Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Figuring out what is, and isn't "Bunkai"

  I was reading a recent blog about how techniques weren't hidden within kata. I would have to agree with that basic statement. I don't view those techniques (within the kata) as being hidden either. But the fact that one has to understand how to interpret those motions, could (easily) be misconstrued as to their being hidden. The remainder of the blog in question just got “stupid”(IMO) with their logic, so it wasn't worth entering into a discussion (with the blog's writer) about it. 

  I believe that (many of) the motions in kata, are deceptively obvious. That doesn't make them easy to recognize though. One has to first have an understanding of what is being illustrated from the motions being presented. For the individual who created the kata, those motions are obvious (enough) for the purpose of practice. But for someone unfamiliar with what they represent, then those meanings could (easily) be considered to be hidden.

  Unless one has been taught/shown those meanings/interpretations by the individual who (originally) created the kata, the best that we can hope for, is that the method of interpretation that we utilize is the correct one. If you peruse the internet, you can find numerous (different) methods that are being utilized to do that interpretation process. It becomes a matter of which one do you prefer. 

  The bunkai that I was taught (30+ years ago) in Shito-ryu were vastly different than what I later learned, and presently utilize. Most (well, all), of what I was originally shown, I have since discarded. Mostly because it didn't make any sense. What I was (originally) shown, was geared towards “sparring” applications. These were explained as having “real” (confrontational) application, but when scrutinized, they had no logic associated to their use.
  I was fortunate, in that I was introduced to Taika early on in my studies. Over the years he has (continually) shown how to do those interpretations (so that one can recognize the techniques contained within the kata), a.k.a. “bunkai”.
  From reading the methodology's of others, I've seen them restrict those(their own) methods of bunkai. They establish certain “rules”, which (on their own) seem to be understandable interpretation methods, but they will then dismiss (any) alternate interpretations (or methods). From my own experience, (my own) translations of bunkai, that I've interpreted (on my own) will (often, LOL) require modification (from what/how I originally envisioned the technique to be utilized). I don't view those initial attempts as being wrong, just maybe not refined (enough). This is how I tend to view many of the interpretations made by others also, they stopped refining those interpretations too early. 
  As I see it, what-ever interpretation of a kata motion that you utilize, is fine. That doesn't mean that it can't be improved upon (or even discarded if/when proven to be impractical, or wrong). I feel the same about my own interpretations (including those taught to me by Taika). Granted, (as yet) I've never had anyone present an interpretation that I felt was better than any shown to myself by Taika. But I have had (several of) my own be dismissed (and then explained as to why) by Taika. 
  The First point of reference (for bunkai), that I utilize, is that the technique be utilized against a single aggressor. This rule(?) is one that is regularly dismissed (by numerous systems). The vast majority of confrontations are between two individual's (and it's virtually impossible to predict the actions of multiple person's in a confrontation). Even when one is faced with multiple aggressor's, you will only be able to act against one at a time(granted, you may be able to utilize one as a blocking agent between yourself and a second aggressor). But, For the creator of a kata, to of been able to predict the (multitude of) variables associated with multiple aggressor confrontations would have been ridicules to expect (much less believe) to even be possible.
  The Second point of reference (POR) would be, that the aggressor is(at the beginning of a confrontation) either in front of you, or behind you . This variable, is (understandably) known for certain, only to the creator of the kata. The fact that the motion was included within the kata, forces one to explorer both options (for every motion contained within the kata). This often proves the most frustrating for those of us who are attempting to understand the motions. Most often, one has to envision what types of aggressions are even possible (and practical) to react to from those circumstances. There are certain actions, that unless one is aware of their occurrence, there's nothing that can be done (a.k.a. “blind-sided”) to prevent their occurrence.
  The Third POR, would be body motion (in the kata). In the case of the Naihanchi kata, the motion of stepping can represent a sweep, a step or a rotation (the same foot motions are identical in each case). The differences between them, would be the hand motions involved with them. Which in turn (no pun intended), leads to the Fourth POR. 
  Direction (of motion), the difficulty to determining this aspect, is that numerous motions (within the kata) could/can be interpreted from either a forward, or a reverse direction (of the motion). I'm familiar with several examples of motions (performed in kata), that when applied, are done in reverse to the kata's motion (and have associated bunkai for either if not both).
  The Fifth POR would be “alphabet” theory of kata bunkai. Taika explains that all motions contained within a kata, are individual (like the letter's of an alphabet). Only when the correct motions (letters) of that alphabet are connected, does one form words (technique's). And, just like our own alphabet, those letter's (motions) are not strung together(in the kata) to form words (technique's). One has to pick-out the individual letters, and create their own words (which additionally points out, that not all letter's work with all other letter's). This theory of bunkai application, also explains the numerous variations of techniques prevalent in the martial art world that are very similar in (both) looks, and in execution
  The Sixth POR would be that to qualify (as being a correct technique), the motion should not be dependent upon the strength of the individual (using that technique), nor upon the strength (or lack thereof) of the recipient of the technique. The technique should work regardless of the strength of either individual.
  The Seventh POR being, that not all techniques/motions have to be utilized with motions only from the kata in which they are found. The letter theory should be expanded to include every kata (so that those letter's can be used to form words with letter's from other kata). Taika only teaches the 12 kata in RyuTe. Not, because those are necessarily the best, but that they have the most diversity, and least repetitions (of motions) between them (and the fact that the version of each that he teaches, is the oldest form of each that he could verify). 
  There are no doubt other POR's that one could include, but these are our basic (premise) requirements for bunkai research. Of course we have Taika available to us for reference/confirmation, but people often mistakenly assume that he “shower's” his (local) student's with a consistent flow of knowledge over all of the intricacies of RyuTe,.....Not hardly! LOL. He expects “you” (meaning all of 'us”) to figure it out on our own. He'll verify, or dispute whatever you come up with, but not until you come up with something that at least sounds reasonable, will he even discuss it with you. On (very) rare occasions (if your really close) then he might, offer some extra information to assist you. When/if you do get it right, he act's like it's no big deal, like you knew it all along. Unfortunately, he's probably right, I just couldn't (or was too stupid, LOL) to recognize it.


Anonymous said...

Very true, we can't close our minds to any possibilities. I can only imagine the fun Master Oyats had watching his students try and figure things out, too funny I'm sure :)


Lee Richards said...

I believe that most of my "Ah Ha" moments with bunkai have come from student questions over the years. Usually, if one of my first instructors or later Taika gave me a homework assignment of "Figure out what this means" from a kata, I had great difficulty even coming close to an answer. I was then usually informed that I was wrong. If, however, I was asked "What would you do if..." by a student in class or at one of the rape prevention type seminars, and it was some 'position' I had never been put in before, I could play with things for a while and find a response that worked. It might need some refinement later of course. A lot of times Tony and I will get in these 'what if' scenarios when teaching or in just one of our 'thump each other' sessions, and get that magical "Ah Ha!" moment. You do something which works and then realize, "I've been doing that exact motion in Tomari Seisan for over 20 years!" It just is so much easier with a starting point.