Friday, November 20, 2015

Back to the Bubishi

Every time I take a turn in my training, and I understand things a little more clearly I go back and read my reference material to see if my change in point of view changes my readings. Most recently I've picked up the Bubishi. It's the Patrick McCarthy translation.

I first read the Bubishi when I was 16 years old. I was a brand new karateka and like everything I'm interested in, I read absolutely everything I could find on the subject, cause I'm a nerd. I remember that first time reading it and going "okay, what does this have to do with karate?" I thought it was supposed to be an instruction manual. The history was interesting, but incredibly dry, so I didn't pay much attention. I mostly focused on the last section, which was about fighting tactics, but was mostly simple counters to violence. The small set of special circumstances that aren't always apparent in kata. Honestly, I just didn't get it at the time. It wasn't anywhere close to what I was currently practicing even though my sensei supposedly quoted from it. He must have been reading a different version.

I had read that several famous karateka cherished this book, and I really just couldn't figure out why. Surely there's more to karate than this. It was too simple. There wasn't anything mysterious in it, and it was incredibly short. In Mr. McCarthy's translation the bulk of the book is just explaining the book. The actual translated text is very short especially if you took out all the pictures.

Rereading it now, I suddenly get it. The Bubishi is almost like everything that you can't record in a kata. The principles and ideas behind structure, balance, power generation, where to hit, when to escape, how to train by yourself, how to make kata a tool for fighting. Karate I'm coming to figure out isn't all that complicated. You hit the meat at these weak points and it becomes injured. If there's stuff in the way you move it, and if you can disadvantage it, so it can't fight back, all the better.

I think in a way we are all kind of searching for that mythical answer of karate and sometimes we're not satisfied with the simple or the abstract. We want the complex and concrete and possibly a little mysticism. Without it, karate is just a bunch of hard work. Maybe that's why the Chinese call it gong fu.