Entrance to the Barn Dojo....

Thursday, January 01, 2015

Hey, hold on, Buster!

Against a grab in Seiunchin.
When I was young, I used to wonder why we trained against grabs. I mean, who gets grabbed by the wrist? And how likely is that anyway? I'm thinking, how oblivious to the situation do I have to be to be standing there and let some guy reach over and grab hold of my wrist?! Imagine the scenario: We would train against a cross-hand wrist grab (right to right), the same side wrist grab (left to right or right to left), the lapel grab, the shoulder grab (either hand), the double wrist grab, the double lapel grab, the choke hold, etc., etc. I used to think, what do I care if someone grabs me. I'll just punch him in the face or use both hands and whack his ears. After all, I thought, they're at a disadvantage; they've committed themselves to an attack, and they're already using one hand, or better yet maybe they're already using both hands. I was really into punching and kicking. But that's all I was familiar with, that's all we really used in doing ippon kumite and the Shorei-kan kind of two-person bunkai to Gekisai kata, Gekiha kata, and Kakuha kata. We trained to be stronger and punch faster. And maybe there's nothing wrong with that. Of course, the techniques we used against all of these different grabs had nothing to do with the classical Goju katas. The techniques we practiced were a kind of generic jiu-jitsu.

At the time, I didn't think that the classical kata of Goju-ryu actually had a lot of defenses against pushes and grabs. We didn't really practice bunkai to classical kata very much. Like most dojos, I suppose, we did a lot of basic drills, and much of it was centered on the Gekisai kata because beginners and seniors trained together. One of the problems in many dojos: everyone trains to the lowest common denominator. Then they tell you it's not what you train that separates a junior from a senior, it's how you train. Yeah, okay.

Against a grab in Saifa.
In Okinawa I met students that had been training in traditional dojos for ten or fifteen years, who said they didn't know any bunkai to classical subjects. Of course, that wasn't strictly true; we used clearly recognizable classical techniques (a few anyway) in one, two, or three-step drills. But looking back, I'm not sure I would have called them bunkai either; rather than a focus on an analysis of the movement in the kata, they were more of an adaptation of kata movements to different scenarios. And sometimes the techniques bore no resemblance to any kata moves.

Of course, at some point most people begin looking at classical kata, trying to find bunkai. The problem is that you generally find what you're looking for. We had been trained in block, punch, kick karate, and so what we found in exploring the applications for the classical subjects were block, kick, and punch applications. When this sort of training begins to seem elementary, as it certainly did, we latched onto that oft repeated dojo rejoinder: A punch is not always a punch, a block is not always a block. This road led us to that enticing morass of martial arts mumbo jumbo where anything could mean anything. I started finding grab releases everywhere. At this point, almost anything could be used as a grab release--especially if you're working with a compliant compatriot. Only much later did I realize that Goju-ryu classcial katas actually hit more with the forearms than they do with the fist, kick more with the knee than they do with the foot, and there are a lot of responses to grabs. I mean, designed specifically for grabs. Why?

Against a grab in Seipai.
I don't think people initiate attacks with a wrist grab, but they do block and then grab, and this is the way we train the grab responses in the Goju-ryu katas. That is, when we train against grabs--like the first technique in Seiunchin, for instance--the attacker punches, the other person blocks and grabs, and then the attacker executes the appropriate kata technique against the grab. This is the reason, I believe, there are so many applications against grabs in the Goju katas; Goju is a close-in fighting system, and as soon as you "cross hands" with an opponent, you need to respond to the opponent's "touch," whether that's an actual grab or the opponent is merely "obstructing" your arm. You have to respond to the block or grab before you can move into controlling the opponent and then counter-attacking. In this sense, the "touch" of the opponent on my arm or my shoulder or my chest is the same as a grab. Someone may not initiate an attack with a grab--because, after all, what was I doing while they took the opportunity to grab me?!--but pushing and grabbing are certainly as likely to happen in any confrontation as blocking and punching.

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