Entrance to the Barn Dojo....

Saturday, May 03, 2014


Speaking of self-defense.... Well, not exactly. But then again maybe there is some sort of tangential relationship here. There was a funny political cartoon in the paper the other day. It was a four-panel cartoon. In one panel it showed a guy holding a ruler along the ground--"proof" that the earth was flat. I can't remember the other two, but the last panel showed a dumb looking guy pointing to a snow flake as "proof" that global warming was just a myth concocted by some idiot scientists. It reminded me of the energy we expend trying to protect our turf, trying to safe-guard what we think we know.
In one sense, the only truly neutral
defensive posture in Goju kata. Akin
to the Wu Wei posture of T'ai Chi,
 it is merely a ready position,
showing neither attacking nor
blocking techniques. 

A few years ago now, after I had written about Seipai kata and how one might look at it based on pretty clearly delineated principles, the article became the subject of a forum discussion for a brief period of time (after all, everything is brief nowadays). One person wrote the following: "I am not convinced it is the answer to the kata, if there is one, but it does create a way to hang all the kata together and decipher them with some fairly simple tools." Not convinced? There aren't any answers? What more do you want?

Another said, "It is a good foundation, but I prefer my own methods, although his [me] are quite interesting....I do think we will see a lot more of this because so few have a better solution. I think many will copy it. It will become something some 'old man' taught me, or 'something I found' type of thing for many teachers." Yes, perhaps that's the problem; we each prefer our own methods, even if those methods seem to defy logic. Even if there may be a better solution offered.

Another seemed quite receptive until his sensei weighed in on the matter. He said, "When my sensei saw the article what he questioned the most was, how did the opponent get into the position he was in to begin the technique....What Sensei questioned in this article was not the technique, but rather, how did he (Giles sensei) get the opponent to enter like that, and what are the chances of being able to reproduce it." I found this comment the most perplexing. For simplicity's sake, we showed all of the attacks as right or left straight punches. In actuality they could be punches, grabs, or pushes--it doesn't really matter. In addition, all of it is based on the well-founded Okinawan karate principle that the defender should move in such a way as to allow the attacker only the one initial attack. I even proposed that the kata shows you how to move this way. The techniques all start with the 'uke' or receiving technique (the "block" if you will, though many of the blocks are accompanied by a simultaneous entry technique). What was this "teacher" looking at? The attacker got into that position by attacking!?!

Another critic had a problem with the analysis because, he said, "many of them can't be reasonably practiced safely." That's true, but what does that have to do with whether an analysis is correct or not? The kata is what it is. You don't change bunkai because it's too deadly.

Another person questioned this analysis because "karate practice should be balanced in many ways." He believed that kata not only taught one how to attack but also how to block. (Didn't I show blocks and moving out of the way?) The same person went on to say that "many techniques work in two directions, meaning my attacker could be behind, or may be in front of me." What? I don't follow that. Did he mean that the first technique of Seipai shows a response against a front attack and a rear attack at the same time? What about the second sequence? How is the front kick an attack to the rear?

Perhaps the most novel defense against the article came from someone who suggested that I was imposing an "a priori" analysis. He said, "In the beginning, there was only movement. The evil was introduced in this world when the creator wanted to explain them...." Heavy stuff that. Not really sure what it means though. In the beginning, I suppose, there was just the random movement of the stars and the planets until someone came up with the idea of gravity. I think he was supposing that I was forcing a theory on the material and then attempting to come up with bunkai to justify the theory. Quite the contrary, I think we only formulated the theory or principles after experimenting with bunkai, after finding the techniques that were the most effective and made the most sense. It is only then, after working things out on the dojo floor, that one begins to see the principles behind the techniques, and then the principles begin to offer a sort of confirmation for how one is looking at kata. Isn't this something like the scientific theory that we all learned in school? That is, we first accumulate data (kata) and then begin to analyze it (bunkai). Only after much trail and error (and we are continually revising and refining our bunkai) do we even begin to formulate theories.

For the life of me, I can't figure out criticism like this except as a rather transparent effort to retain one's status in the dojo. When we feel threatened in any way, the ego runs to our defense. Whatever happened to open and honest discussion? I was once called an "iconoclast" as if it were a terrible thing to be. (My attacker, rather smugly, I think, saw himself as a defender of the faith, if a somewhat blind defender in my opinion.)

Now I remember the other two panels in that cartoon. One showed this guy from the 17th century pointing at a bird in flight, saying, "If gravity is real, explain that." And the other panel was a guy from the 19th century holding a bible, saying, "If evolution is real, explain this." It was a pretty funny cartoon. It was by Adam Zyglis. It reminds me so much of kindergarten when someone challenges you and you just hunker down behind your little Maginot line and hurl taunts at the other side: "Yeah, well you're stupid." I'm not sure it's the best defense though. I think real self-defense is something else.


  1. Anonymous7:42 AM

    Now, after reading this, I wish very much I could find your original article/write-up on Sepai.... I know I should comment more, because I find your texts interesting and they get me thinking a lot... Anyway, if there is a chance to share that article, I'd like it.

    Thanks - Hendrik
    (Goju Ryu Bahrain)

  2. Hello, Hendrik,
    Nice to hear from you again. How are your bunkai studies going? All the articles I've written for the Journal of Asian Martial Arts can still be obtained from them on-line. They sell just the articles for two or three dollars--digital, I imagine. As for that first article, the ideas and principles have remained the same, but we've done some refining of the bunkai, with what I believe is a better understanding of the principles. In other words, some of the bunkai we now do is a bit different from what is illustrated in that first article. I know we have talked (via email) a bit about Seipai, but if you have other questions after looking at the article, feel free to email me about them or anything else. I won't pretend to have all the answers, but it's always enjoyable to share ideas.
    All the best,