Entrance to the Barn Dojo....

Thursday, March 01, 2012

More on kata themes

Sometimes when I read posts on the Internet about Goju-ryu (or is it 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.”

“I can see that,” his forum friend answers in a non-judgmental way, not wishing to offend.

“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. I’m not sure if that means the rest of the kata is insignificant or what.
“Yeah, that helps when I’m visualizing techniques,” the other agrees. Really?!
“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?!
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 room. 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 a 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!

“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? 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.

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?

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