Entrance to the Barn Dojo....

Sunday, November 15, 2015

What's wrong with that guy's kata?

Along Fitzgerald Lake in the fall.
[I was going to stop at 108...but maybe I'll just post one or two more. After all, what significance do numbers have anyway?]

Winter's coming. I can tell because the last hard rain took most of the leaves off the sycamore tree in the back yard. It's been a wonderful fall. The leaves have been beautiful, especially walking the trails out around Fitzgerald Lake. Since I retired, I feel as though I've finally got the time to really look at things. Like leaves. Millions of leaves out in this little hundred acre wood--well actually it's a little bigger than that. But it's easy to approach these paths with the wonder of a child on beautiful fall days. And I find myself stopping to pick up and examine leaves the way my children did when they were two or three or four years old.
This position, coming before
the techniques under
consideration, is the
same in each school.

No two leaves are exactly the same, at least in the fall when they change colors and the slow and inevitable process of decay begins. Of course, there's an analogy lost in there somewhere, covered over with piles of autumn leaves. It reminds me of something my daughter said the other day, watching her brother finish a bowl of ice cream that he had said he wasn't going to eat. Something about Newton's first law of motion or was it Galileo's concept of inertia? Anyway, it got me to thinking about kata.

The final position is
also the same.
For years, I've wondered why there were differences, some subtle and perhaps insignificant and some quite glaring, between how the different schools of Okinawan Goju did kata. If Higa Seiko sensei and Miyagi Chojun sensei both studied under Higashionna sensei, and Yagi (Meibukan), Toguchi (Shoreikan), and Miyazato (Jundokan) all studied under Miyagi and/or Higa, then why were there differences in how some of the Goju classical kata were preformed? The only explanation I could imagine (if we rule out faulty transmission) is that different teachers' understandings--or perhaps execution--of the bunkai informed (or changed) the way they did kata. Or, put another way, they each had different ideas how best to accomplish the same thing. Over time, these subtle differences became more pronounced, until certain moves in kata took on what became, by appearances at least, obvious differences. That is, perhaps they all knew the same bunkai (one specific  bunkai, I would suggest), but each did it a little differently, depending on body type, movement, etc.

(4) Shodokan version.
A case in point is Sanseiru kata. Of the classical Goju kata, Sanseiru seems to exhibit the most striking differences between the four major schools of Okinawan Goju: Shodokan, Meibukan, Shoreikan, and Jundokan. One of the more glaring examples of these differences might be this double open hand move found in the middle of the kata (4). It is done first to the left (west) side (shown) and then to the right (east) side. In the first of these, as it is done in Shodokan schools (Higa), we see a left, palm up chest block with a right, hooking upper-level palm strike, in basic stance. In the other three schools of Goju, the kata shifts into a right foot forward shiko dachi, with the right arm, hand open, in an upper-level block, and the left hand, palm up, striking with a nukite (5). (See illustrations.) They look very different, both the feet and the hands. But suppose neither one is actually wrong, except in what they imagine is going on. Suppose they are actually executing the same bunkai!?

(5) Other schools.
As I suggested in a previous blog ("The Structure of Kata: putting two and two together...or not"), this is not the initial sequence or uke (receiving) technique but the controlling or bridging technique. And instead of the left hand blocking and the right hand attacking (Shodokan), or vice-versa (the other schools), both hands are grabbing the opponent's head; the lower hand grabbing the chin, while the upper hand grabs the head. Utilizing the position of either of these accomplishes the same thing. (Note: It's important to mention here that we're seeing both techniques without the corresponding entry technique.)

So, if one looks at it this way, it suggests that the teachers that originally learned from Higashionna sensei or Miyagi sensei, and went on to establish their own schools, knew and practiced the same bunkai, even though the katas look quite different. And it also fits the general tenor of techniques in the Goju classical subjects.

The problem then, if this is the case, is not with the differences found in the different schools but in later followers who never learned the original bunkai and had to fend for themselves in attempting to interpret movement that was perhaps idiosyncratic and certainly a bit cryptic without the original teacher there to explain it. In other words, the differences in kata do not necessarily point to differences in bunkai. Which, I suppose, in the best of liberal traditions, suggests that it may be more fruitful to find commonality in things that differ to some degree than to dwell on differences in things that seem by and large so similar. To be clear, I am not suggesting that all bunkai are correct, just that that guy's kata, as different as it may look, may be just as "correct" or at least fundamentally the same. What was it Robert Frost said? Two roads diverged in a yellow wood...and in the end, they led to the same place?

When it comes to leaves, however, I can't help noticing--and appreciating--their wonderful variety and stunning beauty. I may turn into a rabid leaf peeper yet. And isn't it ironic that
we take notice of their incredible beauty in the fall, just as they're on the verge of dying?

[Well, that's my two cents anyway. Hope I didn't give too much away. Then again...]

1 comment:

  1. Superb article Giles, as always your writings makes me thinking a lot of cuestions, and yes! you give too much away so please keep pushing us