Entrance to the Barn Dojo....

Monday, July 06, 2015

Very like a cloud...

Clouds rolling in over the tarn
on the fell. (Helvellyn)
So I was thinking about Hamlet the other day. It was in Act III, scene ii, or thereabouts. The conversation between Polonius and Hamlet. The Melancholy Dane says, quite apropos of nothing: "Do you see yonder cloud that's almost in shape like a camel?" The old man responds, "By the mass, and 'tis like a camel, indeed." To which Hamlet says, "Methinks it is like a weasel." Agreeably, Polonius responds, "It is backed like a weasel." Hamlet then playfully suggests, "Or like a whale," and Polonius knowingly, and famously, says, "Very like a whale." Of course, Hamlet realizes that the cloud in question cannot have all of these qualities--that Polonius is merely agreeing with the poor boy they all think is mad. They humor him for their own ends.
Beginning of Seipai
"jump" sequence.

I thought, isn't that the wonderful thing about clouds, these amorphous, evanescent conglomerations of water droplets; they can be all of these things, because in reality they are none of these things. And we know that. It's a game. We're not hallucinating. We are letting our imaginations play with the world around us. And it's perfectly okay--they're clouds.

But sometimes I think it's a lot like kata and bunkai; people begin to see whatever they want to see in it. Their imaginations run wild with interpretation. And I wonder, when did this begin? Different schools and teachers do things a bit differently in kata. Sometimes these differences are very slight and perhaps insignificant. At other times, however, the differences are pronounced and lead people to vastly different interpretations of application.

The "jump" in Seipai.
One I recently encountered was a discussion of the "jump" in Seipai kata. Some schools teach this as an actual jump--the farther, the better. But it's not a jump. The defender is merely stepping to the outside of the attacker, grabbing (that's the control technique), and unwinding or twisting in a counter-clockwise direction to throw the attacker to the east (assuming the front is north). Why is it not a jump? Because it's connected to the previous technique. Though they look similar--the previous cat stance double punch (and I say that only as a description of what it looks like, not what it actually is) and the cross-footed double punch--the kata is not showing opposite sides of the same technique. Why is it connected to the previous technique? Because the first technique is not lethal by itself, and the second technique (the "jump") doesn't show an entry technique. Combinations and sequences, that's just the way Goju kata were designed. It's a principle of understanding Goju bunkai, if you will.

Foreaarm attack to the
neck in Seiunchin, after
bringing the head down.
And there aren't any uraken (backfist) attacks either, at least not the way they are usually practiced in most dojos--not with the back of the fist or even the knuckles. Whether it's in Saifa kata or Seiunchin kata or Seipai kata or any other of the classical Goju kata, what looks like a uraken attack is really a strike with the forearm. That's why the Okinawan practice of kote-kitai (arm pounding) is so significant, because there are so many places in the Goju classical subjects where the forearm is used to attack.

Knee or thigh kick from
Seisan kata.
And while I'm on the subject of what isn't there: there aren't any back kicks in the Goju classical katas. That doesn't mean it isn't a good technique or even that one shouldn't practice it, only that it isn't a technique we find in Goju kata. Some schools and teachers will show a back kick in Seiunchin because their interpretation of these movements suggests an attack both from the rear (presumably with a bear hug) and the front. The problem is that none of these possibe attacks to the rear are lethal, not to mention the fact that they're not very realistic. Try it. Other schools show a back kick in the beginning of Seisan kata. But again, this is not correct. It is instead a knee or thigh kick to the groin done three times, as both hands are brought up (palm up) and then down as one advances. This is a close-quarters technique.

So there you have it: no jump in Seipai, no urakens in Saifa and Seiunchin, and no back kicks in Seiunchin or Seisan. But, you say, why do different schools see these things differently? I can only think that when we look up on a wonderfully balmy summer's day we see clouds, and from there it's anybody's guess.


  1. Superb explanation. Really puts in perspective a lot of things that I always been doubtful.

  2. Thanks for the kind words.