Entrance to the Barn Dojo....

Friday, April 22, 2016

Please, sir, can I have some more?

First move of Seiunchin kata,
breaking the attacker's grab.
The master was a fat, healthy man; but he turned very pale. He gazed in stupefied astonishment on the small rebel for some seconds, and then clung for support to the copper. The assistants were paralysed with wonder; the boys with fear. "What!" said the master at length, in a faint voice. "Please, sir," replied Oliver, "I want some more." (from Dickens' Oliver Twist)

And with that, the boy raised his bowl, palm up with his arm bent at the elbow. And the master shrugged with that universal gesture of ignorance, shoulders lifting, with both arms brought up and out, away from the body, palms turned up to heaven, as if to say, "What the dickens! I have no idea."
Initiating an arm-bar to bring
the opponent down.

No, there was no bowl, there was no master, and of course there was no little orphaned boy named Oliver. But I did find myself thinking about this gesture the other day while doing Seiunchin kata. I thought, "Why bring the hand up in this curious gesture, as if you're raising your bowl for the cook to fill?" I can see what's going on here: the grab release, the control of the arm, the attack to the head. But if you're just grabbing the head from the down position, why bring the hand up this way? And even less satisfying is the way some schools interpret this as an inside block of a second attack.

I don't know about you, but I find that explanation about as satisfying as a bowl of watery gruel with a stale bread crust. So, let me describe what's happening so that we're all on the same page, so to speak. In the opening move of the kata, you step forward on an angle into shiko dachi, bringing the arms up with the hands out, palms up, more or less back to back out in front. Then the hands close and are brought down and out to the sides. Then the left hand is brought up to the ribs and the right hand comes up into this curious palm-up position at shoulder level. Then the right hand turns over, pulling in as the left open hand pushes out.
Rolling on the opponent's arm to
control the elbow.

Now I realize that in many traditional circles this first move is used to grab the wrists of an attacker who's got both his hands around your throat and is trying to choke the breath out of you. But if that's the case, there's no reason to step into the attack or forward as the kata does. (Some teachers maintain that even though the kata shows forward movement, it's really meant to be applied stepping back--as if we're supposed to do the opposite of what a kata shows--an example of the kind of logic we often find when it comes to martial arts applications!) So if we could, for the moment, imagine that an attacker has grabbed one's left wrist or arm with his left hand. Both arms are brought up to break the grab. The defender moves to the outside. In bringing the arms down and out, as in the second movement, the defender's left hand reverses the grip of the attacker and grabs the attacker's wrist with the right forearm being brought down on the elbow. Then, maintaining one's left-hand grip on the opponent's wrist as it is brought up to "chamber," the right arm is rolled in this "Oliver Twist" palm-up position, maintaining contact and control of the opponent's arm. With the opponent brought forward and down, the right hand then turns over and grabs the opponent's head, while the left spear-hand attacks the neck. This "rolling" quality of the arm-bar technique is found repeatedly in Goju-ryu kata.
Grabbing the head and attacking
the neck.

I'm not sure that's a very adequate description of this "rolling" technique or coiling, as they might call it in the classical Chinese arts. Perhaps it would be better to call it a "twisting" motion, since both arms are really used to execute it. Or we could call it the old Oliver Twist, 'cause it looks sort of like you're raising an empty bowl.

Saturday, April 09, 2016

See a man about a horse?

Well, if you'll excuse me, I've got to see a man about a horse.... Ok, I'm back. What does that even mean? No, I know what it means, but where did it come from? A euphemistic way of saying one needs to hit the loo, the john, the can.... Reminds me of a student--he was from another style but was interested in studying kata that actually had bunkai--who trained with me for a short time. He came to class one evening and told me he had to leave early to make it to his black belt class at another dojo. Oh, wait, that's not a euphemism. It is messed up though.

The first move in Saifa kata.
What I was really thinking about--not horses--was how people go off and study other things all the time. I understand the concept of cross-training and all, but what good does it do to study another karate style? I mean, if I'm going to seminars on Shorin-ryu or Uechi-ryu, how does it help my Goju-ryu? Hopefully, the martial principles are going to be the same, and if that's the case, then all I'm left with is a collection of other kata or techniques or bunkai taken from those "other" kata. And Shotokan, removed as it is from Shorin-ryu? Wouldn't I be better served putting in the same time training my own system?

Of course, but what I really find amusing is packing off to a seminar given by a big-name instructor who comes and teaches bunkai/applications to a kata that's not part of his own system--any kata really and sometimes with the instructor's request that some senior student from the hosting dojo should demonstrate the kata because the guest instructor doesn't know it!!! If he doesn't know the kata or the style, how could he know the bunkai or applications? Because he has a great imagination...and an awful lot of chutzpah. Ok, so this is a rant. Sorry about that, but this sort of thing, bolstered by exposure and hype on the Internet, seems to be burgeoning lately.

Dropping into horse stance and
attacking with a forearm to the neck.
So lest I get caught up in the maelstrom of flying debris, I'll try to get back to kata and bunkai. How about the first move in Saifa? Here's a question that came up the other day: Everyone steps forward with the right foot, feet coming together, with the left open hand around the right fist. But then it starts to differ. Some schools pull the hand away, thinking that the aggressor has seized the defender's right hand. Some schools bring the right forearm up across the attacker's left elbow, executing an arm bar. So what's right? (Some people avoid this question altogether. They voice the wonderfully liberal underpinning of relativism--there's no right or wrong, just different. But don't we correct students when they punch or kick or block incorrectly?) So, why is it wrong (and by that I mean the bunkai is wrong, or not good, if you will) to simply pull the hand away? Because it doesn't really put a stop to the aggression. The confrontation merely starts over again, with a slightly more aware attacker. Holding on to the attacker and executing an arm bar is a bit more effective. However, an arm bar executed across the attacker's elbow, horizontally, pushes the attacker away. The better alternative is for the defender to bring the right arm up, over, and down on the attacker's left arm, while the defender's left hand has hold of the attacker's left hand. This technique has the effect of forcing the attacker's head down and keeping him close. The next moves in the sequence have the defender grabbing the attacker's head, because it is now in range, and bringing the right forearm down on the back of the attacker's neck.

You see, some of this is thematic, and you'd never know it if you didn't actually train Goju, like if it wasn't really your own style, you know, like, and you didn't actually train it every day like. But whatever.