At a certain point it is important for students to ask questions. Questions often asked tend to be regarding ‘kata’, (forms) and the ideas behind performing kata. With the upsurge of MMA gyms and the ability to perform well in these fight arenas people may question the validity of kata, though MMA is specific to a certain set of rules that is primarily for the fight / competition game. We as karateka are training not just for sparring or fighting, within a certain set of rules, though we all have to adhere to rules when training or it just becomes a blood bath, we are training and learning for the bigger picture, to be able to continue to train until we are in our 70s, 80s and 90s? Karate is big enough to allow this to happen, to allow us to continue to grow adapt and adopt training practices until we are literally too frail to work our body. There are obviously constraints in our training, and we have to train as realistically within these. We train and learn from kata via a plethora of methods. Kata are a series of movements that enable us to learn a sequence of strikes kicks throws etc for a specific job e.g. to strike hard repetitively or to escape from a grab; each kata looks at a specific area of training. Though it is much more than this, it is a vehicle to understand mechanics, but this can obviously be done without kata, but it is the kata that directs us to a specific area of learning, giving us specific mechanics to use within a frame work, training can become very disjointed without boundaries so kata forces us, for a certain amount of time, to train this area and each kata initially will lead you onto the next step of the learning formula until you have built up a picture of the well rounded fighter….and more. This ‘more’ is to do with understanding and learning weapon skills, timing, foot work, re-directional skills, to understand the nuances of body movement; contraction and release of muscles, it is also to do with working your body in a specific way time and time again, a hundred, two hundred; thousands of times so that a response will come automatically to a non-prescribed attack. We cannot use every scenario; we need to high-light scenario based ideas and train off them. For more information look at Shihan Mulholland’s book ‘Four Shades of Black’ which gives a greater insight and understanding in the profound effect kata has on martial arts, and why we train kata in DKK Goju Ryu.
It may seem that one can get bogged down with kata and its applications especially if you are doing loads without any structure, meaning and application. Within Goju there are only 6 kata up to black belt and only 13 within in the whole system. It is the first four kata that represent the main areas of training up to black belt; from straight hard strikes, to re-directional movements and closing the gap, escaping and grappling. Time needs to be put in to training kata and the associated areas in order to start to understand what place kata has in karate, this may take time but with dedication it will start to make sense. Applications are ideas and you are training your body to react in a certain way to certain predicaments, they do not have to be exact to the applications, since the attacks may not be exactly as the bunkai, it is the reaction time, the ideas of the bunkai and defence; the applications are a bench mark. If we did not train for any of these ideas or responses then we will not have a response to an attack or we will get too muddled since they have been learnt in too much of a varied way. The idea of having a few bunkai for the 1st kata is for a number of reasons. As a beginner you do not need loads of applications, 5 is all you need. If you look at these 5 bunkai they are paramount to our training; hard blocking and punching, the real basics of what we do as a stand up system, incorporating stretch reflexes and starting to learn generation of power. This continues through to understanding evasion and weight drop and twist to generate power. Straight forward smashes using multiple strikes – blitzing, also using opponents body against itself are also deployed in the first kata with evasion, ripping and taking the other persons weight to destroy an attacker, changing the distance and hitting close up. Finally straight forward hard blocking and hard striking also incorporates being aware of closing the attacker down which is part of the idea of the second kata. This also uses all the essential stances that make up the dynamics of movement.
The second kata uses attacks that are still very basic but that is where we are in the training, still hitting and destroying someone whilst closing the distance and using open handed defences and attacks. The mechanics involved are also a useful training aid since they run through a variety of movements that are not all the same height, length and use. Again these sequences are a training aid and categorised in such a way that there is a definite learning process. The 1st four kata have a definite path of learning but also if you look at the stances you will see we start at stand up and by the 4th kata we are a lot lower ready to grapple, not necessarily on the floor but also stand up. Pad work and drills are also used to emphasise the understanding each kata.
Applications or bunkai can be trained in such a way that can give a close enough representation of how realistic attacks can be, though one can never completely capture the true ferocity of an actual confrontation. Bunkai, as set down at the moment, can be trained in a number of ways, though there are always boundaries to safe guard against certain injuries. We usually practice these with added force and realism as we go up the grades and at times applications need to be practiced as close to real confrontation as possible. Many of the counters can never be put in full force since these counters are to areas of the body that are too dangerous to attack. One of the ideas of bunkai is to finish an attack as quickly as possible which by this definition the counter either needs to be part of a violent exchange or to be able to suppress an attacker with submissions, either way it is still an exchange will be violent there is no other way. Bunkai are training aids that are not just scenario based they are an aid to understand points that will enable us to disable an attacker. If you are going to hit someone, hit hard as if your life depended on it…it might. Most of us have felt attacks and more so counters through hard training, but to do the counters full force in the dojo would not be fruitful since these counters are to vital areas and areas that would shut part or all of the body down.
There are differences to fighting and sparring; bunkai is more in line with fighting. Bunkai doesn’t have to start with a punch, grab etc, you can pre-empt the attack and strike first, Bunkai tries to cover a vast array of eventualities, ideas and concepts, this involves looking at all angles, change of speed, timing, how to understand how to facilitate such actions. These concepts, fundamentals and training aids introduce ideas behind what the kata is about. Take for example katas 1 and 2. These are relatively fast kata, strong unyielding forms of attack and defence, especially the 1st Gekisai Dai Ichi (Smash and destroy 1). It’s straight down the line. The understanding is again hard unswerving attacks. It then slows down in between all this fast, hectic striking when sanchin dachi (3 battle stance) and the middle blocks occur. All situations have a rhythm even if it is over in seconds. So these middle parts are taking control of your emotions to see what has been done or needs doing. More importantly it is a hint to the corner stone kata – Sanchin (3 battles). It is asking us to look at isolating our movements to see how we can pull someone, push strike, lift, shift our body out of the way, manipulating someone, so many things from one idea; but also how to change your body shape, concaving your chest understanding pushing into the floor and the reactions that come out of this. But this will go into all the other katas. Sanchin Dachi or the feeling / fundamentals and concepts of sanchin runs through all the kata and that’s why it is so important to introduce it in the 1st kata.
Basics – Why do we practice techniques in a static stance such as upper blocks and punches? Why not get into a fighting stance and just practice those two techniques, upper block and drive a cross through? Wouldn’t this be more productive? The simple answer to this would be, if we were a ring based system then to a certain degree this would be true. But our ‘upper blocks’ is a generic term given to one movement that is used for a multitude of applications, yes it is an upper block, but it is also a choke, a finger strike to the eyes, a strike to the neck and so on. It also teaches about centre line covering and attack, it also teaches mechanics standing up, but a lot of these techniques can be used on the floor. So at a certain grade these will be practiced from the side control, mount or fighting from your back. This is just an example of one technique; the same could be applied for the majority. The other technique, the static middle punch could also be used in a number of ways as well different heights. But it is the mechanics of this movement that are also important. It is a vehicle to understanding how to push from the floor, to rotate, sink and lift throughout the whole body or to isolate areas through stretch reflexes – Cross extensor and miotatic reflexes. It is a training aid of how to drop weight into a something; this can be seen in kata training as well as hogo undo such as pad training. It is used to understand the pulling back of one arm and striking (driving out) of the other which comes into play in all the kata, though you couldn’t train for each and every event and there are movements of the body that look much the same but are for different applications and reasons such as arching your back to throw a punch, or double punch. This action could be seen as dropping your weight and arching your back if someone has grabbed you in a bear hug or grabbed your arms from the front. We have already learnt the bunkai for these from the kata, but this allows us to understand our body structure in such circumstances, but we couldn’t train our basic punch for every eventuality, we are trying to understand the eventualities and giving us the ability to train for them.
In the Line: We often train in a regimented way with everyone, for example, punching at the same time and at the same height, to a certain degree this has been answered above, we are training in this example stretch reflexes, sink spit float swallow, breath control, pushing and rotating from the floor and muscle contraction and release. There needs to be a bench mark of whatever we are performing, be it kihon (basic) Kihon Ido (moving basic) and Kata (forms) otherwise techniques will become watered down and eventually will not look like the original and therefore will cease to have the original understanding.
Okinawan / Japanese: We are a system that follows a path and part of that is the language of the system. We could just have ‘upper block’, but that would only make you think of upper block and would not serve the purpose of all the applications of this movement. By saying it in Japanese we do not always comprehend the simplistic meaning behind it and gives us a wider spectrum of techniques. We could say in English, Upper Block or smash to the throat. This is too many words. One generic term will suffice. Another important point is that if you go to any other karate school be it in this country or abroad you will be able to pick up some of the words and thus find it easier to take part. Obviously there are differences but it is like me saying ‘stand up’, and another instructor saying ‘all get up’, we understand what is meant both ways, there are a number of ways of saying things but we get the gist, even if it is in another language.
‘Hakutsuru-te’ – Chinese / Crane hand. Many areas of our training, though looking Okinawan, actually have roots in the Chinese martial arts, namely the Crane Systems, and more directly ‘White Crane Kung Fu, which is visible on the DKK Badge. Due to the striking areas; eyes, neck and other vital areas as well as the face and the usual strike places, sparring can be hazardous using these techniques, though again it can be modified so that the strikes can be implemented but being very carefully. Hakasturu-te is another way of looking at close quarter techniques that are fired out quickly and often at different angles and targets to the norm. There are a number of good drills that are used to train this method of fighting. They consist of understanding rhythm and breaking this by countering and counter timing.
Hand up or down: Some techniques have a pull-back hand that is palm down and others that are palm up. Techniques such as kake uke and hike uke (hooking blocks) have this hand down. Though when performing teisho uchi (palm heel strike) and similar techniques the pull back palm is turned up. Everything we do must have meaning; the hooking, turning, blocking, pulling hands of kake / hike uke are holding on and controlling an opponent’s arm and will ‘bottle neck’ the aggressor’s arm, they’re controlling techniques whereas the others tend to be more generic strikes and therefore both hands could be used to strike or blitz not giving you enough time to hold on. Or that these strikes are there to finish off and therefore less control of the opponent needs to be taken into account.
Daigaku Karate Kai works if you have correct mindset and technique. What DKK gives us is a better ability to react to a situation; it gives us the physical and mental tools to do the job. We are training for the bigger picture and not necessarily for one aspect of our training. Though there is always a chance to do this. DKK is a ‘traditional system’, but not in the sense that many ‘so called’ traditionalist think. We adhere to ideas, concepts and principals that make the system work. But following the founder of Goju, Chojun Miyagi, we also need to search out new ideas, training methods and concepts just as he did and as his instructor did.