Wednesday, July 23, 2014

An open letter to Bunkai researchers

This is what people are unknowingly basing their Bunkai on 

And now, for something completely different...
The following is presented to help dispel certain myths concerning the Kata of Karate, in an effort to get back to what Bunkai should be intended for: The study and understanding of the transmission of fighting knowledge via classical Kata, as it was intended to be understood.  I argue that what we mostly have today are people trying instead to glorify themselves as really clever guys by coming up with complex, stylized, and unlikely explanations for the various movements of Kata.   
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying that there aren’t movements that are unclear or unknown; I’m saying that they do however, have a meaning.  And just one meaning.  It is not open to interpretation.  It is open to misinterpretation.
Once the term Karate is introduced, everyone seems to throw common sense and critical thinking away.  Here is why anyone that thinks Kata have hundreds of interpretations is wrong.

1.  Why would a Kata have hundreds of interpretations?
This falls apart in every way once you examine it.  How would you ever create a Kata if every movement could be hundreds of other things?  If you are an ancient martial artist creating a Kata, you are trying to preserve something specific.  Let’s apply knowledge of other things to this.  Martial Arts can be considered like a language, and it is often referred to in this sense.  As such, techniques are the alphabet, and Kata the words.  Imagine trying to write a book if every letter of the alphabet could be any other letter of the alphabet!?!?!
  How would you write “apple?”  If “apple” were a Kata, books and internet forums would look like this:  “I love ‘apple’ it’s a great way to use the letters q-u-u-h-t”, while someone else says: “me too, it’s my favorite Kata.  It teaches how to use e-x-x-m-z.”  It doesn’t work like that.  A is A.  Furthermore, if we don’t agree on what an apple is, no matter how it is spelled, we have written something that can never be communicated, which is the entire point of writing it in the first place.  Words are a reference to something.  If I ask for an apple and you give me a rock, we have a misunderstanding in our language.  If I am going through the trouble of writing something, it stands to reason I want it read and understood.  At the end of this essay, it is not my intent for you to walk away thinking “that article could mean anything...”  Why would a Karate master of the past do that with Kata?  Kata by definition is intended to transmit knowledge.  If every movement could be hundreds of techniques, there would be one Kata with one movement!  The writing of Kata may be hard to discern, but it still has intentional meaning.

2.  And why would you hope it did?
 You could absolutely never learn a Kata in any meaningful way.  If every movement can be many other movements, you have just introduced crippling choice.  Now I have to decide what this first movement is, which in turn changes my options for the next move.  Once you look at the problems of decision making when given too many choices, none of which are wrong, you see that this is not an appropriate way to teach or transmit knowledge.
  If you change the first movement, each subsequent movement is altered to adjust to this new interpretation.  It is endless!  Imagine a multiple choice test where every answer is correct.  This is clearly not the way we would want Kata to be.  And who are you to assume you know better than the creator of the Kata?  So why DO you want Kata to be like this?
Yes, there are two paths you can go by,
but in the long run, there's still time to change
 the road you're on. And it makes me wonder.

3.  Enter Mr. Miyagi.
 It is my opinion that all of this started with The Karate Kid .  Nothing has influenced modern Karate more than this movie.  While it was one of the reasons I became a Karate student, it was also the reason a lot of unscrupulous and unqualified people became Karate instructors.  There also came an expectation of what a sensei should be like, and how he should teach.  In short, for all of you that are looking for these ridiculous and complicated “A-HA” moments in Kata -that only YOU can figure out- all boils down to: “wax-on/wax-off.”   You are dreaming of the moment when these seemingly boring and obvious exercises your sensei made you learn and repeat endlessly suddenly come together and bestow this magical skill upon you. I do agree that ‘wax on’ is a metaphor for Kata training (and the real message is not that you need to decipher secrets, but that you need to train Kata to the point of exhaustion to develop muscle memory and power), but you aren’t Daniel-san.
  In the movie, Daniel doesn’t know any technique.  Miyagi had him wax a car over and over again.  Later, he revealed that it was basic technique, and developing the muscles needed for it.  Now when called upon, Daniel had the proper muscle memory to react.  That is Kata.  Miyagi was transferring a circle block to him without trying to explain it, while simultaneously training that technique to be immediate and powerful.  The movie didn’t continue on with Daniel then adapting that into simultaneous palm strikes to the temples, or a complex throwing technique, or pressure point strikes, or wrist grab releases; all using the same motion.  Those are all ways one could make use of the motion of “wax on/wax off”, but it absolutely is not what “wax on/wax off” was intended to teach.  Miyagi had a technique to teach, and ‘wax on’ is the Kata to do it.  ‘Paint the fence’ taught something else, and so did ‘sand the floor’;different Kata, different purpose (not one Kata with multiple explanations!).  But like I said, you aren’t Daniel-san.  You do know technique.  We call it Kihon.  There was a time when Kihon was not taught separately, but only through Kata.  Once extracted, you had useable techniques to practice.  The more you studied and understood the Kata, the more techniques you were able to extract.  This was already done for us by the masters of the past!  It is common now to practice reverse punches and stances before learning a Kata, but this was not always the case.  In the past, you learned a Kata and later extracted things like reverse punch and the stances from the Kata as an innovative way to drill the Kata techniques in isolation.  We, in modern training, see Kata as a way to showcase techniques we have learned, so the Kata seem simple.  “I’ve been practicing front stance and lunge punch for a month, now I learned a Kata with front stance and lunge punch in it.”

That makes sense from a certain perspective.  For instance, it is not uncommon to learn a few guitar chords, and then look for a song that uses those chords.  But early Karate training didn’t happen like that.  And not everyone learns guitar like that.  A lot of guitarists (especially the ‘old timers’ from the early 1900s-1960s) would want to learn songs, not learn guitar per se, the same way old timers wanted to learn to fight, but not Karate per se.  A guitarist trained that way may be able to play almost any song by ear, or improvise flawlessly, and know a great many songs; but he may not be able to say what chord he is playing, just that it’s the chord from the beginning of a certain song.  He learned his chords by someone saying: “put your fingers here”.  While able to play songs containing that chord, if asked to play a specific chord or sequence, he would be lost. It is out of the context of his training. Original Karate training was a much more immersive experience; you didn’t train to prepare yourself for training as is now the case.  And remember, there were no belts, and no curriculum as we think of it.  
  Now you are asking “why am I practicing Kata then?”  And so, you search for more meaning. 
Practice this alone as a drill, and what does it look like?
To put it another way; you already know the circle block, so why learn “wax on?” If it was you learning “wax on”, you would reject the idea that it is a circle block.  It clearly is an escape from a double wrist grab, or a strike to a vital point, or to entangle the arms when you are on the ground, or it must be a Buddhist symbol.  But it can’t just be a circle block!  Yes it can.  Merging our language example with the Karate Kid example, consider the scene where Daniel is on the boat with Miyagi.  Miyagi says “bow” and Daniel bends at the waist towards him, bowing.  Mr. Miyagi quickly corrects him and indicates that he meant go stand at the bow of the boat.  While these two words sound the same, they have entirely different meanings.  Mr. Miyagi doesn’t say, “Oh, that’s also correct since they do sound the same...” Instead he corrects Daniel for misinterpreting his intentions.  So part of it is that, as a student wanting a Mr. Miyagi, you are constantly looking for more meaning in everything.  And as an instructor, you may have felt obligated to provide that experience (because you want to be Miyagi as much as they want one), and thus started this boom of “Bunkai”. 

 "Throw anchor. Good. Stand bow. Not bow. Bow!"
 Worse yet, as an instructor you may have no idea what the Kata was for, and you just blindly practiced it, as did your instructor before you, until one day you realized that you had better “Miyagi” your Kata if you are going to make any money!  Not to mention, you can’t say “I don’t know” to your students.  And surely the more complicated and less obvious your explanation is, the smarter you are.  Right?

4. Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication (Keep it simple stupid).  
The idea that the Kata depicts incredibly complicated, obtuse, difficult to discern and nearly impossible to accomplish techniques that require exact attacks from a skilled and compliant partner is simply absurd.  For everything else in the universe (literally, the universe), we apply Occam's Razor, which favors explanations based on the fewest assumptions. 
Nowhere does it specify that you
should use mathematical formulas...
This is the exact opposite of how you view your Kata!  For any simple movement you attribute complex and convoluted techniques then invent the correct attack to make it “work”, thus adding assumptions.  What assumptions?

a.    That the opponent is attacking you in modern/skilled ways. 
For whatever reason, your Bunkai always seems to be a defense against a Karate attack or some other complex attack requiring Karate training to even attempt.  The block/double block sequence in Naihanchi Shodan is probably not against an attacker that threw a straight punch followed by a simultaneous straight punch and kick.  Think it through.  If you faced an opponent in the 1800s that was capable of simultaneously throwing a kick and reverse punch (on opposite sides, no less) they must have trained in Karate to do so.  We know that Naihanchi was the most fundamental Kata in Okinawa at the time (before the Pinan took its place).  We also know that training at that time was Kata training.  What that means is if your opponent has trained enough to be able to perform the kick/punch combination, then it stands to reason your opponent knows Naihanchi Shodan also.  It becomes circular. 
It is a fine drill, but is this situation a real concern??  Bunkai 
problems aren't new to our generation of Karateka.
You wouldn’t think to attack like that unless you thought that’s what the Kata defended against.  Then, you wouldn’t use that attack, because everyone knows how to defend against it. Why would he attack with a technique that is amongst the ones every beginning Karateka of the time knew how to defend (The same motion appears in other Kata, even those of Goju)?  Granted, he’s hoping that he isn’t attacking a Karateka... This leads to the next point, which in itself is another point of complete misunderstanding by modern Karateka.

b.    Karate ni sente nashi/There is no first attack in Karate.
 This is entirely misunderstood by many, and only partially understood by some.  While I do agree that reading it to mean that you should use your Karate only for defense is a good start, I don’t think that is necessarily useful, or informative. 
For instance, it doesn’t mean that you can’t strike first; it means you can’t attack first (or initiate the confrontation).  If I identify you as an opponent, you have already attacked me be it verbally, physically, or through implication or perceived intent.  I don’t have to wait for the bad guy in a ski mask with a drawn gun to actually shoot me before I take action.  Is that how you practice gun self-defense?  Do you wait to be hit by the first shot before taking action?  How do you reconcile that with “Karate ni sente nashi?”  The answer is clear: that is not what it means.  Furthermore, and back to the previous point, your opponent in Kata is not a Karateka.  If he were, he wouldn’t be attacking you without reason, because we just covered that a Karateka cannot initiate a confrontation.  And he wouldn’t have reason to strike you first (preemptively), because you as a Karateka wouldn’t initiate a confrontation with him either.  The power of the quote is not a moral or ethical assertion; the power of the quote is in understanding our Kata, and that it is not against a Karateka.

c.    That the Kata is one continuous (sometimes based on a real incident) fight. 
That there are multiple attackers (8 directions=8 attackers)/that your opponent will just stand there.
When you finish with my friend completely,
I'm totally going to come at you with a lunge punch!
  These are very closely related and absurd.  It would not only be impossible to create a form that duplicated a real fight, it would only have been useful if you trained that Kata before the fight ever happened.  And, it would be utterly useless after that fight or to anyone other than the version of you before you had the fight.  So, unless the old masters were also time travelers, that’s just not useful.  They wouldn’t spend time on something that isn’t useful.  It can vary well contain techniques or sequences learned in combat, but don’t take it literally to mean it is a dramatic recreation of an actual fight as it happened.  Likewise, it is not constructed to defend against multiple attackers, unless there was a fad amongst criminals to position themselves around a victim in specific patterns, and then attack only when one has been defeated (however it is perfectly fine to think of the Kata as having multiple mini-fights.  Imagining you are performing attacks and defenses against one opponent/group at a time and then starting a new sequence with another opponent is perfectly sensible, but to imagine the Kata is preparing you to fight 8 people in those specific sequences is silly).  When one technique reaches its conclusion in the Kata, the Kata moves on to another technique you need to learn.  It is far simpler and more believable to assume that the Kata is trying to transfer techniques that are useful in general applications.  Speaking of application...

d.    That there are various interpretations for each movement.
 This is a big one.  This is the crux of our discussion, really.  This is probably the source of modern Karateka’s (myself included) misunderstanding about Kata practice.  The point here is not that you are free to interpret every movement however you’d like.  The point is not that each motion can be viewed as a different technique, but rather, that each motion is a specific technique that can then be applied differently. 
Kotegaeshi demonstrated in Aikido
Consider how Aikido and Jujutsu would teach their techniques.  Kotegaeshi is one of the most important techniques in those arts and one typically learns how to apply it in response to an opponent grabbing your wrist.  You can apply kotegaeshi in an infinite number of ways (trapping a punch, lapel grab, against an armed opponent, etc.).  The practice of kotegaeshi from the standard wrist grab is considered the “classical” form, or sometimes it is even considered “Kata”.  The point here is yes, the techniques learned in Kata are applicable to many situations.  That is to say, that for every technique you extract, there are infinite ways to use it.  That is not to say that there are many separate techniques implied by the same motion in a Kata.  Learning kotegaeshi from a wrist grab doesn’t also teach uchi mata!
A super-sweet UchiMata/Reversal/Badassness!!

  This is a substantial and important distinction, which I feel should be obvious.

e.  That there are secret techniques in the Kata. 
Like I discussed before, there seems to be a desire for some mystical technique or sequence to appear in Kata and bestow upon you magical powers.  Don’t misunderstand.  I do not pretend that I know what every movement in every Kata is trying to convey.  Neither do you.  But what I do know, is that whatever it is, I’ve seen it before and practiced it against a makiwara and probably a partner (and so have you!), and if not, then it really is Jujutsu techniques in disguise. Therefore, they are just Jujutsu techniques that are not in disguise in Jujutsu! 
If you believe things are disguised in Kata,
do you think there are multiple people behind a
 single pair of Groucho glasses?  While it could be anyone;
it cannot be more than one...
None of it is going to make you suddenly shoot laser beams from your eyes.  Even if you are right about your complicated Bunkai that incorporates MMA and Kung Fu movie choreography, your Bunkai is still made up of techniques you already knew.  Are the techniques in Kata sometimes difficult to find?  Yes.  Do you already know those techniques anyway?  Yes.  There are no secret techniques.  It is all about learning to apply what you know, not trying to have more to know.

5. Star Wars Special Edition Kata. 
Essentially those of you looking for, or rather creating, these “Bunkai” are doing to Kata what Lucas did to the original Star Wars movies in recent years.  You have some strange desire to go back to something old and add things that are new, or even worse, to re-imagine the truth.  You are basically trying to rewrite history. 
Just because the 14 year olds coming to your dojo because of UFC matches expect ground fighting, doesn’t mean suddenly Naihanchi was invented by the Gracie’s and is secretly hiding strategies for cage fighting (and I’ve seen Bunkai suggesting Naihanchi Shodan was for ground fighting on your back).  Just because someone wishes something is in a Kata, doesn’t mean it is (and that doesn’t mean that you can’t apply Naihanchi on your back; just don’t tell me that is what the Kata is for.).  Don’t let your Kata become “based on a true story”; or worse “inspired by true events”.

6. You seem to think that the Kata you perform is its original version.
 This is absolutely not true in most cases, and probably not true in the remaining cases.  For example, if you practice Shotokan, don’t bother studying the Bunkai of your Kata in an attempt to understand original intent.  Your Kata is documented and proven to not be the same as it was on Okinawa (it’s not even the same as the first changes Funakoshi himself made).  While much is similar, it is not exact, and where changes are made the original intent is completely lost. It is the equivalent of redubbing the dialogue in the rowboat scene in Karate Kid to have Mr. Miyagi say “stern” instead of “bow”.  They are both parts of a boat, but not only is the double entendre missing, so is the value in the lesson about balance (the stern is far more stable).   I’m not just singling out Shotokan either. 
Out with the old...

This is true of all of the Kata regardless of lineage.  Shotokan Kata just happens to be, without question, different than it historically was.  You can argue the Kata is better; you cannot argue that it is not different.  And, this should all be about deciphering what teachings the Kata truly contain.  I’m of the personal opinion that this sadly can never be fully known, as even Choki Motobu mentions that certain Kata are no longer as they used to be practiced (he mentions that strikes that used to be hiraken are now seiken, etc.). He also says that different teachers had differing interpretations even then-- leading to different versions and misinterpretation as early as our records can be traced, by the earliest masters we can name.  These differences are important to understanding the Kata.  Motobu mentions for instance that Itosu used to emphasize dropping the foot in the “Naihanchi kick”, while others emphasized the lifting of the foot.  This means one Kata is a sweep, and the other is a kick or stomp. 
In with the new...
That affects the preceding and subsequent techniques significantly (or at least our understanding of them).  One of those is correct, and the other is a misunderstanding (or both are completely wrong!).  It is interesting to note here, that Funakoshi himself said that changing the Kata was common practice that should and will continue. Furthermore, I’ve had Okinawan Masters tell me that the meaning of some postures are absolutely nothing more than formal introductions/salutations, a preparatory posture (Kamae), or a chambering technique.  Itosu himself indicated that he felt certain movements were “just for show”. Are they?

7. They could be just for show. 
This is hard to accept, and every Bunkai expert will tell you that there are no wasted movements in Kata.  Why?  Itosu clearly never said that--quite the opposite.  So where did it come from?  It seems to just be a rule that people coming up with modern Bunkai created to justify their Bunkai.  If you have ever seen Okinawan dance, you would recognize certain similarities between their dance and their Kata.  Since there is simply no documentation to directly contradict the idea that they are connected, I cannot rule it out (though, like you, I also hope that I’m not learning dance moves…). 
Bet they look pretty similar when they're practicing...
One can imagine that it would be convenient and easier to connect the techniques in a Kata using popular dance moves as a mnemonic device, as well as to add enjoyment to the practice, and even to add secrecy (It could also be that certain movements in Kata are intended to make it seem like you are practicing a dance if accidentally observed practicing in secrecy.  Who knows?).  This is no different than the “alphabet song” we teach our children, which is really the melody of “Twinkle Twinkle Little Star”.  We took a song that was easy to remember and popular for children to sing, and changed the words to teach something specific.  And then added a relatively meaningless line concluding, “Next time won’t you sing with me...” simply because there was ‘leftover’ melody at the end of the song.  It is irrelevant to the teachings.  It is just for show.  A thousand years from now, imagine there being no record of “Twinkle Twinkle Little Star” ever existing-- what would the future scholars think of the “Alphabet song?”  Why that melody?  Why that ending to the song?
Another One Rides the Bus actually makes more sense,
    in a story telling way, than the song that inspired it...

The answer is clear to us, and unknowable to them: It is just for show.  Consider a future where only Weird Al Yankovic’s recordings of songs exist, and not the original versions; would they still be parody songs? 

8. The Internet is not a reference. 
While many references can be found on the internet, just because someone said something on the internet doesn’t mean it is true or valid.  Just because you cite what someone said on the internet, it doesn’t make them right (or you).  All of this talk of modern Bunkai is purely speculative, at best.  This is potentially true even of the original masters, for the Kata they learned was almost definitely not the same as it was in China just a generation before them.  So often these same opinions found on the internet are cited as fact, and then used to justify your opinion-based interpretation of Kata.  Here are some examples:
Closed hands mean you are grabbing something
It might sometimes.
Kanbun Uechi, Sanchin.
  Does that mean always?  Also consider that we have been told by many of the old masters that the Kata were mostly open handed until they were changed by the Okinawans to use the more prevalent Okinawan Te punches.  Consider Uechi Sanchin in comparison to Goju Sanchin.

There are no blocks in Kata
Gogen Yamaguchi, Sanchin.
It’s my opinion that this one came about as an attempt to put grappling into the Kata as a revisionist reaction to the UFC emergence in the 1990s (particularly the Gracies).  During that time, Karate lost a lot of popularity as everyone was quick to opine that “90% of fights end up on the ground”. This was a phrase created by Rorion Gracie in a 1989 Playboy magazine article, then used in ads in the back of Black Belt Magazine where it became 95% [Black Belt April 1994].  This pseudo-statistic was then cited by martial artists [see notes at bottom], implying that Karate was useless because it didn’t teach grappling at all. 
Suddenly, Karate schools everywhere taught ground fighting and “showed” how it was there the whole time in Kata; disguised as blocking.  That’s not to say that there is no grappling, throws, etc. in Kata, but that doesn’t mean that every “block” in every Kata is always some type of Jujutsu technique.  And furthermore, Jujutsu (as well as Judo, Sumo and wrestling) already existed (and were popular) when Karate Kata were being
This is arguably the first mention 
of the Gracies in America!
developed.  Why hide things in Karate Kata that were already known to the public (I’m not asking why include them, but rather why hide them... remember I do agree that there are such techniques, and escapes from these techniques in the Kata)?  Remember that Kano founded the Kodokan in 1882 teaching these “secrets” to the public.  Okinawans and Japanese were very familiar with throws and joint manipulation (Judo was also taught in the schools when Itosu brought Karate there, as well as Kendo), so why develop a stylized series of movements that are so difficult to recognize as Jujutsu techniques, that even the Okinawans and Japanese couldn’t tell what they were until American’s figured it out after seeing the Gracies in the UFC?  Not even Jigoro Kano himself?? We will return to the topic of grappling in Kata later.
Itosu (center) with Kendo practicioners
at the Okinawan School
Additionally, there is the argument that there are no blocks in Kata because they are all strikes.  This isn’t entirely false, but this is a combination of two errors of training, mostly apparent in sport Karate training.  The first error in training is not practicing the full spectrum of strikes, focusing almost exclusively on reverse punch.  Original, traditional Karate has always been clear that the same techniques can be used as a block or strike and, when blocking, one should do so as if striking the attacking arm/leg.  So there is nothing new or interesting in saying that you can strike with a knife hand block; that’s called a knife hand strike.  But to suggest that one always ignore an attack and instead charge in with an attack of your own is less than good advice.  By focusing your training only on punching, combined with this need to find “hidden” things in Kata, I can understand how you can think that knife hand blocks and palm heel blocks are concealed strikes, but if you practice and drill those techniques as strikes already, they aren’t concealed!
Bogu Kumite in action!

   The second error of training which helps to breed and perpetuate this kind of thinking is not practicing full contact Bogu Kumite.  I believe it quickly becomes apparent that blocking is the most important skill to master when you start getting punched in the face and groin repeatedly and quickly.  Of course timing, positioning and Tai Sabaki are also incredibly important, as is striking.  But make no mistake; you want to block the opponent’s attack whenever possible.  This also does not rule out simultaneously striking and blocking, nor does it rule out striking while blocking, or blocking with a strike, or striking with a block, or striking with the blocking hand, or blocking with one hand and striking with the other etc.
Another thing to remember is that you are not defending against another Karateka in Kata (as we covered earlier).  You are preparing to defend against real life or death attacks on the street.  An opponent on the street may attack you with bare hands, but it is more likely that they will have a weapon.  You want to know how to block if you are attacked with a weapon.  And it is reasonable to assume much of Kata is preparing you for defense against an armed assailant.  And it may very well be a skilled armed attacker, as weapon arts predate (and were originally separate from) Karate on Okinawa, including Bo, Sai, Sword, etc. 
In fact some Kata are argued to be derived or adapted to be empty handed simply to disguise that they were weapon Kata.  Practicing weapon Kata with a weapon would be seen as practicing with a weapon.
I'm not sure if she is applying weapons to Naihanchi,
or if we are adapting Sai Kata for empty hands...
 Practicing empty handed would seem like dance.  George Mattson once told a story about seeing a very old man practicing what seemed to be a familiar Kata being performed with Sai.  When he asked his teacher about this, he replied “yes this is the original way”.  Maybe times when “open hand strikes” seem to grip oddly and transform to "closed hand strikes” one is really just spinning the Sai from tip to butt? And bizarre double hand techniques are because of a Bo? We often hear of making the hands like swords or spears, and we call it knife hand, we don’t call knives “sharp hands”.  The point being, Martial arts are often based on observation of animals’ natural weapons, then adapting those movements.  Man, having no natural weapon of his own, built them.  It makes sense then, that study of Man’s weapons is the study of weapons.  It could be that much like some Chinese Kata reflect adaptation of animal fighting movements, some Okinawan Kata may reflect the adaptation of weapon techniques (human fighting movements) for times when there are no weapons.  Spear hand for times when one would extend the Sai, or Tunfa; and the fist for times when one would retract a Sai, or Tunfa.  And, like Chinese reference to animals in naming, the Okinawans are using weapons in naming (sword arm, knife hand, spear hand).  Now motions where one hand is seen to be too short to be a strike take on a different meaning with an extended Sai in that hand (attacking), and a retracted Sai in the lead hand (defending).  
I cannot endorse or refute this idea.  But it is an idea. 
Seems like he thinks it's a block...
Additionally, some argue that the “rising block” has to be a strike because it doesn’t make sense to block a straight punch to the face with it; so it has to be a strike.  Isn’t it more reasonable then, to say that maybe you aren’t blocking a straight punch to the face?  Perhaps you are deflecting an overhead club attack (or perhaps your opponent is significantly taller than you, in which case, it is feasible, but an untrained opponent isn’t likely to use a straight “Karate” punch as we discussed before...).  If there is no such thing as a “rising block”, then Karate leaves you completely defenseless against an overhead attack?  That doesn’t seem reasonable to me.
Him too...
For Kung Fu practicioners, sure looks a bit
 like Pinan Shodan, no?  
One of the most used examples of why there are no blocks again stems from the “knife hand block” and “rising block”, but this time the reason is because some Kata actually end with those techniques with no apparent “finishing” blow.  I don’t see the problem with that at all. 
Japanese/Okinawan variations on the above Chinese technique...Somewhere between them all is the original
intention.  Certainly each suggests something new, but somewhere, someone
meant something intentional...  And universal to both, hopefully!
We have already discussed that every block should be executed as though it were a strike to the offending limb.  We also know that Karate has always had certain ethical constraints.  In fact, we still have the same constraints legally imposed upon us.  You may only use as much force as is reasonable and necessary in a given circumstance.  If someone attempts to push your chest, and you respond with a powerful knife hand block the attack may very well stop right there.  There is no reason for you to follow up with a barrage of attacks.  In fact, if you did, you would become the attacker.  A simple push from a drunk at a bar doesn’t give you permission to gouge his eyes and collapse his windpipe.  I believe ending the Kata with these powerful blocks is transferring the concept of restraint and instilling the ethical code of “necessary force.”  Or, it is saying you should develop your blocks and your body so that if you block an opponent’s blow, it should be sufficient to end the fight right there.  Whatever, who knows?

The true Bunkai of Pinan Shodan,
 or coincidence?

The names of the techniques mean nothing
This one is closely related to the above, and stems from the idea that just because we call it a block that doesn’t mean it is a block and that it was never called a block until it was taught in schools during the early 1900s.  First of all, that is highly questionable, and I’ve never seen any citation to support that assertion (other than quoting other people’s opinions from the internet).  We have texts from many masters who learned Karate before its introduction to schools and they also refer to blocks and strikes. 
The argument tends to say that because of having to shift from private to group instruction the need to name techniques arose.  If that was the case, it still doesn’t matter.  Let’s assume that Itosu never used any terms to refer to anything at all (nor did any other master, whether before him or his contemporary [and regardless of lineage]).  That still doesn’t matter, because eventually, for whatever reason, he did use terms.  This brings us back to the point about language earlier in the article.  We discussed words being a reference to a specific referent.  Rocks existed before we devised the word “Rock”.  It is not the case that rocks sprang into existence when we came up with the word.  Likewise, while in this example Itosu never used words to describe the techniques, he clearly thought of them in a certain way.  In other words, he called them blocks because that’s what they already were and that’s what he already considered them to be.  Another less important point to remember here is that much of Karate was imported and adapted from Chinese methods, and we know that the techniques were named in poetic, but somewhat descriptive ways.  While it may be true that the Okinawan masters renamed the techniques, it is hard to believe that they would “un-name” them!  And if they completely invented the techniques themselves, they never gave them names?  There is literally nothing that doesn’t have a name; the first thing people do when creating something or discovering something is naming it.  And unlike the Chinese poetic naming convention, the Okinawan’s chose a scientific and direct naming convention instead of continuing with the mystical type theme. Something to consider is that if you are right about some of these outlandish ideas and complicated Bunkai; that means you no longer practice Karate, and that you have to see Karate as a bunch of people dancing to choreography from the 1800s, throwing silly punches and kicks, instead of doing what tend to look like Aikido demonstrations as most Bunkai does.  You must think that all of Karate is based on the complete and total misunderstanding by every founding Master of Karate, including those that trained in China and started “Karate” as we know it.  So don’t say you practice Karate. 
Using Age Uke as a strike...
A popular example which we have touched upon is using a “rising block” in the same manner as an elbow strike. That doesn’t eliminate elbow strikes.  If this secret way of hitting someone needed to be concealed as a “rising block” in the Kata, why also invent a name for “elbow strike?”  And, why only conceal some of the strikes as blocks?  Calling something a block here and a strike there leaves us with blocks and strikes.  And concealing it in one Kata, while featuring it in another, also leaves us without hidden techniques. And what’s wrong with thinking of them as the same thing anyway?  That just means “blocks” are when you strike the attack rather than the attacker. 
Doesn't look like a "secret" to use your elbows...
Big deal; still doesn’t change anything in our understanding of Kata or Karate, all of that is perfectly within reasonable boundaries.

Meanings of the movements were deliberately obscured for children
The argument here is that when it was taught to school children it was in order to raise a stronger, better, more-prepared army by teaching them martial arts.  So, naturally, they removed all of the “deadly” techniques, and focused on physical fitness!?!?  I think that is absurd.  Again, there is absolutely no documentation of this, other than people saying it on the internet.  And it doesn’t make any sense.  There are far better ways to condition children without going through the immense effort and time requirements of learning Karate (not to mention the effort and time in teaching Karate to them).  Hanashiro was a gymnastics teacher at the school, as well as a martial artist.  If regimented exercise was all that was needed, he could’ve easily come up with something more like “cardio kick boxing”, “Tae Bo”, or even Yoga, while still instilling respect and discipline.  Why would you want to remove the actual martial content of Karate when preparing soldiers?  Not to mention that Itosu also sought to popularize Karate, removing its efficacy would be counterproductive in promoting Karate as the ultimate martial art.
  Wouldn’t it be easier then, for Itosu to simply teach the punches and kicks and just not teach Kata at all rather than change and create Kata to take the Karate out?  Everyone also has this vision of it being 5 year-olds running around doing Kata.  Keep in mind that we are also talking about the equivalent of high school students.  In our school system do high school wrestlers learn fake wrestling?  And, remember that in Japan at the time, it was a conscripted Army requiring that all men starting at age 17 serve in the military for several years (even in America at the turn of the 20th century teens would be considered adults.  Most people were working, married, and had families by 18.  In fact, around 1900 the age of consent in the US ranged from 10-13).  Does it make sense that you would, in preparing them for the military (which they would all enter), condition and train them in fake Karate for years, only to have to try to retrain them once they joined the army in the course of a few weeks?  Or does it make more sense to begin the military training as early and fully as possible?  And for what it’s worth, Musashi was 13 when he defeated his first opponent by beating him to death with a staff.
Itosu's dream, realized.  If you think the martial techniques have been removed from our Kata,
 this is the only true Bunkai!
Furthermore, people argue that the unified group practice of Kata performed by commands was also to prepare for military training.  While that is similar to military formations and group training, I believe it is a symptom, not an aim of the training.  Karate was never practiced that way before being taught in school, so that is not an element of Karate training being brought into the schools, that is an element of school training (or military training) being brought into Karate.  Training of any kind, including school studies, was incredibly harsh and strict at that time.  If anything was affected by bringing Karate into the schools, it was how it would later be taught (mostly in Japan, which also incorporated more of Kendo and Judo formalities), not what was taught.
Another point to consider here is that the Pinan Kata are Itosu’s legacy.  Even in his time Itosu was considered a famous martial artist and teacher.  Why would he want to be remembered for creating Kata that contain “watered-down” or “dance” Karate? 
This isn't what it looked like when taught in backyards...
He was trying to popularize an art that he dedicated his life to, and trained incredibly hard to master, only to turn around and make a mockery of it by turning it into meaningless aerobics exercise?  Would a classically trained pianist who spent their lifetime learning the works of Mozart and Chopin suddenly open a music school that taught its students to just bang on the keys of the piano randomly and aimlessly?  That’s absurd.  Yabu Kentsu was once quoted as saying “If you have time to practice the Pinan, practice Kusanku instead.”  This is a fine position to take; if you know Kusanku and/or other classical Kata!  I believe this is the point of the Pinan Kata: To transfer the knowledge of all of the various classical Kata (that Itosu knew) into Kata that progressed in a logical order and were simpler to teach but provided a wider overview of Karate.  In other words, what Itosu did was create a progressive curriculum of Karate.  The name “Peaceful Mind” as Pinan is often translated has been interpreted to mean that after learning those Kata one can rest at ease knowing they can defend themselves.  I think it goes slightly further to mean “...without learning any other Kata”.  He took the best parts (as he saw it) from the Kata and put them together in a progressive manner.  I think his intent was quite the opposite of what Yabu said.  Instead of the Pinan being useless if you knew Kusanku, Itosu thought all the other Kata were superseded by his Pinan!  Remember, the people learning the Pinan Kata were often (not exclusively) school students that were not specifically Karate students.  If the only Kata they would ever learn was what they were taught in school, those Kata (the Pinan) had better cover the full spectrum of the classical Kata.  A far cry from watered down Kata, they are condensed Kata!

A prerequisite for most fitness programs thanks to Itosu.
Itosu himself states in his ten precepts that “Karate training is to make the muscles and bones hard as rock and to use the hands and legs as spears. If children were to begin training in Karate while in elementary school, then they will be well suited for military service.”  And also “Before practicing Kata, decide whether you are training for physical development or for learning the technical application.”  These two quotes should make it clear that Itosu was teaching true Karate in school.  He doesn’t say the aim is to increase athletic skill, but rather to turn one into a spear for military use; and clearly leaves the option of what one does with their training up to them.  It was not decided by Itosu that one should learn Kata as a fitness program.  However, if that is all one gets from it, then that’s fine-- it still wasn’t a waste of time for them to learn Karate.  His point is simply, there is no reason not to learn Karate.  Whether you end up in life and death situations or simply lose weight and live a long life, there is no harm, only benefit, in Karate training; so everyone should practice Karate.

What attacks are we REALLY defending against?
As I mentioned, wrestling and grappling (and Sumo) were well-known on Okinawa, and practiced there.  Karate and western boxing were not commonplace on Okinawa or Japan at the time.  So, what would Kata actually be useful for?  Since Jujutsu, or at least Judo, was well established before 1900, it doesn’t make sense to be making Kata to hide Jujutsu techniques.  At the time they were literally the most well-known techniques in the world.
There were Jujutsu books published in English from the same time that Itosu was creating the Pinan, so it is safe to assume there were Japanese books prior to that, in addition to the obvious direct exposure.  Again, I agree some movements are certainly throws or locks (and escapes), but many people want to insist that Kata are almost entirely Jujutsu-like and that somehow that indicates a higher level of both their understanding of the Kata and of actual technique.  In other words, as a beginner it’s fine to have blocks and strikes, but as one matures, he should see that there are no blocks and strikes; they’re all throws and flowing joint manipulations. 
In my opinion, Karate directly rose to prominence as a means of defeating grapplers, not a way to become one.  Let’s think about things for a moment.  In the late 1800s and early 1900s on Okinawa, what are you training for?  Two main points of view emerge, one is the viewpoint of the warrior class having to defend the King (it is well documented that many martial arts masters of the day were actually high ranking public officials), and the other is of a person concerned about personal safety, beyond military engagement.  Let’s for a moment consider the military use of Kata as a training aide.  We know that there was definitely Chinese military training on Okinawa, which may be a source of some Kata.
  So if the Kata have a military usage, they are absolutely not intended to defend against a punch or other Karate style attack.  It stands to reason you would be training against an opponent with a weapon.  War has never been fought empty handed!  This means Kata are either engineered to be used with a weapon against a weapon, or empty handed against a weapon.  The possibility of two unarmed combatants fighting to the death seems too far-fetched to be a universal training concern.  It is completely untrue that Karate was created by farmers defending themselves; we know that the original practitioners were royal employees.  As a soldier in war, it is clear what your personal protection goals are, but, as a person seeking self-defense in everyday life, what are your concerns?  Well, as a frequently (as in absolutely always) conquered nation, your first concern is fighting trained soldiers that are occupying your country.  Putting things in perspective, remember that while Okinawa was trying to popularize Karate, they were also being taken over by Japan.  Relations were not excellent between Okinawa and Japan at the time.  Choki Motobu, for example, refused to learn Japanese and could only teach in mainland Japan through translators.  As a result, he was deemed illiterate and brash, even though he was of high social standing with royal lineage!  It is reasonable that as a citizen you may be concerned about self-protection from Japanese invaders.  If Karate is intended to protect the Okinawans from the Japanese, wouldn’t it stand to reason that Okinawan Karate techniques and Kata are intended to defend against Japanese arts like Jujutsu? Japan took Okinawa as a prefecture three years after the formation of Judo.  It is for this reason that I submit that early Kata were intended to defend against weapons and/or Jujutsu; you would either be attacked by an untrained opponent, or one trained in Jujutsu.  In my early years of training, under sensei that trained in the 50s and 60s, you learned and were tested on Kihon, Kata, Kumite, and Self-Defense.
Motobu had the same idea.  Analyzing the
Kata as usable self-defence against attacks
that were commonplace at the time.
 The “self-defense” techniques were nothing more than Kata sequences applied to a partner.  And almost EVERY self-defense was a defense against a grab or hold.  You would defend against wrist grabs, hair grabs, lapel grabs, chokes, bear hugs, etc.  Unfortunately, Bunkai in recent years has supplanted this type of “self-defense” training.  It seems to me that in the past it was obvious that Karate was seen as a system to defeat grappling, and these partner self-defense drills demonstrated that.  “Self-defense” sequences were taught and trained and tested with great emphasis, and in many ways were more Bunkai than Bunkai.  The real basis for the success of grappling in MMA, in my opinion, is the rules.  In a competitive situation, when you are grabbed, you have to grapple. In a life and death situation, grappling is the last thing you would want to do.  It is an immense expenditure of energy, and if you aren’t a grappler primarily, you will be defeated. 

A famous example to help illustrate this idea, I think, is Choki Motobu defeating the Boxer in Japan.  I am a huge fan of Choki Motobu, but I don’t think the victory was as much a personal victory as it was a “style” victory.  The Russian boxer was attempting to make a name by defeating Japanese Judoka; he certainly was not expecting a “striker”.  Choki Motobu knew that he could not reveal what he was going to do until he studied his opponent for a round. During that match, just like every other challenger before him, Motobu wore a Judo gi.  The boxer incorrectly assumed that he need be prepared to defend against a grappler.  Accounts differ as to what Motobu actually did, but it was a strike-based attack by all accounts.  Motobu did not box the Boxer.  He did not win a Boxing match.  He used Karate against a Boxer expecting a Judoka.  He didn’t employ all those grappling techniques and ground fighting skills that you think are the aim of Kata; he struck him, and more importantly, in unexpected ways (even if he was expecting Motobu to box with him, he still wouldn’t have expected Karate strikes or possibly even the locations of the strikes).
Though the paper depicted Funakoshi, not Motobu, this
was still the first time Karate was brought to light in
a significant way in Japan, proving more effective
than using grappling against an opponent as Judo
  The early masters said that Karate was not about fighting a one on one match, it was for complete all-in life defense against villains (more than one especially).  And that it was most effective because of its unexpected attacks and defenses.  It was training to hit a grappler/puncher (not a Karateka) that saved Motobu in this match.  If his Kata had trained Motobu in throwing and grappling, as the ultimate solution, then that is what he would’ve done against the boxer.  This is what the boxer expected, and had been successful in defeating up until now.  So what you have here, is a hierarchy of arts being described: The lowest being Judo as it is defeated by Boxing, and the highest being Karate which defeated Boxing.  In reality, many MMA style grappling techniques are based on the assumption that you cannot use authentic Karate against their attacks, just like the Russian Boxer.
Motobu's opponent in the ring.
  If they charge you around the waist, you cannot gouge their eyes out, or pop their ear drums, or elbow the top of the spine with a downward strike, when you’re in a mount you cannot grab and twist testicles, or bite, or spit, etc.  Karate is designed with the idea of brutal efficacy immediately in response to the threat of grappling, seeing grappling as a no win situation; especially since we are told by the masters of the past that Karate is for fighting multiple opponents that are ruffians, and villains.
It used to be that Karate was regarded as the most complete fighting system, though that opinion has faded in recent years.  I think the reason that it should again be considered the most complete is that the Kata of Karate prepare you to use its special striking and blocking methods (unknown outside of Karate), in conjunction with your prior exposure to Jujutsu/Sumo/Wrestling-type holds and grips; to protect you against all other known forms of attack, including Jujutsu/Judo, Sumo, Western Boxing and Wrestling methods of the day, as well as the weapons (Kobudo) of the day; all of which were very well known at the time and, at the very least, were widely written about subjects even if direct exposure didn’t occur.  And additionally, Kata must train against the completely untrained violent criminal of the day and their known methods of attack. We assume an untrained person will throw a “haymaker” punch at us, or grab our wrist; there must have been assumptions concerning what an untrained person would think to do at the time of the Kata’s creation.  
I think it’s safe to say Karate masters of the day would agree with the idea of “do not let yourself have a Jujutsu technique applied to you fully, and do not initially use Jujutsu techniques as your strategy, though they may be a means towards such strategy, as in counter measures against a Jujutsu technique”.  I think that is a reasonable assumption to use in analyzing Kata. 
The whole point of this writing is not to say “Stop analyzing our Kata”; quite the opposite.  What I am suggesting is that we all work together collaboratively in searching for the most reasonable explanation of what teachings the Kata truly contain, rather than continuing this trend of self-marketing.  Everyone wants to promote themselves as a great master with such complex explanations of the Kata that they should be celebrated as discovering the secret.  When the “secrets” have been discovered, they should seem obvious and simple once explained.  There should be nearly unanimous cries of “that has to be right, that makes total sense”; at which point the Bunkai world should cease coming up with alternatives.  Once Einstein said “E=mc2”, Physicists said “Oh… yup, that makes sense; done.”  Much of this Bunkai is like you saying “yeah… well, F=mc2”, in hopes of acknowledgement, and revealing a lack of understanding at the same time.
You are no better than your students, you have simply trained longer.  Everyone wants to put on a Red Belt and play Superman.  This has to stop.  When people thought the Solar System circled the Earth, they worked out incredibly complicated theories and models to demonstrate that they were right.  Once that view was proven incorrect, the real explanation, and models showing the movement, became much simpler. The Masters that brought Karate to light through their writings and teachings always sought to demystify the Martial Arts.  From the very beginning, Itosu himself makes note that it is separate from Buddhism and Confucianism in his Ten Precepts.  The early English-Language writers also took great measure to demystify the Arts as well.  It wasn’t until comic book ads that the mystification started creeping back in, only to be fully realized in the Kung Fu movies of the 60s and 70s (and TV and Media in general for that matter).  This was not in our Arts originally.  A student of the martial arts had no idea about these mystical themes from his training; and the public had no idea that it wasn’t part of the Arts from their lack of training.  Not until the public, perhaps due to their misconceptions, began actual training.  This had two effects.  First, they began to have some of their misconceptions ripped away, in a good way.  But also in a bad way, affecting retention- they want to try to take the pebble from your hand. Which leads to the second reason; it also had the effect of changing the training so that those misconceptions weren’t entirely stripped away, grasshopper. 

All modern Karate lineages can trace their origin back
to the original Sensei; Television.
So again, please let’s all refocus our considerable talents and imaginations to try to discover the simplest, most universally reasonable explanations of the Kata possible.  What needs to stop is creating these complicated, nifty, made up sequences and trying to legitimatize them as being authentic and historically correct.  They are your inventions based vaguely on purposely misinterpreting movements in the search of something no one could ever think of.  If no one could ever think of it, it is probably wrong.  If you’re the only one who thinks 2+2=5, no one considers you to be of higher intellect.  And telling me you think Einstein would agree doesn’t help you.  And I’ve never seen even two people demonstrate the same complex Bunkai.  If it was correct, I feel others would come to the same conclusion, or at least concede that you are right.   Just say:  “I have created a really stylized, snazzy new response to an attack.  It’s really neat, and I made it up myself.”  What’s wrong with doing that?  These Bunkai are akin to writing a song called “excuse me while I kiss this guy” and then saying, it’s what Hendrix originally meant.  You’re just trying to have a different take on what people agree is “excuse me while I kiss the sky”.  You’re just being difficult and snotty like a toddler saying “no” to everything, or following everything up with “why”.  Create a new approach to putting an attacker in an arm bar and then follow up with kicks and take downs and more holds etc.  Just don’t then say: “that is the application of the opening bow”, or such nonsense.  

Thank you for taking the time to consider my attempt at, not providing the answers, but rather trying to find the right questions to unlock the teachings of the past.  Seek what others have sought, not what they have found. 

From the Sept. 1989 Playboy article:
“Rorion (pronounced Horion, in the Portuguese way) is a master of a kind of no-holds-barred jujitsu practiced by his family in Brazil for 60 years. Gracie jujitsu is a bouillabaisse of the other martial arts: Judo (throws), Karate (kicks, punches), aikido (twists), boxing (punches) and wrestling (grappling, holds). Its primary purpose is defensive; i.e., to render attackers immobile. Rorion believes that since most real fights end up on the ground 90 percent of the time, Gracie jujitsu is the most devastating of all martial arts, because it relies on a series of intricate wrestling-like moves that are most effective when the combatants are on the ground. All a jujitsu master must do is avoid his attacker's kicks, punches and stabs until he can throw him to the ground and then apply either a choke hold to render him unconscious or a hold in which he can break his attacker's arm, leg, back or neck. A jujitsu fight is like a chess match, in that the winner is usually the one who can think the most moves ahead of his opponent.”

Furthermore, in 1987
 Ashida Kim (who will be discussed in a future post), in Deadly Grip of the Ninja wrote: “In the Koga Ryu, grappling techniques are taught first.  This is because most fights quickly deteriorate into wrestling contests where grappling is primary. It is felt that the Ninja should not only be qualified in this field, but also highly competent."  


  1. Very good article. And I though I was alone! Almost point for point, you summarized what I think about kata applications and the modern quest for 'bunkai'. That there is one meaning for each technique, not 'infinite bunkai' etc.etc.

    Good work!

    However, there is one point where I do not agree with you. Namely, that you cannot learn from kata anything you did not already know. This is not true. I learned some new and surprising techniques by studying kata!

    In fact, this is how you know you are on the right track - when you actually learn something new from the kata, instead of just rehashing what you already knew. Then you know somebody is teaching you....
    (Of course, the new technique must be a good one, not some BS.)

  2. Even thought your article is a voice of reason, I feel the need to add one thing:

    Actually, there is couple of reasons why looking for the original meaning - the 'one application' - of kata will never be popular. I am not sure you realize that.

    I)First, of course, because many people are mentally incapable of the task. (meaning,lacking the necessary intelligence, knowledge, rationality,imagination etc.)

    II)Second, there are people who actively profit from the 'infinite bunkai' fiction; from the fact that the real meaning is not known.
    Who are these people?

    1)The masters itself.
    The 'infinite bunkais' fiction allows the martial arts masters to feed their students BS for YEARS based on the same technique. It is the same with Omote/Ura/whatever bunkai:
    "Yeah, the omote bunkai I just taught you is crap, but wait until you see the Ura! Of course, you must study another five years before I show you..."
    This ignorant teaching model allows martial arts teachers to make up more and more stories, that they, like modern Shaherazads, tell their students to keep them coming another day..and another etc.
    Or to cite another fable, 'infinite bunkai' is like a bag with infinite amount gold: You can take a new bunkai out of it everyday, and your students are going to pay for it over and over.

    Paying either in money, or with status and respect.

    Look at the clowns, how knowing they appear when they smugly announce: "Okay, of course this movement can be this..or this...or this...."; while their naive students stare in amazement.
    What would happen if the master would have to teach one, definite application for a movement? All this mystery would be lost.

    (Have you ever thought that perhaps it were the masters themselves who came up with the 'infinite bunkai' fiction, specificaly for the above reasons?)

    2)The martial arts students
    The fact that there is supposed to be 'infinite bunkais' for a movement allows every mediocre mind to feel entitled to come up with his own. People do not try to find the meaning because they love truth, or because they want to learn to fight. It is sort of an intellectual passtime; so that they can feel creative in their 'karate training', yet do not have to strain their minds too much.
    Admitting there is one application would put a sudden end to most people's 'bunkai creativity'. They are not going to like this.

    So,without much exageration, getting rid of the 'infinite bunkai' fiction would criple the entire karate industry.

    III) Third, philosophical reason. In current mental climate, people fear anything that is certain, or fixed. It is, of course, irrational fear; but very real, nonetheless. Everything that smells of truth,certainly or univocality is intuitively disliked by majority of people. It is what Chesterton predicted when he wrote in 1920's: "We are on the road to producing a race of men too mentally modest to believe in the multiplication table."

    Telling people there is one - just one - true application, true meaning for every movement will make them feel like they are being abused by Gestapo. And they will react accordingly.

    The above are reasons why, even if the theory is clearly superior, as you show by your arguments above, search for the true meaning of kata will never be popular - at least until significant climate change.

  3. What advice would I give someone new to martial arts who was thrown off by your questions?

    Train with Patrick Mc Carthy.

    He actually showed us 35 variations of the salutation of Passai/Bassai Dai. All were highly functional and realistic self defence.

    I have some books by Ronald Lindsey of Matsumura Seito Shorin Ryu, and high level katas like Gojushiho teach fighting strategy - but not the stuff you see in the Nakayama Kata series describing bunkai.

    As for the use of classical (pre traditional) martial arts in the real world - the classical is simply what gracie was going back to, and the high level MMA guys and classical masters have respect for each other - generally Bullshido is not instructive. I have seen hilarious rebuttals of MMA white belts by classical and MMA black belts when the usual "you can't anti grapple" nonsense is brought up. Sure you can anti grapple - and there is a counter to that. A good fight, be it boxing or BJJ, is full of counters. A military commander may simply exchange a long series of counter offensives.

    Like it or not, there is (some) grappling in kata, as shown by Mc Carthy and Vince Morris.

    What should a new student do? Realise there is value in point fighting (Lyoto Machida), train at all ranges (stand up, grapple, trapping, clinch/takedown) and spar full contact for practice and gradings, learn some quality kata applications (Mc Carthy or Flane Walker from Won Hop loong Chuan) and learn weapons (even proficiency with a Jo, Bo or even a Shillelagh will prepare you well for all weapons, see how Arnis teaches), then they will be a competent and well rounded martial artist.

    The best thing to do is cut down on the amount of kata that you do but make it value added. Your theory suppsoes Abernathy is wrong as he has not been taught from the source like Mc Carthy. His stuff works, is congruent with McCarthy's theories and resembles the kata closely.

    Another thing to realise is that Matsumura (Shrui te) and the Tomari te masters taught Seisan and Jion respectively with iron fans, hair pins and knucle dusters (Tekko) [would be applicable for a yawara stick as well]. Here in the classical system, the multiplicity of applications arises. In this instance we can be sure of the authenticity.

    Just as a boxer can land a left hook from hundreds of situations, and a carpenter can make 1000s of items with a limited toolset, I'm not offended if there is a multiplicity of bunaki, as long as it is realistic, follows the kata in movement and the movements are not awkward and can be easily taught to brown-junior level blackbelts.

  4. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  5. This comment has been removed by the author.

  6. My first reply got lost so I'll make this even more succinct. 

    I agree with much of your idea but it sounds like your desire to validate your training when many now dismiss those ways, is causing you to draw shaky conclusions. e.g. no one needs a kata to tell them to push away a non threatening drunk, and no one pushes anyone with a rising block.

    Don't listen to idiots on the net, instead find those who have done the research so that you can know where the basis of these arguments originates from. You will find that the culture of applying a wide variety of techniques through a small number of kata movements is fully supported by the Okinawan progenitors (such as Chomo Hanashiro in Genwa Nakasone's book or Choki Motobu in his own work) and is further supported by the cultural use of forms in southern Chinese kungfu. 

    Fighting arts contain fighting techniques. The separation of striking and grappling is an artificial construct of the Japanese adaptation of fighting arts into spiritual pursuits and sports.

    Karate did not come from that and old pictures of Funakoshi using kata punches as throws and joint locks ultimately disprove your position. 

    Sorry to be blunt, but brevity is my main concern now.

    I said I liked your idea because like you I believe the simple classic labels provide a very important level of understanding in kata study. I differ though because I know that there is more to it and that the skill building of a multiplicity of variations is preferable to the eternal white-beltdom of Japanese karate's traditional approach. 

    As I said, get the books, or better still find Abernethy or Morris or McCarthy as they have done the research for you. At least then you will have a more solid understanding of the logic and basis of the approach. Actually being convinced would mean being ready to let go of your old views and that is not for everyone.

  7. Brilliant articles ! This is exactly like what I've been pondering for years, but not articulated like this. Excellent points made.

  8. Thanks for posting this info. I just want to let you know that I just check out your site and I find it very interesting and informative. I can't wait to read lots of your posts. Best waxing places in Manhattan

  9. The next time When i review an online site, I am hoping which in turn it assists produce me personally additional written content up to this specific location. Spa packages Edmonton

  10. This is an excellent article. I have read it multiple times. Thank you for adding some skepticism to the "hundreds of interpretations" crowd.