Wednesday, November 30, 2005

Onimitsu2004 on Overanalysis of Kata

Onimitsu2004's latest post talks about how many people try to make their analysis of the fighting applications of kata too complicated. I don't echo all his sentiments exactly, but he makes many good points:

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. After 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 development.

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.

Read it all.



Assorted Babble by Suzie said...

Wish I knew more about this to properly comment. Wanted to say hello and wish you a wonderful weekend. (smiling)

Bujutsu Blogger said...

And of course the same well wishes to you.

drunken monkey said...

i have to say that i've often wondered if once upon a time, the japanese/okinawan arts were more like the chinese arts in organisation. In the traditional chinese method, there was always a devotion to a single teacher; a devotion that was as sacred, sometimes even more so than that with your paternal father. However, when it comes to certain styles, there is always the acepted knowledge that some styles are better at somethings than others. While it wasn't common-place, it wasn't entirely unheard of that a student from school X, went to to school Y to gain knowledge and better experience in their speciality, although this was often once the student had reached a certain, often late stage in their training.

As you said, a punch is sometimes just a punch and as you not doubt have found out in your own training, at anytime that you can make an action, that action can usually be either a punch a kick a block a lock or a throw, depending on how you've ended up and thus, in a form/kata where you have an aggressive movement that can be interpreted in many ways, it usually is any/all of them ways.
Whilst this does point to a simple truth that the form/kata points you to grappling, that doesn't mean that the grappling aspect is complete.

Going back to my chinese roots and wing chun; the locking/throwing/grappling aspect was always taught as a separate set of drills/exercises which you'd probably know as chin-na. However much I use Chin-na in my wing chun, it is always going to be a separate part because the core art does not contain these movements because that is simply not wing chun is about. If it was, then the movements would be part of the forms.

Is this the case with karate?
Were you supposed to eventually part with your first teacher to go seek out training from a judo or jujutsu teacher?

Bujutsu Blogger said...

Thanks for the well thought-out post.

First off, what was posted was part of Onimitsu2004's post (click on the link in the main entry to read all of it). Like I said, I don't agree with exactly everything he says, but he brings up great points, many of which I do agree with.

To answer the first part, yes, Okinawan karate was traditionally more Chinese in orientation. As far as Japanese arts go, they were more...Japanese...Okinawan culture, including martial arts, was always decidedly much more Chinese and it was really only in the last century that you saw a heavier influx of "Japanese ways". You have to remember that karate on Japan is still less than a century old. When Karate was introduced to Japan in the 1920s and 30s in a big way, there were many changes to the art to make it more acceptable on mainland Japan. Even back on Okinawa, there were more "Japanese" bits added to varying degrees to different styles (which were then just about getting formed...prior to this, there really was no rigid style structure).

With regards to sticking to one teacher, many accounts relate of students being extremely loyal to theiir instructors. However, it was not considered "disloyal" to train under other instructors and they were often encouraged to do so. Most of the "old masters" trained with many different teachers and there was often many peer-level training. It was not rare to have an Okinawan martial artist to go train in Taiwan or China. It is my feeling that the Okinawans were less adamant about staying with only one teacher (up until several decades ago...when money became a factor...but it isn't unheard of for people not to care about all that).

As far as grappling goes, karate has always contained a good deal of grappling. It was not considered something "extra", but part and parcel of a comprehensive whole. In addition to being present in the forms, there was also partner work and drills. Therefore for someone to simply leave and study judo or jujitsu because grappling was not present in karate would not be a valid assumption.

Interestingly enough, pioneers of Japanese karate like Hironori Ohtsuka did train in jujitsu for that precise reason. He was a top student of Funakoshi but felt that Funakoshi's karate was "missing something" and decided to heavily supplement his training with judo. There is even a chapter of him and another person doing judo defenses against knife attacks (if my memory serves me correctly...too lazy to look at my copy) in Nakasone Genwa's 1938 book Karate-Do Taikan (A Broad View of Karate).

Of course, many karateka have done judo (take for example Hanshi Shugoro Nakazato, the head of Shorin Ryu Shorinkan...he started with judo).

Anyway, hope that answers your questions, somewhat.

Onimitsu2004 said...


I just thought I'd make a small correction to the Ohtsuka story: Hironori Ohtusku originally trained in Daito Ryu Aiki-Jiujitsu under Morihei Ueshiba when Ueshiba first began teaching (before it became Aikido), and became one of Ueshiba's first main, leading students. Ohtsuka felt that aikijiujitsu was missing something, namely, he noticed that aikijiujitsu lacked any finishing blows to put the opponent away once the opponent had been subdued. He watched a demonstration by Gichin Funakoshi and became convinced that to supplement his aiki he had to learn karate. He was 30 when he started training with Funakoshi, which was unusual in those times since people usually started training karate in their teens or early 20's. He eventually became of Funakoshi's top students and later broke away to found Wado Ryu.

The mainstay of Wado is karate, though it is interesting to observe that the way they step is the same way you move in aiki - well, actually, the way they're supposed to step is the same way you're supposed to step in aiki. I watched a 1965 video of Ohtsuka, and before he steps forward he pushes the heel forward to free his hara, just like in aiki. Unfortunately, not even his top ranking student Ajari does this. Still, there is a clear influence of aiki in Wado. Another influence of aiki in Wado are the idori - a set of seated aiki drills. In addition to kata and kihon kumite, Ohtsuka included these aiki drills into the Wado curriculum.

In short, Ohtsuka felt grappling alone was insufficient and trained karate to develop striking power so that his grappling would be that much more easier and effective.

Bujutsu Blogger said...

Yeah, just like I said. Ohtsuka did aikijutsu first and then...ah, shoot.

Good info.

drunken monkey said...

what i mean is, within the chinese martial arts, there are some that can be considered to be basic arts. One such art would be "tumbling" which deals with break falling, climping/jumping, how to roll etc etc. Another would be the stretching excercises (names vary depending on the actual school). Even stance training is sometimes classed as a separate training form/art (seven star, plumm blossom, five extremes stepping). In the same way, the grappling aspect is the chin-na arts and thus, like the others, whilst it is integral to your application of the style as a whole, because it is more or less the same no matter what style it is implemented in (unlike the core style itself) isn't taught directly in the style.
As i said, in the core forms, there are not many actual joint locks/throws/grappling moves but wing chun being the way it is, your arm positions tend to leave you in contact with a joint anyway and so any of the mentioned can usually be applied in place of the usual strike. Such things do tend to be taught when the situation arises in drills/sparring
eg. "here you can do this, this or this"

But i'm getting confused here myself....

What i want to say, is that in general, in the chinese styles, the core style that is focused on doesn't usually contain such things as (all of the) stances, how to break fall, how to roll or how to grapple because it is assumed that if you were serious about complete training, you'd learn these things anyway. These are, as I said, considered almost basic arts/training,which in part explains why you don't tend to see schools that teach ONLY chin-na.

Bujutsu Blogger said...

Oh, okay. That makes things more clear.

It is my impression that things were organized more upon personal lines rather than "style" lines. I suppose there are some parallels, as one might travel or visit another teacher who is good especially at kicking or maybe with the bo in order to enhance their training. But again, the notion of a "core style" in and of itself is not quite applicable as there were probably as many styles as there were families on Okinawa. The equivalent of "core style" is probably just the individual teacher's own experience and capabilities. If the teacher knew someone who was better or better at teaching a certain aspect, such as grappling, he might direct a student to go train with that person. So in some cases, similar to the Chinese model, but a little different. I'm not sure if I'm explaining this very well...Onimitsu2004 can step in any time he wants...