Entrance to the Barn Dojo....

Monday, November 11, 2013

Kata without bunkai is like...I don't know what

People often hold this first position
in Saifa for much longer than they
would if they were applying it.
When I watch kata performed on YouTube, I wonder why there isn't more reality to it. In other words, why isn't kata performed with the same timing, the same force, the same rhythm as bunkai? I see so many kata performed with stilted, punctuated technique. Kicks are performed with little balance or speed. Oh sure, the kick is fast and powerful (sometimes anyway) after it is thrust out from its cocked or chambered position, but a kick has to be fast from a standing position--that is, before the opponent knows you're going to kick. And punches are held in place with little thought to how impractical it would be to leave one's outstretched arm out, inviting the opponent to break it.

Most people hold or chamber their
kicks when they perform Saifa kata--
something that would be too slow
in reality.
Sometimes even the bunkai demonstrations that accompany these performances of kata are just as ridiculously unreal, just as oblivious of the reality that they are ignoring. Grabs and arm-bars are employed against the arms of opponents that obligingly hold them in an outstretched position long enough for the one demonstrating bunkai to step in and execute the technique--what my teacher used to call a "dream technique."

I am not advocating that kata be done at a hyper-accelerated speed. (I'm not sure why Hokama sensei does super fast kata. I'm sure he has a reason.) There are techniques in kata that don't need to be fast. There are grappling techniques and techniques that manipulate and move the opponent's body that would necessarily require less speed. But one doesn't stand poised on one leg before the execution of a kick. And if a grab follows a block, then it must be done quickly or realistically the opponent would withdraw his arm.
The opening move in Seipai
is often done in an overly
dramatic fashion.

I think the same sort of unreality often comes into play with people who profess to attack vital targets with a single knuckle punch or finger strike. A confrontation is fast, dynamic, and constantly changing. To imagine that you're going to be able to hit a small pressure point on an aggressive and moving target may be a bit unrealistic. I always liked Sifu Liu's response to a student who asked about pressure points. Liu Sifu (of Feeding Crane) said he just hits the area with the whole hand, and that ought to cover it.

If kata is meant to preserve technique and allow the practitioner to practice technique when he or she is alone--when there isn't a partner to train with--as a method to perfect technique that we will eventually learn to apply against an opponent, then why don't we practice it the way it is meant to be applied? Why not practice kata with the same speed and sense of reality that we would use in doing bunkai? Instead, we seem to do kata as if it were some separate dance performance. Watch the overly stylized and dramatic performances of kata at tournaments. Even credible and supposedly knowledgeable practitioners of Okinawan karate succumb to the histrionics of this performance paradigm. Where did it begin? Why has it continued? It seems to me that it's one more shroud pulled over the eyes of the unwary--one more thing that makes bunkai so difficult to "see" within kata. Change the rhythm and the speed of techniques and who knows what you may come up with...or not.

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