Entrance to the Barn Dojo....

Wednesday, May 25, 2016


More typical fighting
posture readiness.
   The thought occurred to me the other day--I suppose I've been wrestling with this a long time--but I found myself thinking about training in the old days, when I used to wear a gi and everything was rather formal. We'd line up according to seniority and then kneel and sit in seiza. "Mokuso!" Of course, it was all very precise, sort of like the Japanese tea ceremony without the tea cups.
   "Mokuso yamae!"
   "Sensei ni, rei!" the senior student would bark out. And, after all the formal bows, the teacher would take over.
   "Kiyotsuke. Rei. Yoi," the teacher would say, pausing between commands as the students responded. And then...
   Then we began practicing kata. But here's where it gets interesting.
   "Kata Saifa. Yoi. Hajime (begin)." Next was Seiunchin. "Yoi. Hajime." And then Shisochin. "Yoi. Kamae. Hajime." You see, there's that extra word--kamae. We used kamae not in the general sense of "posture" or even as a command--"kamae-te"--but in the connotative sense of "ready to fight." We generally understood it as a ready position, but no one every asked why the other kata (Saifa, Seiunchin, Seipai, and Kururunfa) didn't begin with a kamae or ready position. Why don't they?
Kamae posture found
in a number of kata.
   In Goju-ryu, putting aside Sanchin and Tensho for obvious reasons, there are four kata that begin with this double-arm kamae posture and four kata that don't. Each of these four double-arm kamae postures begins with three basic techniques that are repeated. Each of the other four kata begins immediately with a bunkai sequence (sometimes in threes and sometimes not). Why the difference? If all of the kata are part of the same system (supposing for the moment that they are from the same system), wouldn't we expect that they would conform to the same structure or pattern? Well...unless there is a message in the pattern or structure.
   Saifa begins with a  self-defense scenario (bunkai) against a same-side wrist grab (opponent's left to defender's right). Seiunchin begins with a self-defense scenario (bunkai) against a cross-hand wrist grab (opponent's right to defender's left). Seipai begins with the opponent grabbing one's shoulder or lapel. Each of these kata shows defensive scenarios (bunkai sequences) against grabs or pushes, while Kururunfa, it seems to me, shows responses to an opponent's punch. The other four kata, however, show defenses and responses to an altogether different situation--one that begins from a wrestling clinch or, if you will, the posture one sees at the beginning of a Judo match. Just compare the postures.
One of Judo's beginning
   It's almost as if there is a flag or label tacked onto the beginning of the kata, stating "the techniques of this kata begin from a grappling position," and we are meant to apply the entry techniques at least with this in mind.
   So, does this change the way one sees the bunkai of these kata? Does it open up new possibilities? Do we need to re-think the opening "punches" (if that's even what they are!?) in Seisan and Sanseiru or question the "nukite" or "shotei-tsuki" techniques at the beginning of Shisochin? At the very least, we should question why so much of the bunkai people find in the Goju-ryu classical kata looks the same--most of it beginning with two people squared off, facing each other, until the attacker lunges in with a punch--when clearly, just from the way they begin, there is an implied difference.
   It also makes me wonder about the three kata--sometimes said to be older or perhaps more related to each other (Sanseiru, Seisan, and Suparinpei)--having the same beginning "kamae" posture, as if they were based on a more grappling-oriented martial art, something like Okinawan sumo, for instance, though that's just a wild conjecture.
   So anyway, before you start shouting, "No, Goju is about blocking and punching and kicking...after all, it's karate, not judo"....just wrestle with the idea for a bit. I think this is where it starts to get interesting.


  1. Interesting post. Uchima sensei once said me that the beginning of sisochin begins from a grappling like the photograph followed by and strike to the armpit and then the double arm release. The other three techniques always were fizzy to me. I don't buy the arm bar that's almost all schools teaches

    1. Hi Martin, I guess I haven't been on here in a while...working on a book. I can use a kind of arm bar, more of a folding technique, if it's a way to get to the opponent's head. But yes, as an end in itself, the arm bar doesn't really do it.

  2. Hi Giles,
    I'm happy to read your new post!

    Just a question, did you heard "kamae" only in shisochin or also in the other similar opening katas (sanchin, sanseru, seisan and suparipei)?

    All the best,
    Andrea F

  3. Hi Andrea,
    Yes, my teacher used "Kamae" in any kata that began with both arms up, which also, for us in those days, included Gekisai Dai, Gekiha, and Kakuha, training subjects from the Shorei-kan lineage, as well as Sanchin, Sanseiru, Seisan, and Suparinpei.


  4. Ryan Payne12:03 PM

    When you practice Seisan and Shisochin, do you use fast snapping techniques on the punches/nukites from the kamae position? (As opposed to the slow punches in Sanseiru.)
    I've come to think of these techniques as a way to practice generating short percussive
    power since there isn't any large body movements accompanying the attack. That idea seems to fit pretty well with starting from a clinched position where your attacker will probably feel and
    maybe negate any obvious movements, such as dropping your weight to deliver an uppercut.

  5. Hello,
    Interesting you should say that. We do use a lot of "short power." I'm looking at these as the starting position for all of the subsequent bunkai combinations in these kata. And the clinch itself shows a number of different positions and quite a bit of variation. Because of the speed variation ("snapping"?) between Sanseiru and the other two, I usually emphasize the pulling back or retraction in Sanseiru rather than the punching or pushing forward. Anyway, a fascinating notion. Let me know if anything else comes up in doing bunkai.

  6. Interesting article! GOJU is a close quarter combat system most of its applications are standup grappling ( can be applied on the ground too) thus the muchimi, elbows, knees ect ect! I believe this to be true in all the katas to a certain degree!

  7. So, Abe, if that's the case, show me your bunkai...or you could describe it.

  8. Well we are constructioning a website and videos will follow ( I will send you a few) or if you happen to be in New Jersey you are more then welcome to stop by. I only teach sometimes but I'm always a student of this lifestyle if you will. I study Americanized version of GOJU lead by master Urban and taken to another level by some of his prominent students namely Ric Pascetta, Having said that in concept and principle I believe Okinawians, Japanese and us we are more the same where we may differ is how we may apply it. To each is on, I'm not here to put down or belittle rather in here to learn.