|Stepping up into the first position|
in Saifa kata (mirror image).
For example: We teach a student the first step in Saifa kata is to advance along an imagined northeast diagonal line with a right step into a long zenkutsu-dachi (front stance). Then the left foot is brought up to the right into a stance that the Japanese call musubi-dachi (heels touching with the feet splayed at 90 degrees), as the hands pull back across the chest. Yet this is a sort of stilted, overly-stylized movement--completely unnatural--that would never be done in such a punctuated manner if one were actually "using" the technique against an opponent. And the problem is that this kind of stylized movement, learned at an early stage in our training, generally informs most people's bunkai as well.
|Kicking posture in Saifa.|
|Final position in Saifa|
before the right hand
is brought over and
down, palm forward.
Examples just like these can be found throughout the system of classical Goju katas. What are the benefits? Obviously, it is easier to teach the seemingly arcane movements of classical kata when they are broken down--almost like still photographs--and presented in punctuated and highly stylized form, with as little individual variation as possible. But once the movements are learned, all of this stiff, robotic, and metronomic movement should be abandoned. Yet watch any demonstration or YouTube performance of kata! Imagine what kata performances would look like if we taught bunkai before we taught kata. How radical! Let a student practice the technique against a partner for a year before they were taught the solo form. I wonder what it would look like? I wonder if the movements would look more natural? I wonder if the gaps and pauses would disappear? Kata performance might allow for more variation and individuality. The only criteria for judging someone's kata would be whether they understood what they were doing and whether they could apply the techniques effectively. It may take a lifetime to learn to move as naturally as a child, but this should really be the goal. Bunkai should follow kata, but kata should be done like bunkai. And when's the last time you saw that?