I got a letter the other day from someone who seems to be a sincere and dedicated practitioner of traditional Goju-ryu. I'm quoting this not at all to attack this individual or point of view, but only to respond to the question in a bit more detail.
Here's what he said:
"...if there are universal rules to deciphering Okinawan kata (an assumption that you may not agree with), might exploring bunkai in kata sequences you are not familiar with have the potential to provide insight into deciphering applications from the forms that are in your system?"
I take this to be a rhetorical question, because the person who asked it has spent time doing just that, attempting to decipher kata through the lens of another system. Does it help? Certainly any number of things might jar us out of our comfort zone, a sort of state where the "blinders" of tradition or lineage keep us from "looking outside the box" or "coloring outside the lines." There are many karate practitioners who believe wholeheartedly in the value of cross-training. And I can't deny the potential benefits. I learned a lot about Goju-ryu by training with Sifu Liu, the Feeding Crane master. Heck, I learned a lot about Goju-ryu from training Yang style T'ai Chi. But I didn't learn anything applicable to Goju kata and/or bunkai by studying Tae Kwon Do or Shotokan karate, or watching Wado-ryu karate or Hapkido. And what I did learn from Feeding Crane and T'ai Chi Chuan was a way of moving, weight shifting, relaxation, and power generation that only peripherally helped in deciphering Goju-ryu kata and bunkai.
|Stepping back to attack in|
But supposing, for the sake of argument, that there were "universal rules to deciphering Okinawan kata." Are they written down somewhere for all karate-ka to read? Maybe only senior practitioners or teachers all know them. Except if that's the case, going back to an earlier point, how could Toguchi sensei get one of them wrong or at least proffer a rule that is not universally born out in the Goju classical kata? What kind of "rule" is that? At least you can't call it a universal rule. And if there are universal rules, then why doesn't everyone's bunkai look the same? And if Toguchi sensei meant that these rules apply most of the time and we are only nit-picking a few isolated instances, then why would he have created the two-person sets for the Gekisai kata that contradict so many of the principles of movement and rules for deciphering kata shown in the classical subjects of Goju-ryu (There's a distinction here, of course, between "rules" or principles of movement--like keeping the elbow down and using koshi--and "rules" or principles of deciphering kata in order to discover bunkai.)
Whether this is an apt analogy or not, one should bear in mind that any true analysis of kata techniques should begin with an understanding of the structure of the kata--how the techniques go together in this particular kata--not a piece-meal explanation of what each technique appears to be doing. You can't do this if you don't know the kata or the system. This slicing and dicing of techniques--what so many people do when they attempt to practice bunkai--is like eating up the individual ingredients off the chopping block before the chef gets a chance to mix them all together into a wonderfully savory feast! You're eating all the same things, and yet it's not the same.
Poached eggs anyone?