|Upper-level palm strike|
from Tensho kata
|Rising block from|
I wrote about this question in an article for the sadly no longer publishing Journal of Asian Martial Arts (Politics and Karate: Historical Influences on the Practice of Goju-ryu, vol. 16, no. 3, 2007) in an attempt to, at the very least, instigate some discussion of form and structure, and the relationship between kata and bunkai. But there is so much that gets misconstrued. In fact, I was misquoted on a number of forums and criticized for trying to fit Tensho into the mold of a bunkai-based kata--like a square peg in a round hole--instead of seeing it as it was intended to be seen, as an internal training method. I'm not sure I understand how this person--who didn't train Goju and was only peripherally familiar with its katas--was sure what Miyagi sensei intended, or how he was so quick to assess what I knew or didn't know, never having met fact-to-face, but that's the nature of the Internet, I suppose. And while we're on the subject of stuff I don't really get, why limit one's internal training to one kata? In fact, I'm not sure I really understand the distinction many people make between hard and soft after thirty years of training--they're inter-twined really. Wikipedia tells us that "Sanchin kata...is one of two core katas of this
|Upper-level palm strike|
that would follow the
Which brings me to my main point here: Why did Miyagi sensei put the techniques of Tensho kata together in the way he did? Supposing my initial analysis to be correct, the first technique of Tensho (excluding the three Sanchin-like punches in the Higa version of the kata) is a right open-hand jodan block followed by a right hand jodan shuto attack. The third technique is a jodan-level palm strike. This is followed by a gedan-level palm strike. The fifth and sixth techniques are a rising block followed by a downward block. The seventh technique is a mid-level outward block, and the eighth technique is a mid-level palm strike. The question is, why not keep all of the blocks and attacks together? That is, why not follow each block with the appropriate attack? Wouldn't this be the simplest and the clearest method of transmitting intent? I know there are any number of possible explanations. Perhaps it flows better this way, etc. But the funny thing is that this sort of "interrupted" structure is exactly what we see--and so seldom recognize--in the Goju classical subjects. We see the opening or receiving technique (uke) done on one side and then repeated on the other side, but the finishing technique only tacked onto the second repetition. This is what we see in the repetition of the double "elbow" techniques in Seiunchin kata, for example. We may even see the controlling or bridging technique without the receiving technique--again, a structure that repeats in a number of the classical kata--and the finishing technique tacked onto the second side or second repetition. This sort of structure is found over and over again in an analysis of Goju kata--it's one of the key principles to analyzing kata and discovering bunkai--but if you're not aware of it, it seems needlessly confusing. If you're not aware of it, it leads to the sort of piecemeal interpretation of kata and bunkai that seems so prevalent on the Internet.
|One of four "elbow" techniques|
from Seiunchin kata (or is it half
of two "elbow" techniques!?)
So what's with Tensho? This is by all accounts a kata that Miyagi sensei made. In other words, we can supposedly see intentional structure. The stepping pattern and stance work is obviously taken from Sanchin. But supposing I am correct about the applications of the hand techniques--and I'll be the first to acknowledge that I could be wrong--then why put it together in a way that seems at the very least ambiguous, if not intentionally confusing. Here's a thought, though: At least it's confusing in the same way all of the other kata are. What's that tell you?