Entrance to the Barn Dojo....

Saturday, August 24, 2013

Bunkai thoughts: Can we please apply logic to the analysis of kata?

Imagine some guy in ancient Greece sitting around contemplating the universe. Maybe he's woken early and trudged the sheep out to pasture. Sitting up on a rocky crag, he looks out over the sea, waiting for the sun to rise. Maybe he's praying that Apollo will harness the horses to carry the chariot of the sun up into the sky or maybe he realizes that all of that's simply an old worn-out myth. Maybe he looks at the world more
scientifically, more empirically, and when the sun finally comes up, rosy-fingered and all, it suddenly dawns on him that the earth is the center of the universe. He trusts his own eyes instead of tired cultural beliefs. It's obvious that the sun revolves around the earth; it comes up in the east and goes down in the west. If he were a little more worldly, if he had managed to make his way into Athens to visit the great academy there, he might have been able to ask one of the great teachers. Perhaps he could have consulted Aristotle himself and had his suspicions confirmed by the great minds of his day.

And yet today, we ask, how could he have been so wrong? How can the observations of his own eyes have led him so far from the truth? And how is it that those who are so esteemed, their venerable positions in the community so entrenched as to be referred to with sobriquets as sobering as "The World's Greatest..." could possibly err, could possibly have gotten it all wrong?

So, if you get my drift, sometimes I wonder if the same sort of thing can be applied to Goju-ryu kata and bunkai (the analysis of kata). Are we--at least those of us who are curious enough about it even to ask--content merely to practice kata the way that it has always been taught? Or the way we have been told to do it by the great teachers of our day? But then what other way is there? What other way was there for those who followed that ancient Greek guy up the hill to watch the sun rise?

Sometimes the theories need to be put to the test--and not just of observation, because we can't always trust what we see. What we see is often influenced by our expectations. We need to apply logic and look for sound basic principles. What else did Copernicus or Galileo have to do? So much of the bunkai I see on the Internet seems to ignore so many fundamental things. It's as if someone in a high school science class merely threw out data that didn't conform to the conclusions they already expected to find. And peer pressure has convinced everyone else to follow along.

How radical is it to suggest...that if one is analyzing the techniques of kata, one should do the moves the same as one does them in the kata? that if the opponent has the opportunity to hit you again, then you're probably in the wrong place? that if your counterattack does not either put the opponent down or make it extremely difficult for him to continue his attack, you've probably got it wrong? that the pattern of angles and turns in any given kata is important in how one moves in response to an attack? that correct bunkai does not need to add anything to finish the attacker off? that, hojo undo training aside, and this is self-defense after all, if the response takes too much strength or speed then you've probably got it wrong?  that punches and kicks are not the most lethal responses to an attack and therefore may be quite minor aspects of the karate arsenal or even the repertoire of techniques one sees in kata? that if anyone tells you the real bunkai is hidden or just have faith or you aren't up to that level yet, they're peddling the same hocus-pocus as an old-time snake oil salesman and you're about to sign up for cult membership?

See it on YouTube:
"Saifa kata and bunkai
You want "proof"? Then every time you do bunkai, ask yourself:  Does it follow the kata, and I mean all aspects of the move in kata? Does the initial move or technique (uke) put you in a safe position--that is, the attacker has only been allowed the one attack (after all, this is self-defense)? Is it lethal--that is, in Goju-ryu at least, is it literally lethal? With one caveat: Remember that if you do stumble upon the real bunkai in any of the Goju-ryu kata, don't try it at home. Too dangerous!

Sunday, August 11, 2013

Saifa kata and bunkai

So the summer is finally winding down. The temperature this morning was in the 50s (F.) and there was condensation on the seat of the scooter I had to dry off before I rode down to get the morning paper. Still recovering from a bronchial infection and a cough that has put a serious kink into training for a fall marathon. Probably shouldn't have done that half-marathon last week but....

"Hey, hold on there partner. What's all this drivel?"

My bad self stood looking over my shoulder as I got up for another cup of coffee. "I'm writing this blog..." I started to answer defensively and a little unsure of what I could say that would be at all convincing. I mean, why do people write blogs? For that matter, why do people read blogs? Sometimes I think there's just too much noise out there anyway. Unless you've got something to say, I suppose, and even then, who listens? Or reads for that matter. We've become a nation of watchers. I'm not sure that's necessarily bad, but it sure ain't what it used to be. I remember giving a seminar to a group once upon a time. The teacher was a friend and had seen the first article I had written on the subject of Goju kata and bunkai for the Journal of Asian Martial Arts--"The Lost Secrets of Okinawan Goju-Ryu." This was back in 2002. I wanted to gauge how much he understood of it to get a better idea of where we might begin the seminar, and so I asked him how he liked it and what he got out of it. He said, "Oh, I'm not much of a reader."

And so, for all you non-readers out there. Here's a video of Saifa kata and bunkai.

"Saifa kata and bunkai Northampton Kodokan"

We pulled out the camera after training on one of those very hot and humid days during that heat wave in July. It's certainly not very professional and we were not setting out to perform for the camera. There are mistakes. But it's a training video. It shows a little of what we do. So in the words of Edward R. Murrow, "Good night and good luck." I'm going for a run.