|Final technique of the opening|
sequence of Seiunchin kata.
There's a sort of narrative structure to Goju-ryu kata as well. The problem is that the structures differ; not all of the katas conform to the same structure, which, of course, is a strong argument to bolster any research that would suggest that the classical subjects of Goju-ryu, though part of a system, were created by different people at different times. If Goju classical kata were created by a single individual at one period in history--as the Pinan kata are said to have been the creation of Itosu--then they would probably conform to similar patterns, like the Pinan katas. But they don't.
|Thematic double open|
hand technique from
That being said, there seem to be certain rules that each of the Goju kata do conform to. For example, techniques which are shown twice in a kata are shown on both the left and right sides, but the finishing technique of the sequence is only shown once, at the end of the second repetition. Techniques that are shown three times are usually base techniques (as we see at the beginning of Sanseiru) or thematic (as they seem to be in Shisochin) or indicative of the number of bunkai sequences seen in the kata (as in the case of Seisan and Sanseiru). And techniques that are shown four times (as in the elbow/forearm techniques of Seiunchin) should be treated as two pairs of techniques (though Suparinpei seems to be a whole other kettle of fish).
The other element of structure that seems to be followed in all of the Goju classical subjects is that the turns and changes of direction in kata are not arbitrary but instead indicate the direction of attack and how one should step off the line of attack. And certainly there are others.
Yet even when these "rules" are applied, we still see differences in kata structure within the Goju system as a whole. Saifa and Seiunchin begin with actual bunkai sequences--though two of the opening sequences of Seiunchin are incomplete, the finishing technique being shown only after the third sequence, which in itself is a structural difference from Saifa. Shisochin and Sanseiru begin with basic techniques (three open hand techniques in one and three closed hand techniques in the other), not bunkai sequences per se, that share a thematic connection with the rest of their respective katas. Seisan begins with three sets of three basic openings, while Kururunfa sticks its three basic techniques after the openings that are shown on both the right and left sides. And Seipai begins with a complete bunkai sequence, sort of like Saifa, but only shown once.
Furthermore, Saifa has only four complete bunkai sequences, while Seiunchin has five. Shisochin has
|Controlling or bridging|
The problem is that you need to understand the structure of a kata in order to understand its bunkai and not fall into the kind of piecemeal analysis that so often characterizes what we see on the Internet and frequently leads to questionable interpretations of kata technique. For example, the last technique of Saifa kata--the step, turn, and mawashi--is probably the finishing technique of the previous sequence, which is itself shown on both sides, beginning with the block, sweep, and hammerfist strike, rather than an independent technique or additional bunkai sequence of its own. Why? Because that's the way the "mawashi uke" technique appears to be used in all of the other classical subjects of Goju-ryu. Not proof, of course, that there isn't an exception, but a strong argument perhaps.
But structure can also "hide" bunkai, and often does in Goju kata, particularly when the initial or opening technique (uke) is separated from what should follow it, the controlling/bridging technique and finishing techniques. This is what we see in Sanseiru kata. Or, when the opening techniques themselves get split up--something we see in the four-direction double arm movements of Shisochin
|One of the four double|
arm opening moves
of Shisochin kata.
The question, of course, is why the creators of these kata put them together this way. There's no question that it has led to a great deal of confusion. Did they do it to intentionally hide techniques? Or is it just the most efficient and fluid way to execute the techniques? I've tried to reconstruct kata, stringing complete bunkai sequences together, and it often gets awkward or doesn't finish facing the original front direction. Perhaps it was to emphasize that sequences and combinations could be taken apart and put back together in different ways. Or perhaps they were interested in showing an escalating level of violence--that is, the second of a paired sequence shows a much more violent response. For example, in the final sequence of Saifa kata, the first side shows a block, sweep, hammerfist strike, and undercut, but the second side adds a punch, head-twisting neck break (mawashi), and knee kick. So was the intention to hide technique, or was this common structure the most efficacious and time-saving method of preserving technique? These are, of course, questions that are impossible to answer, but the importance of understanding the structure of kata is obvious.