EDITORIAL By John Cheetham.
Although there are the usual 'technical' articles in the magazine this time, I feel that somehow this edition also stresses the 'philosophical' aspect. Especially the great interview with Kenneth Funakoshi (a direct descendant of the Shotokan founder, Master Gichin Funakoshi). He stresses the importance of the 'Way' (Karate-Do) and not just 'technique' (Karate-Jutsu) which is refreshing. If we are really honest with ourselves, it has to be said that in most dojo's these days, technique and fighting ability (the physical aspects) are the most important features and the ethical, spiritual, moral side of our great art is sadly being neglected. We must maintain the traditions and the 'way', or the meaning of 'karate-do' will be lost forever to a mere physical, technical fighting form.
Randall Hassell's portrait also has this underlying theme - the more spiritual side of karate, as does the article by Brian Fey which I felt brought across a very good argument with reference to teaching.
Sometimes it's very difficult to get people to write an article for the magazine, even though when you speak to them they have tremendous ideas and vast experience in the martial arts, but putting pen to paper is, unfortunately, just not on the agenda! If only it was? However, I've put my head in the noose, and neck on the line, and tried to convey what others have to say. Or rather try and get across the feelings and views, both technical and otherwise, of other people in Shotokan karate that I talk to, although in the article in question, 'Kata Bunkai - The Other Viewpoint', (which may not go down too well with some karateka) these are some of the opinions and views of not only Shotokan karateka but people from other karate styles and martial arts, and may I tell you they are 'very' experienced and 'field tested' individuals, many of whom have tasted 'real' combat on many, many occasions. These are people with a traditional background who have had to modify their arts to suit the complexities of today's world and the violence that happens on the streets of our cities. People who have looked at the kata and forms of their systems and taken the parts that work, for real! To a letter, they all say the same thing and that is that 'simplicity' is the key word. Don't complicate things!
So, before you pass judgement, think very carefully about whether or not you have had as much 'on the line' experience? For the majority of us I think the honest answer, thankfully, will be a resounding No!
We get an amazing amount of letters from people asking about 'back issues' of SKM. Unfortunately the only back-issues which are still available are No's 49-51- 52-53-54-55-56. In reality it's just impossible to have 're-prints' of earlier editions and the reason is quite simple, the cost of printing! So, printing back issues is, at the moment, a definite No! However, we are 'on the case'. We are just completing issues 20 to 35 on CD (for some time we've had issues 36 to 47 on CD). We will eventually have issues 1 to 19 and 48 to 60 (also on CD's). I know that not everyone is a computer 'fiend' but that's the way things are going in the future, that's for sure! So, think about it?
Keep training, 'for yourself'. Editor.
KATA BUNKAI-THE OTHER VIEWPOINTBy John Cheetham.
Note: This article is based on the views of many senior Karate instructors, who say that generally, students would be better off studying good quality basics rather than spending their time practicing kata bunkai (applications). This subject was mentioned in SKM (issue No. 38) in an interview with a senior British Shotokan instructor, Frank Cope 7th Dan. Many other senior instructors also share these views and ideas. They are not necessarily my own personal views on the subject, although I do however agree with many of the points that are raised.
The last few years has seen a massive serge in interest, in Kata bunkai (applications) as opposed to just practicing and performing the kata as artistic, aesthetic, formal exercises of karate. There's much discussion and practice in dojo's now on kata and their many applications, both classical bunkai and the more complex 'oyo' (close quarter grappling type techniques). The absolute other side of the coin, and opposite argument and viewpoint, offers that such practice is virtually a waste of a student's precious time, which could be far better spent practicing basic techniques, various forms of kumite and sticking to practicing the kata exactly as the name implies - as formal exercises. Some say it is futile to spend time working out complex applications from the kata when this time could be spent developing technique to a much higher level, both in terms of actual effectiveness and skill in applying techniques with a partner (kumite) and impact training with pads, bags etc. The argument is 'NOT' that KATA itself is a waste of time, far from it, kata is the soul and jewel of karate but for students, especially of lower rank and only a few years experience; then stood around for an hour taking it in turn to go through Heian Nidan applied against four attackers coming at them from different angles, is quite simply - a complete waste of time for those students at that level?
Now, some people will be gasping in horror at such a statement! But there are many, many very experienced karateka, who would, and have endorsed such a statement. Why is this the case? What is the other viewpoint? This other viewpoint on kata, is that kata is the tradition of karate and should of course be practiced rigorously in every session, to uphold that tradition, but practicing complex sections of kata as kumite is, many feel, in a nutshell - un-realistic. Let's take a scenario: Two brown-belt students have arrived at the dojo early, in a more informal setting from a normal class, maybe before the main class begins. They (being training partners) decide to practice some applications from Bassai Dai. They pick a section from the kata, work out some bunkai, (yakusoku kumite - pre-arranged sparring) and commence practicing for half an hour. Each taking it in turn to defend and attack.
Let's now take that same half hour and change their training: Say they have access to a makiwara and a kick/punch bag. One partner practices five minutes mae geri on the bag (changing legs every twenty repetitions) and the other partner practices five minutes on the makiwara with gyaku zuki (changing hands/stance every twenty repetitions). Then they change over techniques for a further five minutes. Then they use those same two techniques against each other in a sparring context for a further ten minutes, for distance and timing practice etc. One attacks with mae geri and the other evades/blocks and counters with gyaku zuki, then the opposite - attack with gyaku zuki, the defender evades/blocks and counters with mae geri. Finally, the last ten minutes are spent back working on the bag and makiwara to finish off the half hour.
Now, it could be argued that they also have been practicing 'Kata Bunkai'. Those two basic techniques - mae geri and gyaku zuki are of course two techniques taken from kata. It could be Jion, Kanku dai, or whatever, but they are basic techniques taken from kata! (Although striking, kicking and punching came 'long before' kata!). So, basically this is the argument and other viewpoint, that working on simple techniques for impact, effect, distance, timing etc., would be far more beneficial to most students (especially at a low grade level) than stood around for half an hour trying to apply some complex arm-lock from a kata, or a sequence of movements from a kata which in total truth and reality is un-real, and was more than likely originally a technique using a weapon anyway! Some people would say that below dan-grade such practice is almost laughable!
KATA translates as 'formal exercise' and as such is the aesthetic side to the art. Moving zen, self expression, the way karateka can physically express their artistic feelings for the movements and demonstrate their spirit for karate.
Of course it is essential to understand the applications of the movements, however as with all forms of combat - the simpler, the better! Ask anyone who is involved with security or self-defence? For a green-belt to be surrounded by four other students, desperately trying to apply Heian Yondan, seems to many people to be a bit of a joke? They believe that these students could certainly spend their time doing more useful things. For a start just actually doing the kata as a whole unit, would probably do far more good, for co-ordination, concentration on each technique and movement, stances, balance etc. The list is endless. They would probably be much better off and understand more if they watched their sensei demonstrate the applications, as often happens in many dojo's, particularly with Japanese instructors. The instructor will demonstrate the application from a kata but often the students will just use this to understand the movement and not actually practice this themselves. Sometimes they will of course practice the application if the instructor feels it will help with their personal performance and understanding.
The Japan Karate Association (JKA) from what we know, did not spend too much
time on Kata bunkai but they did spend a great deal of time developing basic
techniques taken from the kata (kihon) then applying them with opponents (kumite)
and a great deal of time performing the kata as an exercise. Kihon - Kumite
- Kata - or as they are known, the three K's of karate.
There are those who say the Kata are simply the exercises of karate and the tradition. They are excellent for fitness, co-ordination, flow, power, body dynamics, breathing, transition of movement, artistic expression and on and on....Yet many of these same people have no interest in kata bunkai other than as described before as simple kumite training. They point out that, interestingly, in Shotokan kata, oie zuki, mae geri, gyaku zuki, shuto uke, gedan barai are the most featured techniques. We must ask ourselves why? It couldn't perhaps have anything to do with 'simplicity'?
As Asai sensei said...."Kata is Kata, it's always been practiced using
yakusoku kumite," (pre-arranged sparring). No one 'really' knows the exact
applications of kata, it's all guess work. Many senseis hold the view that
students will pick-up the kata better, if they have a basic understanding of
the movements. But such people rarely delve into complex applications, usually
sticking to simple basic ideas both to apply and for the student to easily
No one is saying 'don't' ever practice kata bunkai, just put it in perspective in the overall scheme of things: training, effectiveness, reality and very importantly, 'time' you have at your disposal. Look at instructors like Enoeda, Kanazawa, Shirai etc. They 'always' practice their kata (as a whole exercise). They 'sometimes' practice bunkai. They 'always' practice kihon. They 'always' practice makiwara and stretching.
Many senior karateka believe that kata practice teaches you far more subtle points than actual 'application' of the movements (bunkai). It teaches the 'principles' of effective body movement and body dynamics, plus various fighting tactics and strategies. A good example being the many 'turns' which occur in the various kata. These can be interpreted as very powerful, effective and simple spinning attacks. Take two movements from Heian Shodan for example: (1) After the third age uke, (the first kiai point) the turn with gedan barai is an extremely dynamic spinning technique. The gedan barai is unimportant, it could be any technique - elbow, back-fist or whatever. It's the fast turning, spinning action that creates the force and power for the technique and not so much the technique (gedan barai) itself. That's the point from the other view of kata bunkai, the principle of the body movement, not just the actual technique used. (2) The same 90 degree turn/spin with shuto (knife hand) after the third oie zuki (second kiai point) can be used in exactly the same manner. (See photo's opposite using pads to practice this principle and technique/movement).
This movement from Heian shodan could for example be interpreted like this...If you were dealing with two opponents, one directly infront and the other to the right, (and you had your right leg forward) then this turning-spinning action exactly as in the kata, is very practical and effective against the opponent to your right. If they were to your left, and your left leg was forward the same principle applies. You will find when practicing with an opponent holding a pad, that your stance on landing after the fast turn/spin is very important and plays a crucial role. The stance and impact of the blow must be absolutely simultaneous for the best effect. So the legs play a vital role in delivering a powerful blow.
So, this type of idea is not so much about kata bunkai, as applying the tactics and principles of the kata movements, which are timeless. Many students would probably benefit more from this type of practice than trying to do the same movements from Heian shodan against an oie zuki or mae geri attack, as is often practiced. In reality you would never turn like that to block a punch or kick, it's just too slow and not practical. However, a spinning (90 degrees) elbow strike or back fist works everytime. It's an old street fighters tactic. They pretend to turn away but spin/turn fast with an elbow smash or stiff arm strike to the face
Oie zuki (one of the most featured kata techniques) is another example (many feel) of a mis-understood and underrated body action. Especially effective is the more advanced version, where you step back and then step in with oie zuki. i.e. If your left leg was forward, bring it back to your right and then step in with your right leg. This has been a very effective competition technique favoured by many experienced fighters. Yahara said that this (oie zuki) is his favourite technique, so you have to listen! This technique also works from very close range and is tremendously strong using all the body-weight. It doesn't have to be a punch either, it could be an elbow strike, your head or whatever, anything. It's the dynamic body action that creates the force. So, some instructors are saying that if students focussed more on the action of the legs and body as opposed to the 'application' of the arm techniques, then they might understand the kata movements far more deeply and reap the benefits.
This then is the 'other viewpoint' of kata bunkai. Not just 'literally' applying techniques and movements from kata, but using the principles of body movement, strategies and tactics that kata teaches, which possibly far outweigh the idea of doing choreographed sequences of kata bunkai against several classmates, which many very experienced and senior instructors believe to be a 'waste of time'?