Entrance to the Barn Dojo....

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

The Sixth Principle...in no particular order

To find and to properly understand the techniques, it is important to see how the attacker would respond to each of the defender's techniques.

This takes a bit of imagination on the part of both the attacker and the defender studying bunkai. So often, because we are either schooled from standing in front of a stationary post (makiwara) or perhaps because we are used to engaging in continuous two person drills where the agreed upon idea is not to end the encounter but to continue demonstrating technique, we fail to see how a technique is applied simply because we can't imagine the reaction of the opponent. And the opponent doesn't react to the techniques because the opponent is our dojo training partner and we have "pulled the punches!"

Opening technique of Saifa.
The opening technique in Saifa provides a good example. If the arm bar technique is really dropped over the attacker's elbow--in this case the opponent has grabbed our right wrist with his left hand--then the effect of this heavy dropping arm bar is to bring the opponent's head down. The next move then--the defender's left open hand coming forward and over the right forearm--is not, as is sometimes demonstrated, a block of the opponent's right punch, since the opponent is not in any sort of position to punch. Nor is it a grab of the opponent's arm or shoulder. The opponent's head has been brought down, and since Goju-ryu is nothing if not a lethal self-defense system, the head is grabbed with the left and the back of the neck is attacked with a dropping forearm.

First kick sequence in Saifa.
The next sequence in Saifa further illustrates this point. This begins with a step to the northwest, blocking an opponent's double-handed push. The defender kicks with the right foot, bringing the opponent's head down. Stepping in and to the right, the defender's left open hand then brings the opponent's head down as he brings his left knee up into the opponent's face.

Not to confuse the issue--certainly not my intention--but perhaps this is not really a principle in the same sense as keeping one's elbow down or the idea that one should step off the line of attack. The principles that I've been referring to in these blogs are simply ideas that one should keep in mind when trying to look at kata to find bunkai. I've been called an iconoclast by some, and I'm sure worse things by others. But I'm a strong defender of kata--more so, I believe, than many of the people who have disagreed with me. I strongly believe that your application of kata techniques or bunkai should look exactly the way it looks when you do kata. What is kata for if it's not a sort of living historical record of how a technique is meant to be executed?  So often I see what some call bunkai that strays so far from kata technique that it's difficult to guess even what kata the technique is taken from.

I don't know whether techniques were ever intentionally hidden or whether in the effort to popularize karate in the late 1930s and 1940s the more lethal bunkai of Goju-ryu were down played and less lethal techniques were substituted, ones you could actually do against a training partner in the dojo. Is that why we see the mawashi-uke technique applied today against an opponent's arms instead of used to break the opponent's neck or twist his head off? In any case, and before I become too long winded here, I think that we can at least be made aware of these bunkai, even if we can't actually train some of them realistically in the dojo or we have to significantly pull our punches, if only we can look at kata and bunkai in a different way.

It's quite amazing what you find when you start coloring outside the lines. Or, as my teacher was fond of saying: "Open mind, joyful training." Now there's a principle!

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Fifth principle...in no particular order

"In Goju-ryu katas, entry techniques and controlling techniques are followed by finishing techniques, but the finishing technique may sometimes only be tacked on to the second combination or sequence."

The bridging technique in the
opening sequence in Seipai.
Goju kata analysis can be confusing--that is, analysis that considers the structure of kata. Individual techniques can occur in kata without repetition, as in the opening of Seipai kata. These are fairly clear, but one must still recognize the sequence or combination--that is, the opening with the "uke," the controlling or bridging technique, and the finishing technique. The opening in Seipai is the initial move stepping back into horse stance with the sweeping, circular arm movement--the left hand blocks, while the right hand attacks. The controlling or bridging technique is the step with the hands together. And the finishing technique is the drop into horse stance again with the hands brought into the chest and the right elbow out.

The opening technique of the
 second hammer-fist in Saifa.
But techniques can also occur in pairs, and these sequences may be a little harder to see. These are techniques that are repeated on the right side and the left side, or against a right attack and again against a left attack. This is shown in the sweep and overhead or standing hammer-fist attack in Saifa. It is first shown against a right attack and then against a left attack. The opening is a block and hammer-fist attack by the defender, followed by a grab and upper-cut. The controlling and finishing techniques are only tacked on to the second (left) hammer-fist and upper-cut sequence.

The finishing technique of the
opening threesome of
Seiunchin kata.
To make it more confusing, techniques also occur as threes--that is, they are done first on one side, then on the other, and then repeated once again as they were done initially. These threesomes, however, occur, for the most part, at the beginning of katas, showing a kind of basic technique that may be explored in the rest of the kata (though there is a threesome in Kururunfa and Suparinpei). This is done in most of the Goju-ryu katas. However, to further confuse any analysis of kata structure, this sort of threesome repetition also shows some variation (a curious note that may argue for a variety of sources or kata creators over a long period of time). Saifa kata and Seiunchin kata both show threesome repetitions at the beginning, but Saifa's repetitions seem to be complete in themselves, whereas the opening techniques of Seiunchin have a single finishing technique tacked on only after the third repetition of the opening sequence.

And we see repetitions of four of the same techniques in Shisochin and Suparinpei, which leads to the question of why one needs any repetition at all. If kata is a means of preserving and remembering technique--which I believe it is--then why does one need any repetition at all, whether it's two times, three times, or four times? Obviously one can take a technique out of kata and practice it on either side. Kata should not be viewed as a means of practicing or perfecting a technique. If that were the case, every time we did kata there would be some techniques we would only be doing once!

In any case, kata does have structure, and once one sees this structure the analysis of individual techniques and an understanding of bunkai becomes a lot clearer.