Sunday, January 3, 2016

Application Assumptions

I don't watch as many bunkai videos as I once did, but I still watch them from time to time because I don't like closing my eyes to others. I read bad karate books along with the good ones, as well as books on wrestling, boxing, judo, tai chi and different styles of kung fu. There's usually something good in them no matter how terrible some might be. There's always truth in movement. I did this more when I was trying to find the applications to Seisan. I was positive that there was a set and definitive list of responses, but I'm less sure now. What I thought the movements meant at the beginning are different than how I practice them now, and I'm sure they will be different a few years from now. The movements stay the same. I just find new ways to use them. Reading all these books and watching all these videos, I've noticed some themes when it comes to karate theory.

Many people make a few assumptions when interpreting the kata. The combatants are face to face, the movements are primarily defensive, the movements primarily manipulate the arms, the techniques require several steps.

It makes sense for a few of the applications or even the majority of applications to be for being toe to toe with an opponent, but being in front of the opponent is not the only orientation. An opponent attacking from behind is usually considered, but rarely is it considered that you will be behind the opponent. I'm not saying that you've launched a sneak attack on someone, though in 19th century Okinawa that seems like an option, but that during the turmoil of combat you end up behind the enemy. Unlike today's sporting matches, all the targets on the back are legitimate areas of attack. Kidneys, spine, neck, knees. There's no referee to penalize you for breaking "the rules." Grabbing someone by the chin and driving your knee into their back to bend them backwards and off balance is something you might want to do.

The next assumption is that the movements are primarily defensive. Karate Ni Sente Nashi is the saying, but it's not in the Bubishi. A preemptive strike is a legitimate tactic, especially in a dire self defense situation. If you're waiting for them to attack first than you should probably use your energy escaping. Even Funakoshi suggested a preemptive strike in Karate-Do Kyohan though he was talking about self defense for women. When we look at boxing how much of it is defensive? Hook, jab, cross, uppercut, bob and weave, and block. Only 1/3 is defense. A movement that downs your opponent quickly is a surer defense than any block.

The applications navigate the opponent's arms is the next assumption. The applications block, move, lock, parry and manipulate the arms. "When the opponent grabs you here do this, when the opponent punches here, move the arm this way and then attack" etc. Half the kata supposedly is spent moving the arms around so that you can deal a single devastating blow. Manipulating an opponent's arms impacts them the least. A person can still function for a short amount of time with a broken hand or even a broken arm. I broke my arm two years ago myself. I flipped my bike after a car pulled out in front of me, rolled and came up laughing. I thought I was fine until an hour later and I couldn't move my arm. Before that I was able to pick up my bike, fix the chain and ride home. If I pull and push on someone's shoulders, it can break their balance and make it hard to attack me. Grabbing someone by the hair and the chin and yanking them around has a big impact as well. When you think about the kata, try different contact points. Grab a person's head, their torso, their leg or their shoulders. You might be surprised what you find. 

Multiple steps are often used as well. I've seen almost entire kata sequences used to explain how to maneuver someone into a single wrist lock. This is called choreography. You can squeeze out a surprising number of strikes in a short amount of time in some kata. In one sequence of Seisan, you have the opportunity to hit someone five times before you take your next step. Back fist, reverse punch, upper cut, back fist, toe kick. Each one loads the hip or the legs to generate the power for the following strike. You can use the movement to cause damage, while you "block" instead of just sweeping an arm out of the way.

These are things you need to think about when analyzing your kata. Experiment, try things. Ask yourself how you could use the same movement behind them, or to their flank, or how you can make every little movement a weapon. If something doesn't work you've wasted a few minutes of your time, but if you find something new that works it can change your entire outlook on kata.