Entrance to the Barn Dojo....

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

The Fourth Principle of kata analysis...in no particular order

"Since Goju-ryu is a system of self-defense...it should seem effortless."

Even though you train to be stronger, faster, more flexible, or just plain tougher, self-defense techniques, or a self-defense system, should require little of this to work. You should put the effort into developing your strength and speed and flexibility when you are young; otherwise, you won't have much of anything when you are older it is sometimes said, but the techniques themselves shouldn't depend on strength or speed to work. In the first place, there will always be someone bigger or stronger or faster. But more importantly, your self-defense should work for you when you are old, when you may be least able to defend yourself.

Twisting the head in
Seipai kata.
Knee attack to the head
in Saifa kata.
Instead, Goju-ryu relies on technique, and that technique is based on principles of movement. This is what makes it seem effortless. For instance, we step off-line to "block," and most of these off-line movements may be accompanied by a spinal rotation in the trunk or core of the body. The receiving techniques ("uke") of Goju-ryu are, for the most part, "soft" because they can be, generally meeting the opponent's attack with circular "blocks" that deflect the attack. In addition, the position of the arms first encountered in Sanchin training is applied, in principle, to many of the receiving techniques in Goju, and when this "immovable arm" is used in conjunction with stepping off line and the rotation of the trunk, any effort or energy the defender uses can be saved for the counter-attack; though these counters can be just as effortless if the same understanding of stepping and rotation is used there as well.

Shoulder attack
to head in Seisan.
Lastly, so many of the techniques of Goju-ryu are effortless because Goju-ryu attacks vulnerable parts of the body. The finishing techniques of Goju are against the opponent's head or neck, either striking the neck with the fingers, the knife-edge, or the forearm, or grabbing the head and chin and twisting, as in Suparinpei. Or we attack the head with the elbow, as in Seiunchin. Sometimes the knee is used to attack the head, as in Saifa and Kururunfa, and sometimes even the shoulder is used, as in Seisan kata. 

Whatever the case, it should be effortless. And it is usually effortless because we have moved in such a way that the opponent is not given a second opportunity to attack, our first block/attack is often simultaneous, and we bridge the distance to attack the head or neck.

Relax, relax, relax...you'll be faster and stronger.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Words, words, words.

 Forum post: “…at the very end of katas gekisai, saifa and [seisan], when retreating backwards into neko  ashi dachi and the block shuto enkei uke is performed, I have noticed on youtube that many teachers drop their weight (and height) as the shuto uke is performed.”

Someone responds: Toraguchi/mawashi uke is a general multipurpose block (very close to brush-grab-strike in FMA). It is usually finished with a two hand press, which can represent a whole plethora of strikes.”

End Mawashi-uke in
Saifa, blocking with
the left and attacking
the head with the right.
Here is a whole debate (over 40 posts!) on this forum over a question of technique and what it could mean in application; that is, a question of bunkai. The person that initially poses the question is trying to figure out why some teachers seem to sink into a low cat stance when they do this technique in kata, which is really a question of bunkai or, in other words, what function does the low cat stance have in application. The funny thing to me is that sometimes we make all sorts of hidden assumptions that may color the way we interpret kata. This person has already assumed that the technique he is doing is a “shuto enkei uke.” What if it’s not? What if it’s not a “toraguchi/mawashi uke” either? What if it’s not a “multipurpose block”? What if it doesn’t end with “a two hand press”? What if it’s not a strike at all, let alone “a whole plethora of strikes”? Why would one execute a shuto strike in cat stance anyway; it lacks the grounding to have very much power? Someone else goes on to suggest that the cat stance is there for mobility. I have certainly heard that argument before, but is it really as mobile a stance as basic stance? Isn’t there any other function of a cat stance that might be more practical—like you use the knee for a knee kick by simply raising it up or the foot to kick with since it doesn’t necessitate any shifting of weight?

And while we’re asking questions, should we really assume that the so-called “mawashi-uke” at the end of Saifa is the same as what we see at the end of Seisan? In Saifa we are stepping and turning with the mawashi-uke. In Seisan the mawashi-uke is preceded by other techniques and is done either shifting back or simply dropping into a cat stance. In fact, the hands and arms don’t really move the same way either.

Final Mawashi-uke
position and the
"hidden" knee attack.
If we suppose, for the sake of argument, that neko-ashi (cat stance) is really just an indication in kata of a knee attack, perhaps that will lead us off into another direction. For example, if the knee is attacking in cat stance, then what is it attacking? The most lethal target would be the opponent’s head. This begs the question, how do we get the opponent’s head into a position where we can attack it with the front knee of neko-ashi-dachi? And there we find “mawashi-uke.”

So often the words we use to describe things end up getting in the way.

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Third Principle...in no particular order

"Block the hands, protect against an elbow, but attack the head."

Attacking the head in the last
technique of Sanseiru.

The sequences or combinations in the Goju-ryu classical subjects begin with how to block or receive (uke) the opponent's attack, whether it is a punch/strike or a grab. But in the Goju kata, the defender will always go for the opponent's head or neck. These techniques are far more lethal. The idea, of course, is that this is a system of self-defense; it is not meant for sparring or sport. I have already spoken about this idea in reference to the "dreaded arm bar" of Seipai kata. But it is also true of the last technique in Sanseiru, for example.
Attacking the head
in Saifa.
Or this apparent middle-level punch in Saifa.
Or this elbow technique to the back of the neck or head in Seiunchin.

This is something to keep in mind when analyzing kata or looking for bunkai. The initial technique blocks or receives (uke) the opponent's attack. Sometimes this initial technique may be accompanied by a simultaneous attack with the other hand. However, whether the attack is simultaneous or not, this is followed by a bridging or controlling technique.  Once you have bridged the distance, or have hold of the attacker, look for the finishing techniques. These finishing techniques almost always involve an attack to the head.
Attacking the head in Seiunchin.

Even the seemingly ubiquitous mawashi-uke is mostly used against the opponent's head and neck when we see it in kata.

Saturday, October 06, 2012

The Second Principle...in no particular order: kata analysis cont.

"Much of the stepping--particularly in the initial "uke"--indicates how the defender steps off line and consequently the direction from which the opponent's attack comes."

Taking Saifa--the first classical subject in the Goju-ryu canon--as an example, and imagining that one starts the kata facing north, the first sequence, repeated three times--a wrist grab release and arm bar, followed by a grab of the opponent's head, a step back and down into shiko-dachi, and a forearm strike to the back of the opponent's neck--shows the defender moving in along either a northeast tangent to the opponent (in the first and third repetition) or a northwest tangent to the opponent (in the second repetition).

The second sequence--beginning with the block of a two-handed push, followed by a front kick, and ending with the lower-level hammer fist--also shows an initial movement in along the northwest tangent.

The third sequence--the turn around to the south which again ends with a lower-level hammer fist--shows a 90 degree off-line initial movement with the attacker stepping in from the west with a left upper-level punch.

The fourth sequence, which shows an initial left hand block and right hand hammer fist strike and is repeated on the other side with a right hand block and left hand hammer fist strike, again shows a 90 degree off-line movement with the attacker again stepping in from the west.

The fifth and last sequence, the step and mawashi uke, again shows a 90 degree off-line movement with the attacker again stepping in from the west.

Saifa kata shows two of the directional off-line movements found in the Goju-ryu classical subjects. One can see an example of stepping back directly to the south in Seiunchin kata (with the defender facing north and the attacker stepping in from the north). One can see an example of stepping back at an angle to the southwest or southeast in Kururunfa kata (again facing north with the attack from the north).

Last sequence in
Seipai showing 90
degree step off line.
So what one should see in kata is a demonstration of how one steps off line. The pattern of kata doesn't show turns because one has run out of space but because it shows both where the attack is coming from and how one should avoid it in applying the technique. What should be apparent then is that in analyzing kata (bunkai) one should always start from the end of the previous sequence, because it is the movements and steps between sequences that show how to move off line, and, consequently, the application of the techniques may be different from what one previously imagined.

End of throw in last
Seipai sequence.
For example, in the last sequence of Seipai kata, if we begin from the undercut in shiko-dachi which ends the previous sequence, one steps and turns in a clockwise fashion to face the original front. But the off-line movement shows us that the attacker is not coming from the north or original front but from the west. This changes the way we might see the hand techniques applied. In this case, as one steps off line with the left foot, the left arm blocks an opponent's right punch. At the same time the defender's right hand comes across the opponent's face to the right side of his head. Then, turning towards the front, as both arms move in a clockwise fashion, taking the opponent's arm and head with them, the opponent is spun around and thrown. The sequence finishes with the low hammer-fist.