Entrance to the Barn Dojo....

Wednesday, May 11, 2016

Hey, Buddy, can you spare some change?

Between a rock and
a hard place...
“Nothing endures but change.” 


I was thinking about this the other day, walking in the woods, looking at the changes of a late Spring--well, that and the techniques of kata and bunkai of course, as I usually do. It's been cloudy and windy and rainy for the past week. I think it was warmer in January or February than this past couple of weeks. I think I had been out on the scooter more in the winter than the last month and a half. But after all the rain, the forest is finally leafing out, and things are changing once again. Though, of course things are always changing, really.

And I realized, tramping through the few leftover muddy pools on the trails after the recent rains, that Goju-ryu itself is all about change. I wonder that the same thought may have occurred to Miyagi Chojun sensei, walking about the countryside or along the shore near Naha. When I look at the Goju-ryu Happo, it seems to me to be all about change: Mi wa toki ni shitagai hen ni ozu. (Act in accordance with time and change.) Even when it talks about the breath, it's really about change: Ho wa goju wo tondo su. (The way of breathing is hard and soft.) Or when it makes these wonderfully inclusive analogies between each person and the universe: Ketsumyaku wa nichigetsu ni nitari. (The blood and veins are like the sun and the moon.) Jin shin wa ten chi ni onaji. (Hearts and minds are like the universe....and the universe is constantly changing.)

First of four open-hand
techniques from
Goju-ryu, after all, is the "hard/soft" style. It's soft when it yields, and it yields when the opponent is attacking. When my opponent moves in, I move back or to the side. Or, as the Happo says, Shin tai wa hakarite riho su. (The feet advance and retreat, separate and meet.) Look at the "blocks" or receiving techniques (uke) and you will see that they are generally circular, allowing the defender to redirect the attacker's force or energy rather than to meet it head on. You see this in all of the Goju blocking techniques. I always liked the way my teacher would explain the fourth law--Mi wa toki ni shitagai hen ni ozu. "Meet any situation without difficulty," he would say--a good thing to remember whether you're practicing bunkai or merely practicing life. It's all about change.

One of the basic techniques of Shisochin is a good example of this. In this technique--the open hand technique that occurs four times in Shisochin and, according to Hokama sensei, the technique from which the kata name is derived--yields by stepping to the side, instead of meeting the attacker head on or, if you are looking simply at the pattern, instead of turning around to face the attacker. (This is the rule that I have often tried to mention: The stepping pattern of a kata shows how to step off the line of attack.) The kata shows this yielding because the stepping pattern shows a 180 degree turn, from the original north to the south. This is the first of these four techniques.

...even a stone yields.
The attacker is coming in from the west with a left punch. The defender (kata side) steps to the side (the turn-around) and at the same time "blocks" the punch with his right arm, carrying it in a circle across and down. This also has the effect, for the defender, of blocking on the outside gate and moving to the inside gate. At the same time, the left arm is brought up in an arc to attack and catch the attacker under the chin or alongside the neck. Then pivoting again, the attacker's head is brought down. And it's all sort of effortless...because of yielding and sticking and following the attack. I mean when you face someone in Goju, it shouldn't look like two bulls facing off in a field, snorting and pawing the ground, or like two trains headed down the same track from opposite directions. And yet that's often what we see in a lot of bunkai or two-person sets when one person attempts to over-power another person with brute force rather than technique based on correct principles. We should really try to change all that.

“Everything changes, nothing remains without change.” — Buddha


  1. Great article. A deceptively simple kata. Never saw a good bunkai of it. Seems to be easier to understand that sanseru or sepai but not to me. Always have doubts and changes of mind in many techniques.

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  3. I don't know why the posts appears duplicated sometimes

  4. Jorge,

    We too find Shisochin the most difficult kata to analyze. While the central section, perhaps a core, is very discernible, the front and back entries are problematic. We have considered many variation that might work, but none, to date, really seem solid enough to settle on.


  5. That's right. And I don't buy the popular block and arm lock that everybody is using as bunkai. For me is clearly wrong.