gave him that math problem?)
At this point in the conversation, a small boy in karate gi and clutching a frayed copy of "The Emperor's New Clothes" comes into the chatroom. He just catches the last response and asks innocently, "How does that help one's understanding of kata?"
To which the older student responds, "If you have to ask, obviously you're not ready to learn. Face it, Junior, you don't even know Seipai yet."
"Okay, what's Seipai kata all about?" he asks.
To which the knowledgeable student responds (and here I'm quoting) "The true meaning of kata becomes clear only when one learns the application of it...In Seipai, and the three that follow, the applications are not immediately clear. Techniques were deliberately masked within these kata so that bystanders were not able to fully comprehend the depth of the applications being practiced." (Oh. Wow! Depth? I suppose that means there are all sorts of 'levels' of bunkai...level one, two, three, four...there's always one more. Did you pay your dues this month?)
"And Seisan?" the young boy asks.
"Seisan means thirteen hands. This kata contains many unusual techniques and demonstrates the difference between Go (Hard) and Ju (Soft)." (Well, that's suitably vague, isn't it? Don't all the katas contain go and ju techniques--afterall, it is called Goju-ryu, isn't it? Don't they all contain many unusual techniques? Of course, the discussion continues...but patience only goes so far. Hey, I didn't make this stuff up. Well, at least not all of it. Of course, by repeating it I'm no doubt offending a whole lot of probably very nice people.
But seriously...so many discussions of kata seem to provide so little useful information. Maybe I'm just getting old and my patience for stuff like this has deserted me over the years, but don't you wish people that said something actually said something?


  1. Only playing the advocate but I would have assumed that this senior was only spouting out what his Sensei told him.

    In a nutshell most don't have a clue and fill in the gaps to build a training facility in a commercialized way.

    The one's who do have the knowledge still sometimes don't know how to adequately communicate that to the student of any level.

    Most difficult but I suspect in your example it was simply using the vague to answer in a manner to promote the ego and to give that junior the impression the senior has some special knowledge that he or she may gain in time..... if you don't know the answer you should remain silent.

    Many principles of martial systems were hard to explain in my earlier years and only in the last decade did I discover the book of martial power which actually title aside provides a means to actually explain those principles in a coherent and accurate manner.

    The vagueness of the answers could be construed as Zen Koan like but I doubt it.

    Thanks for the nice post.

  2. p.s. on the opposite end of this post/discussion there are more and more dedicated martial practitoners who are seeking out answers and then testing and validation them so our undertanding is getting a great deal better.

    Folks like Kris Wilder, Rory Miller, Marc MacYoung, and Dave Lowry to name only a few off the top of my head.

  3. Hi Charles, Thanks for the comment. Sometimes I wonder if anyone is out there in the ether. Yes, I assume people are simply repeating what they have heard. But I think that's part of the problem; people are not testing what they are told. And, in the martial arts, there is a lot of veneration of seniors for no other reason than the sort of mystical aura of the martial arts. I was once called an "iconoclast" by one of the people you cite, simply because I questioned something that he had been told by his teacher. One of these was a statement that he avowed and repeated in writing (again, because a teacher had passed it on), a principle if you will, that techniques in kata that go forward are attacks and ones that go back are blocks. This is not, however, born out in the Goju classical subjects. But then again, you have to have a pretty good grasp of the applications to see that this is an over-simplification. He meant the label "iconoclast" as an insult, I believe, but I'm fine with it if the alternative is to be blind.

  4. "...but don't you wish people that said something actually said something?"

    One probably has to buy the book. ;)

  5. Hello is it normal for a dijo to charge a fee for the gi on top of membership dues?