I'm always tempted to head up along a ridge and bushwhack through the bare undergrowth this time of year, but there's something I really like about trails. I don't know whether it's the perception that they go somewhere, that they impose a sort of order on the otherwise chaotic wooded world, or whether it's a natural human desire for perspective, something the early Renaissance painters realized might satisfy some vague human longing. Who knows? I suspect that trails remind us of that temporal aspect to life--we begin in one place, look as far down the road as we can, and then walk towards that end. In other words, some sort of order. One thing follows another as predictably as our feet follow the trail, and everything is just as it should be, just as if we were sitting in a concert hall waiting for that final chord to resolve predictably on the tonic or Shakespeare to dish out everyone's just desserts in the final scene. We are afforded a spectator's view of the wild and untamed as we brush by the tangles of bushes and errant limbs along the trail.
|This double "punch"|
occurs in both Sanseiru
and Suparinpei kata.
In the same way, we have imposed a sort of order on the classical canon of Goju-ryu. And yet, for the most part, it's completely arbitrary. About the only thing that we can say, because there is some variation between various schools, is that Sanchin is first, always followed by Saifa kata, and Suparinpei is last. But why? There are things here it feels like we will never know. Just as the relationship between Suparinpei and Sanchin and Seisan and Sanseiru--these four. They all begin from a double-arm closed-fist kamae in basic stance. They all begin with "blocks" and "punches." Many of the techniques in Suparinpei can be found in some form in these three other kata. There are the double "punches" of Suparinpei and Sanseiru. There is the ending "crane's beak" technique in shiko dachi (Sanseiru and Suparinpei), not to mention the techniques just before the ending of Suparinpei that look like Seisan. Then there are the opening mawashi techniques in basic stance that only occur in Sanchin and Suparinpei (in basic stance). And there are certainly others. There are, of course, techniques in Suparinpei that remind one of Seiunchin, and Shisochin also begins with a double-arm kamae and three "punches," but the similarities between Sanchin, Sanseiru, Seisan, and Suparinpei are all too obvious.
|The "crane's beak" from|
Sanseiru and Suparinpei.
|This open-hand block and|
attack occurs in both
Seisan and Suparinpei.
And why is the structure of Suparinpei so different from the other three kata? Seisan and Sanseiru are bunkai kata; that is, they are composed of three bunkai sequences shown in their entirety, with basic techniques tacked onto the beginning of each kata--the slow "punches" in the case of Sanseiru and the three sets of three basic techniques in Seisan. Sanchin, on the other hand, is an almost laboriously repetitive kata with its slow punches returning to the double-arm kamae posture, though here also there are coincidentally three techniques: the slow punches and blocks, the grab and pull-in coupled with the open-hand pushing out and down technique (also found in Seisan), and the end mawashi technique. Suparinpei, on the other hand, is composed largely of individual techniques which are not shown as part of a bunkai sequence, some of which are entry techniques and some controlling techniques. There are three bunkai sequences here also, but two of them are very similar and the third (the sequence that ends the kata) borrows techniques from Seisan and Sanseiru. And Suparinpei is the only kata besides Sanchin where you will find the mawashi uke in basic stance or sanchin dachi--that is, the only place it is really used as an "uke" or receiving technique. Comparatively speaking, it seems like a bit of an odd duck, structurally at least.
This may all be much ado about nothing, as Shakespeare might have observed, but it's curious when each of the classical subjects seems to present unique self-defense scenarios, subtle variations of theme but no redundancy of movement...except Suparinpei. Even if we were to only consider these seemingly-related kata, there are apparently three somewhat unique kata and then Suparinpei, which seems to have borrowed from each. What's with that? Am I looking for things to fit together too neatly when they most likely came from disparate sources, developing over time? After all, the trails through the woods veer off in all sorts of different directions. Who's to say what's a wrong trail anyway? But then again, it's food for thought.