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!


  1. Anonymous3:26 PM

    Mr. Hopkins,

    I had a question about the second sequence of Saifa that you discuss above, the northwestern step and the defense against a push. I have been reading your article titled, "The Shape of Kata: An Enigma of Pattern" from the Journal of Asian Martial Arts. In that article, you discuss this section of the kata, but it looks like the illistrations have you defending against a punch and not a push. Have your thoughts on this particular section changed since you wrote that article?

  2. Dear Anonymous,
    You're right, my thoughts have changed on this. Originally, and for the sake of simplicity, we looked at all potential attacks as punches. Though you can use much of this technique against a punch (a punch after all is only half of a double-handed push), I beleive the technique is really meant to be used against a two-handed technique. It just explains more--from both hands blocking to the use of both kicks.