Entrance to the Barn Dojo....

Monday, June 15, 2015

Resurrecting the past

Hanging out with Kimo sensei.
Finally back at it...well, almost. Busy month. Five weeks out from total hip replacement surgery. Lying around. A lot of reading and rest. Of course they get you up to walk a little the next day--miracle of miracles--but still. I mean, they cut your thigh bone off and pound a titanium spike down it. No more running marathons, I guess. Slow and rather lengthy recovery...what do they say, at least three months, though more like six to feel "normal" again? Try to get in a mile or so walk a day and some exercises, but nothing all that strenuous. Still limping a bit, but at some point I should be almost like new. Can't really complain. What the hell, at least I can walk again.

I'm always amazed to discover how integrated karate movement is whenever I get injured. Now, of course, it's the realization of how the waist/hip area (koshi, if you will) is involved in everything you do in the martial arts. We all know this intellectually, but when you get injured you experience it in a very different way--different from when you work on it and use it every day you train if you're healthy. But anyway, the job now--the training for me--is to make a full and healthy recovery. Not an easy task, given how quickly strength and flexibility seems to leave you over the course of a six-month lay off.

Elbow technique from Shisochin kata.
But is it an attacking elbow or is it a
hooking elbow? Is there any similarity
between this elbow technique and the
elbow we see in Sanseiru kata?
The weird thing is that I had this odd sensation that as I slept, so did the rest of the martial world. I look back at the Goju blogs and forums and find the same old stuff, as if nothing ever changes. As if "reuse, recycle, and reduce" were a sound martial arts slogan. How many times can you watch a couple of random guys trying to come up with good bunkai for Gekisai kata? For that matter, how many times can you watch black belts practice Fukiyu or Gekisai kata? How many times can you read a forum post asking for people's opinions about which "gi" is best or which kata is their favorite? Why doesn't anyone question the necessity of the karate gi--and while they're at it, the belts and patches and titles? What does it mean to say that one has a favorite kata? Despite what some influential people have suggested, each kata is not a system of self-defense in and of itself. So we should be asking: what does it mean to practice a system composed of various kata? What relationship do those various kata have to the system as a whole? Are they thematic? Are they related to each other in any way? Could you have an incomplete system where some themes or scenarios or self-defense situations have been left out or lost?

Is this a technique from
Shisochin kata or
Suparinpei kata?
I came across one recent post trying to resurrect an old argument that a number of people seemed to have bought into seven or eight years ago; that there are two groups of Goju kata: one group that Miyagi sensei learned from Higashionna sensei (Sanchin, Sanseiru, Seisan, and Suparinpei), and another group that Miyagi sensei himself made (Saifa, Seiunchin, Shisochin, Seipai, and Kururunfa). If I remember it correctly, the original argument was based on a "cluster analysis" of the different techniques and the seeming difference between the "asymmetry" of the first group of katas and the "symmetry" of the second group. I hope this isn't an over-simplification of their argument. However, the real over-simplification is in suggesting that such a small sample can yield significant results when studied using cluster analysis, not to mention the obvious, that some similarity of technique occurs between both groups. Secondly, there are elements of asymmetry and symmetry in both groups of kata as well. My initial criticism of this study when it first came out was that any comparison of kata without a thorough understanding of bunkai was superficial at best. Many movements may appear similar but function quite differently within the structure of the kata and the application of its techniques. Conversely, many techniques may look quite different but may have essentially the same function in bunkai.

But as I say, this whole argument resurfaced. The suggestion now is that even though Miyagi sensei said he learned everything from his teacher, he actually didn't mean it. In other words, the writer argues, what Miyagi sensei said in public (tatemae) was not what he actually felt in private (honne). He goes on to suggest that there is a cultural component to this.

Forgive me, but to base a scholarly argument on the supposition that what a source said is, for all intents and purposes, the opposite of what they meant seems not just weak but the most circuitous route to a rationalization of an unfounded and unsubstantiated position that I can imagine. When you stop to think about it, it's really quite brilliant! I'm sorry, I didn't mean that.

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