Entrance to the Barn Dojo....

Sunday, March 03, 2013

Questions one should be asking or another turn at playing devil's advocate

Why do we use different stances? Are some stances just transitional? Do we use shiko-dachi (horse stance) for different reasons than we would use zenkutsu-dachi (front stances)? Shouldn't stances inform how we interpret techniques? If someone is showing bunkai, shouldn't the stances, the steps, and the turns be incorporated into the application of the techniques, not just the arms and hands?

Is the mawashi-uke technique at the end of Saifa the same as the one at the end of Kururunfa? Does the fact that Sanseiru, Seisan, and Suparinpei show some similarity in their final techniques mean anything? (And if you don't see the similarity, should you be asking yourself what you're not seeing?) What about the end mawashi in Seisan is similar? Are the nukite strikes at the beginning of Shisochin really nukite strikes or sho-tei or open hand forearm strikes or merely emphasizing the idea that hands work in opposition in Shisochin, reflecting a basic thematic element seen in the rest of the kata?

Why is there a repetition, for example, of the (quote) "elbow" techniques in Seiunchin, showing them being done four times? Is there really a need for redundancy of this sort in kata? Is it possible that the first two "elbow" techniques are connected and the second two "elbow" techniques are connected? Is it possible that they are not really elbow strikes? And if redundancy is not really necessary in kata, what about the doubling of the "forearm strikes," or what are sometimes referred to as arm-bars, in Shisochin kata that also occur four times? Or are they different because they initiate from a different position--that is, in the first instance the hands are down because of the previous technique, and in the second instance the hands are up because of the previous technique?

What do the kata differences mean when you compare the different schools of Okinawan Goju-ryu? Do the differences indicate a different bunkai or a misunderstanding of what the original bunkai was? And while on the subject of different schools of Goju-ryu, why did Yagi Meitoku sensei feel a need to create additional kata?

Why are some techniques in kata executed slowly while others are fast? Is this an indicator of the kind of attack that the kata creators envisioned; that is, a slower response on the part of the person doing kata to indicate something like the attacker pushing or grabbing--a different kind of energy on the part of the defender--while a faster response may indicate the block and countering of a punch?

In reality, how high are the kicking techniques in Goju kata? Isn't a kick to an opponent's knee much harder for the attacker to block than a kick to the mid-section--the height at which most front kicks are practiced, whether in kata or in kihon training?

Is there really such a thing as a neko-ashi-dachi (cat stance) in Goju-ryu kata, or is it merely an indicator, a teaching aid if you will, to show where there is a kick? Why do we show kicks in Shisochin kata or Saifa kata or Seipai kata and hide other ones--if that's what the cat stance indicates--in the same katas? How is it used in Kururunfa? Is it really just a stance to move backwards, as some suggest?

What does it mean when a technique in kata is repeated twice? What does it mean when it is repeated three times? What about four times? If the purpose of kata is to remember technique, is there really a need to repeat techniques in kata? If the purpose in repeating technique twice is to practice a technique on both the left and right side, then why aren't all techniques in kata done this way?

Why is Sanchin seen as the fundamental kata of Goju-ryu? Is it only the stance, breathing, and posture that are fundamental? Why is Sanchin fundamental when Goju does not seem to be predominately based on straight punches?

Why are many Goju blocking motions (uke) circular? Why do many of the kata show a "block" stepping forward? Is gedan-uke really a block in any of the Goju kata?

What does the pattern of kata mean? If the turns and angles of stepping are not important in kata--since they are so often ignored when people interpret bunkai--then why aren't all kata done in a straight line? Why did Miyagi Chojun sensei use a straight-line pattern for Tensho?

Do all of the katas conform to the same martial principles? Can you begin to understand these principles by looking at the techniques themselves, to see commonalities? Is it enough data to formulate a hypothesis (bunkai)? To confirm a hypothesis?

What would Socrates say? So many questions, so many answers. But if you don't ask the questions....


  1. Stuff to ponder, for certain!

  2. Hi Felicia,
    Are you from Newburgh? I grew up across the river in Fishkill. Is there a Goju school down there?

  3. Thanks for posting these questions. I came up with some of those independently (which is a good sign, I guess), and think I found some answers, too. Now I can contemplate more... I read most of your site and think you post very interesting thoughts. Critiquing the bunkai videos of Higaonna is rare, but you have a point or two. Thank you.

  4. Hi Goju Ryu from Bahrain,

    Thanks for the kind words. Yes, if you're asking these questions, any of them, then you're on the right track, in my opinion anyway. What "kan" or lineage are you practicing? I'd be real curious about any "answers" you say you have found, if you want to share them. You can always write me privately.
    All the best,

  5. When with my sensei who had a 2 Dan in kyokushin began to train goju we saw a vhs of higgaona doing kata and bunkai. Was really disappointed