Entrance to the Barn Dojo....

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Hey, you can attack now 'cause I'm stepping back!

I was recently reading someone espousing principles of kata analysis on a discussion forum and I was reminded--because they were repeating things they had been told--of something Toguchi sensei said in his second book: Okinawan Goju-Ryu II: Advanced Techniques of Shorei-Kan Karate. Of course, I've never been quite sure what may have been lost in translation, since it says right under the title that the book is "compiled by Toshio Tamano and Scott Lenzi." Since Toguchi sensei is dead, who's to know? But so much of Okinawan karate has been passed on by word of mouth. So much is learned in the dojo just by watching, and I've often wondered how many times we may have gotten something completely wrong, or only partially understood something. There was a wonderful description by Alan Ruddock of an Aikido class with Ueshiba sensei in an issue of Classical Fighting Arts (Vol. 2, no. 11, issue #34), where he describes Ueshiba sensei as stepping on the mat, demonstrating a technique, and then not saying another word! Ruddock says, in his memoir, that O-Sensei "went round smiling at everyone, with no clues, correction, or suggestions. There was no teaching as we understand it" (p. 46). The implication is that everyone interpreted what the teacher demonstrated in their own way. I find this fascinating in its broader implications.
Anyway, Toguchi sensei lists three rules of kata analysis:
1) Don't be deceived by the Enbusen Rule. 2) Techniques executed while advancing imply attacking techniques. Those executed while retreating imply defensive or blocking techniques. 3) There is only one enemy and he/she is in front of you (Toguchi, p. 49.).
Not to put too fine a point on it, but each of these "three main principles" is a little suspect. At the very least, they are ambiguous enough to leave one with serious questions as to their meaning. For example: Toguchi sensei (if we can indeed attribute these ideas to him and not to some intrepretation by those who have "compiled" his notions into book form) says, in explanation of the first principle, that "applying kata movements directly to kumite is a mistake" (p. 50). Why then do we have kata? To my way of thinking, if you apply the movements of kata exactly the way they occur in kata, you will not only have a very effective method of self-defense, but you will also thereby learn the principles--they just may not be the same sort of principles that Toguchi sensei refers to. Or was there something lost in the translation?
His second principle is that "techniques executed while advancing imply attacking techniques. Those executed while retreating imply defensive or blocking techniques" (p. 49). It is, of course, very difficult to separate out offensive and defensive movements in Goju-Ryu. For example, the first move in Seiunchin steps forward to apply an arm-bar to release one's hands from a wrist grab. Is this offensive or defensive? Sanseiru steps back (after the three slow "punches") to apply an arm-bar. But if we look at one of the more obvious examples of a technique that seems to show a defensive or blocking technique as the defender or kata practitioner is stepping back--the apparent "down block" in shiko-dachi that occurs in the middle of Seiunchin--we see that in this case, as in a number of others, one is stepping back to attack. In other words, there are enough exceptions for this rule to also be called into question.
Toguchi sensei's last principle--"There is only one enemy and he/she is in front of you."--seems on the surface to be the easiest to digest. There is one attacker, not multiple attackers. We turn in kata to face a single attacker, whether we are "flanking" them or fighting them on an angle, as is often the case, or facing them, kata does not show one surrounded by a gang--that's not the meaning of the turns.
So, I guess, one out of three ain't bad, is it?

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