After all, how would you know you had a good blade unless you actually tested it...unless you actually asked it to do what it was expected to do under the duress of battle, what it was made to do? Was it balanced? How did it feel to actually wield? Would it withstand a cut against muscle and bone and sinew without breaking or chipping? Disturbing to consider perhaps, but these are real questions.
|Head twists in Seipai|
are often too dangerous
to practice safely.
The same questions arise when we consider the unarmed martial arts, though I'm not remotely suggesting that karate-ka hang out at the local bar and wait for a fight to break out. Or go sauntering through notoriously rough parts of the city in the late-night hours in order to test their martial skills, though I have heard some people say they have done just that. But it's also no secret that there are a lot of idiots out there.
No, what I'm suggesting is that it is very difficult to analyze kata (bunkai) without imagining what is going on. This is the problem I have with the continuous bunkai of training subjects created by Toguchi sensei (Gekisai, Gekiha, and Kakuha) that one sees in Shorei-kan dojos. It's also the problem I have with the continuous sequences (is it bunkai?) of Taira Masaji sensei of Jundokan. In both cases, there is no opportunity to see what the reaction of the other person is. Every technique is blocked or parried or countered in such a way as to frustrate the application of the "finishing" techniques that are shown in the classical katas. Consequently, one applying this sort of "analysis" to the kata cannot really see what are finishing techniques. And one can't separate entry (uke) techniques from controlling or finishing techniques. All of the techniques of kata, in this scenario, seem pretty much the same. It's fun to look at, and it may even be fun to train, but it doesn't seem to me to do a very good job of explaining kata and bunkai.
|This head twist from Seiunchin seems|
safer to practice if it's done slowly.
So what's missing? As strange as it sounds, I would suggest that what's needed is an imagined reality. Perhaps that's what T. T. Liang had in mind when he titled his book on T'ai Chi Imagination Becomes Reality, though I think he was really talking more about chi and the mind. Nevertheless it's a wonderful phrase. I've encountered the same problem. Unless I can get my training partner to react to my technique, even though I can't actually hit him--that is, if you see the connection, I can't actually test the technique on "convicted criminals"--then I may miss how a particular technique in kata is meant to be applied. At the very least, I won't understand the speed or the rhythm of the kata techniques and how in application those may differ from how they are taught in kata where they need to be done slower, with more articulation or punctuation, in order to learn them. After all, we have to teach kata step-by-step, almost in slow motion, if you will. Bunkai should exactly follow kata, but the speed and the rhythm may differ greatly. You have to imagine the effect of the entry technique--not to mention the bridging or controlling techniques--on your opponent to understand the techniques that follow it. Where does the entry technique put the opponent? Has the opponent's position changed relative to the defender? For example, what effect does a shuto to the neck have on the opponent? What effect does a kick to the side of the opponent's knee have? If the knee kick is effective, how has it turned the opponent? How does this turn facilitate the next move of the bunkai? If we can't imagine these things, or if our training partner cannot react in a realistic manner, then we may have a hard time discovering bunkai and, in the long run, understanding kata.
It's difficult to imagine a reaction without actually testing things out. And the problem with testing the reality of techniques should be obvious; some of the techniques are too lethal. How do you train a neck break? I wanted to see how a particular bunkai worked--how it actually felt and whether or not it seemed realistic--that is, whether it "worked," in layman's terms--and had Bill, my training partner, try it on me.