|Entry technique and initial attack|
from Seipai kata.
"Okay," he said. "But let me point out one possible flaw in your beginning premise. You suggested that bunkai came before the creation of kata. But doesn't it really depend on how you look at the relationship between kata and bunkai? Under your scenario it really demands that you see kata as a collection of combinations--not just individual techniques--that shows how one deals with specific attacks by an opponent, from the beginning receiving technique (uke) to the finishing technique."
"Yes," I said. "I would agree with that. Kata shows--really thematically--how to deal with single aggressive movements by an opponent; how you avoid and receive them, move to control the opponent so he cannot attack again, and how to end the confrontation."
|Controlling technique from Seipai.|
"Well, it seems to me," I responded, "that they're part of a system organized around individual themes. I think based on an analysis of bunkai you could make a pretty convincing argument for this. But you could probably just as easily suggest that the katas were created by different people, at different times, though still part of the same system."
"But just for the sake of argument," my friend suggested, "couldn't you look at kata not as a collection of sequences or combinations, but as individual techniques? Perhaps each technique is itself a receiving technique, in which case there are no combinations or complete bunkais shown."
"But there are clearly some techniques that are attacks. How," I asked, "would you reconcile those? How could you look at the double 'punch' down attack in shiko-dachi in Seipai as a receiving technique or more pointedly without connecting it to the techniques that precede it?"
"I guess you're right," my friend said, "but couldn't that technique be attached to a number of other techniques?"
|Finishing technique from Seipai|
along with the technique which
"Okay," he said, "so there are an almost infinite number of ways to pair up techniques, but each individual technique should only be understood as having one interpretation, more or less. Is that right?"
"Yes," I smiled.
"Why don't more people see that then?" he asked, musing a bit to himself. "I suppose it's more fun to make up a whole bunch of cool applications. And then again, every teacher can be an authority or at least their own expert. And, I suppose, the prevailing opinion has something to do with it--that any technique from kata can mean anything as long as it works."
"Well, as long as it works in the dojo," I laughed, "where logic doesn't always prevail and few are willing to suggest to the teacher that a technique or interpretation doesn't make sense."
"So how we interpret kata and bunkai may really have a lot to do with our expectations," my friend suggested.
"Yeah, maybe," I agreed. "In 1949 there was an experiment set up by two psychologists at Harvard to test people's perceptions when faced with a reality that contradicted their expectations. Students were shown playing cards and asked to identify them as they were flipped over. Most of the cards conformed to exactly what one would expect, but the experimenters had also slipped in cards that one wouldn't expect, like a red six of spades and a black four of hearts. When the cards were turned over quickly, the subjects simply ignored the incongruities, calling the red six of spades a six of hearts, for instance. When the cards were turned over more slowly, the subjects were just plain confused and 'completely flummoxed'" (cited in The Sixth Extinction by Elizabeth Kolbert, p. 92).
"So the real problem when we look at kata," he said, "may be that we tend to find what we expect to find. So what's the solution?"
"Make sure it's logical. Make sure it's real. Make sure it conforms to sound martial principles."