|Random pic I took the other night. I've driven by this thing
hundreds of times at night, wishing I had my camera on me. One
night, coming back from a photo shoot, I actually had my camera on me.|
I should be working on one of the three papers I have due in the next week...but ah, what the the hell:
Sometimes a Punch is Just a Punch, a Block is Just a Block, and a Kick is Just a Kick
I've recently come to discover that the term "bunkai" is actually a
misnomer in terms of how it is usually applied by Western martial
artists. Bunkai refers to the analysis of a particular move; that
is, bunkai refers to the near scientific particulars of how a move is
executed. Bunkai would be me telling you that when you punch, you
keep your chest flared. That you extend your fist across your
body, holding back the koshi. That on contact, you twist the fist
and release the koshi while letting the hara and your weight drop into
and through your target with penetrating power. Bunkai is me
telling you to make sure you grip the floor with the outside edges of
your feet, to inhale as you extend your fist and exhale and kime on
contact with the target.
So what then is the proper term that refers to the application of a
fighting move in kata? Chibana called this "imi", which means,
"meaning." When you wanted to learn what the fighting application
of a move was, you didn't ask Chibana what was the "bunkai." You
asked him what was the "imi."
So why does this matter? It's just a subtle distinction,
right? They're both just Japanese words (which only a small
proprotion of people speak anyway), and there's been a mistake in the
nomenclature with Western martial artists. Big deal, right?
I think it is big deal, and here is why: if you don't understand what
bunkai truly is, you will use the wrong imi. Without the proper
miss the proper bunkai. Tautological, yes, but true
nonetheless. If you don't understand the science of what you are
doing, you are more inclined to attach the wrong interpretation to what
you are doing, which exacerbates the wrongness of your science (bunkai and science being used interchangeably from here on out).
While it's heartening to see a new wave of martial artists launching
themselves into analyzing the breadth and depth of kata, it's
disheartening to see how they sometimes miss the point because they
don't fully understand the science behind the moves in kata.
watching a series of videos, reading some posts on martial arts message
boards, and remembering to some of my own early training, I've observed
that the latest craze afflicting interpretation of moves in kata is the
grappling craze. Every move of every kata can suddenly be
interpreted as a grappling movement. Even more alarming is that
these grappling techniques are passed off as "the next level" of
The more I look at kata, and the more I study the Chibana methodology,
the less convinced I have become of grappling applications in certain
places in certain kata that I have seen passed off as "advanced
techniques." Yes, there are many places in kata where you are
clearly grappling with an opponent. But in other places,
sometimes a punch is just a punch, a block just a block, and a kick
just a kick. I think instructors are beginning to read too much
into movements or perhaps too little, not fully understanding the
science of the movements. And, thus interpreting or inserting
grappling imi when it
is not the imi that is called for. And the problem with using the
wrong imi is that you miss the proper bunkai (tautological, but true). If a move in a kata
is just a punch but not understanding how a punch is to be properly executed in that move of the kata,
you might interpret it as a throw instead. Both are diminished in
execution; throwing and punching are not the same, and both have
a different bunkai.
What's a good clue that you're using the wrong imi? If your
interpretation doesn't look very much like the way you execute it in
kata, it is the wrong imi. You do not understand the science
behind the movement. In the case that you may understand the
science, it does not necessarily invalidate your
technique. Your interpretation of the move outside of the kata
could be quite ingenious. But, in that case, the technique is not
kata. I watched a video of Taika Oyata's imi for several kata,
and while brilliant and painful, hardly any of his imi matches any of
his kata. Kata has no secrets; each kata is a complete,
self-contained fighting system. While myth purports that masters
hid moves in kata to keep techniques secret from untrustworthy
students, furtive observers, or the authorities when martial arts
practice was outlawed, if one looks honestly and carefully at kata, he
or she will find that all of the fighting methodolgy within kata.
If you see or make up something in kata that looks nothing like the
methodology of the kata, there is something you clearly do not
understand in the bunkai of the movement.
The Chibana methodology calls for three things: a strong punch, a
strong block, and a strong kick. You must develop power for
hisatsu," "ippon kowashi", or "one hit to destroy the opponent."
you put away your opponent with one blow, it is all that much easier to
grapple with him. If he is incapacitated after your hit, you can
grapple him into submission without any resistance. The problem I
with kata imi I've seen recently is that no one calls for strong
striking power anymore because no one understands the bunkai of how to
do so effectively; distraction tricks and grappling become the
methods of first and last resort. In many places in versions of
kata I've seen, what was once supposed to be a
strong blow to disable the opponent, followed by a simple but painful
lock has become a non-comittal feint followed by a complicated
grappling maneuver. This misunderstanding of the bunkai of striking I believe causes the wrong
imi to be used. Because the bunkai for grappling and striking are different,
punches, blocks, and kicks all lose power when the
focus turns to grappling with your opponent.
I'm not saying there's anything wrong with grappling or that there's
anything wrong with grappling imi. I just argue that those who
study kata should think carefully as to where exactly grappling imi is
applied. If you look at the kata honestly and try to understand the science of all the moves, you might find it's
less often than you think. Do not think it diminishes your
development if you choose to discard the "advanced techniques" revealed
via grappling. This is because the most advanced techniques one
can ever hope to master are the most basic techniques, and only through an
understanding of their bunkai will you ever
All martial artists learn to punch, but few learn to master it.
All martial artists learn to block, but few ever master that. All
martial artists learn to kick, but few ever master that. All
martial artists learn stances, but few know how to move in them
properly. There's more to these than straddling your legs as far
as they'll go, flinging out a limb, and screaming at the top of your
lungs. They all require exacting body control, intense
concentration, and scientific precision. This is bunkai. My toe being 1/4 of an
inch too far forward decreases my punching power by half. My body
weight dropping 1/10 of a second too early or too late decreases my
blocking power by half. I have had instructors move my knee a
hair and my stance falls apart when they tap me. Yet, moving my
knee another hair in a different direction, and leaning against me with
all their might, my legs are like tree trunks rooted to the
ground. This, my friends, is the next level. Understanding
the science is the key to these advanced techniques. And when
combined with the proper imi in
kata, this is proper bunkai (again, tautolgical but true). You become that much stronger.
Chibana didn't spend his dyings days practicing how to seize pressure
points or figuring out how to throw someone to the ground using a move
from kata. Two weeks before his death, he was out in his lawn
punching makiwara. It's because he knew that sometimes a punch is
just a punch, a block is just a block, and a kick is just a kick; and
that understanding the science of these he would be that much stronger for developing these things in his
|At last...something that has to do with the martial arts!|
My training has taken a few interesting turns in these last few summer
months. I began kobudo training back in May, playing with eiku,
sai, nunchaku, tunfa, timbei, bo, kama, and tekko. I've also
gotten a crash course in Nahadi and Tomaridi training various "option"
kata on kobudo nights.
On these same kobudo nights, we train with a very talented Goju-Ryu
stylist - by talented, I mean the best Goju-Ryu man I've ever
encountered. His name is Roy Rivera, and his instructor was
Oshiro who trained under Yamaguchi Gogen. Yamaguchi Gogen was a
student of Miyagi Chojun. Roy's been introducing us to Gekisai
Dai Ichi and my instructor introduced me to Tensho. My instructor
cross trained Goju with some friends of his back in his early days, and
he wants to eventually have me introduced to Saifa and Seiunchin.
He's also trying to line up one of Goju's more advanced kata to
introduce me to - either Kururunfa or Suparinpei. I'm sure before
we get to those, we'll do something just a little more basic...like
Sanchin. While my instructor dislikes most aspects of the Goju
Ryu methodology, he appreciates his past exposure enough to make sure
that I get exposed to it and that I make up my own mind about it.
I've been playing with Tensho mostly because it is derived from Miyagi
Chojun's exposure to Hakutsuru and because I can see the close-in
fighting applications of some of the seemingly innocuous
movements. While I'm wary of becoming a kata collector, my
exposure to Goju Ryu has been beneficial in my development so
far. That, and performing Tensho is just...well...it's just a
cool kata to do.
So what exactly is my kata reportoire, one may ask? Here's a laundry list on the empty hand side:
Kusanku (Sho, Dai)
Itosu-Patsai (a.k.a Patsai-Sho)
Matsumura-Patsai (a.k.a Patsai Dai)
The first 16 are the core Chosin Chibana kata, and the last five are
various "option" kata Chibana knew but taught only when asked. I
omitted Seisan and Jutte from the list because I still haven't quite
gotten them down just yet. If I include our foray into Goju Ryu
with Gekisai and Tensho, that's 25 empty hand kata.
On the kobudo side, I train the following:
Anigawa no Timbei
Maezato no Nunchaku
Tsuken Sunakake no Eiku
Shushi no Kun (Sho, Dai)
Maezato no Tekko
Kojo no Sai
Hamahiga no Tunfa
I omitted the kama kata because I don't remember its name just
now. My instructor wants to introduce me to Kyan Bo and Kyan Sai
before I leave. With 25 empty hand kata and 9 weapon kata, my
plate has been full this summer. As a matter of fact, my cup
runneth over. My instructor has been busy refining, refining,
refining my core Chibana kata as well as exposing me to as much as
possible. He has less than a year left with me, so I suppose it
seems natural that he wants to cram as much knowledge into me as
And now a brief rant:
My instructor used to fight...a lot. He ran with the wrong crowd
in his youth (one of his high school buddies became an assassin for the
Chinese mafia....), but managed to get himself together enough to take
out his aggression in the tournament circuit... and other schools who
challenged his school. He kindly refers to these times as his
"darker days." Still, the experience he garnered in his
"darker days" shaped a fighting strategem and philosophy he's been
trying to share with me since I walked into his dojo last
My instructor became an expert of and refined the concept of "walk-in"
fighting. It's not a new concept when you think about it; as a
matter of fact it's quite common sensical. I used to do it all
the time when I first started training, before my brain was
contaminated with tournmanent fighting methodology and I turned into a
What is "walk-in" fighting? Exactly what it
sounds like - walking right up to your opponent and delivering a blow
designed to put him away. Imagine seeing someone you don't like
standing in a hallway. Imagine walking right up to that person
and decking him square in the jaw. Excluding the emotion of
dislike or hatred, that is the basic essence of walk-in fighting, at
least from what I gather. I wrote a few lines in a notebook that
I'll expand on later, but to wrap your hands around the concept of
walk-in fighting, I'll share what I wrote:
- The combatant that walks in and takes the offensive wins by creating openings and opportunities.
- You cannot walk-in successfully without hara and osae.
- The goal of walk-in fighting is ikken hisatsu or ippon kowashi - "One
strike, one kill", "One blow to destroy the opponent." Chosin
Chibana emphasized this heavily.
- When walk-in fighting, you must clear your mind of any preconceived
notions; not only will your intentions become unreadable to your
oppponent, but your opponent will become an open book.
- It's not about speed; it's about timing.
- The best defense against a walk-in fighter is to walk-in fight.
- You are not ready to walk-in fight, unless you are ready to die.
Not exactly the most organized piece of information I've ever written,
but I'll expand on these a little later. It's late, and I should
be in bed. I have school tomorrow.