Thursday, September 29, 2011

Bunkai V Application Potential Realized



At times it’s very frustrating to me that the past is not documented. As much as we know of the components of earlier Karate training how the more advanced abilities were developed remains undocumented.

The central question is ‘What was Karate?’, for what use was it intended as the instructor developed the student.

Without a clear record I find there is much definition that reflects the various author’s desires but with no substantial historical proof. On the whole Okinawa was a quiet place so how far did the practice go beyond hard work? What were the studies instructors used to move beyond kata practice, makiwara and application study? Were there other practices?

Instructors such as Kyan Chotoku were known to just teach kata and not applications. Was that the case? Was is because deeper study wasn’t needed, though in Kyan’s case he wrote “When practicing a kata, it is necessary to know its meanings….” (from Nisaburo Miki’s “Kempo Gaisetsu” (outline of Kempo) 1930). Was it that the applications were only taught to those who became advanced enough to actually perform them correctly?

I see no clear answer to those questions. It is as logical as any other answer that karate was just karate.

We do know that there was a significant body of opinion that karate wasn’t meant to be used except for protection, and in my opinion that did not mean to fight. Karate contains the tools for any type of attack but there must be an understanding of what level of attack is possible to build for it’s usage.

If there was a clear picture of the attacker’s to be faced what was the training program to move beyond kata technique potential to become kata technique potential realized?

There is part of me that questions that karate had a specified role beyond it’s own study. There wasn’t a situation of daily violence that required karate. Karate wasn’t used for developing the king’s bodyguards because the Japanese had removed the king to Japan in the 1870’s. Karate was not used for military training. While some karate-ka became police, karte was not specifically a police training program.

That karate or older arts may have been used for such purposes in the past, from the 1850’s onward when ‘karate’ developed, without a clear cut defined need, it is likely that the instructor developed the student according to their own abilities and the personal effort they placed on the student’s own studies.

In any case I don’t see Karate as taught was designed for quick skill development.

Personally I find skill of technique delivery the most important requirement for application study. Where the kyu is developing technique potential only after they have developed technique skill is it appropriate to begin to study how those techniques disrupt an attack.

While there are a lot of ‘bunaki’ video’s out there, especially on YouTube, many of them do not evidence high level of skill in the performer. That could be by design, keeping knowledge in reserve, but when you come across those who show otherwise it makes you think about what the others are showing.

Likewise many with skill are not sharing their techniques, or if you see them teaching a clinic, where the level of what is being shared is appropriate to the audience you won’t see their skill either.

Let me share several examples.

First I choose Dr. Yang Jwing-Ming and his Tai Chi Chinna video.


Dr. Yang in the early 80’s was among the first suggesting there were multiple applications to technique usage. His book “Advanced Yang Style Tai Chi Chaun Volume 2 Martial Applications” showed how each movement could be used for 1) Chin Na Control (or locking the opponent) 2) Cavity Strike or Striking Vital Points and 3) Downing the Opponent. In the book he most often demonstrated multiple versions of each application potential for each movement.

Dr. Yang further expounded on these concepts with his book Taiji Chin Na and if you view the following YouTube video you’ll see what I mean about skill behind the applications demonstrated.

Dr Yang Jwing-Ming – author of Tai Chi ChinNa http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eI-kJ14dtTY

It’s obvious the same applies to karate movement. A solid example is that of Higaonna Morio and his demonstration of Goju Ryu applications.

Sesan kata bunkai – Hiagonna Morio http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zx-ox6TmJW4

There are certainly many other good examples to find.

There is not one correct answer but in each case solid application potential realization requires good technique and belief in the application to make it work. The latter is the more difficult to develop.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Bunkai IV – A Look at Application Potential

Dedicated to Sherman Harrill who showed me ‘the stars’ and to John Kerker who keeps the dream alive!

One bunkai from Seienchin Kata in the “Goshin Karate Kempo – Defense and Attack” by Mabuni Kenwa

Translated into French by Tokitsu Kenji (Feb 1989)

Translated into English by Victor Smith (June 2000)

3. When the two hands touch themselves, strongly close the fists, and then lower them slowly

following the trajectory of the parry ‘harai-uke’. (diagram 3)

4. Open the right hand, turn it in order that the palm is towards the top, and then advance it.

Next, immediately return it, back, from the top. Place the left hand on the left hip, with the palm up. Slowly bring back the right hand as far as the hip while at the same time effect a ‘tsuki’ (strike) with the fingers of the left hand while the palm stops turned toward the top (diagram 4 and 5).

1 When the opponent attacks you with a punch to the solar plexus, you back up the left foot a step

and parry his downward parry with your right fist. This is shown in diagram 1.

2. If the opponent attacks you again to the solar plexus with their right fist, with the arm that as

done the downward parry, you parry in kake-te to the joint of their arm, while bringing the parrying

arm up from the bottom. The position is illustrated by diagram 2.

3. You can then attack with the left fist to the chest of the opponent, as in diagram 3.

There you have it Mauni Kenwa’s first ‘bunkai’ from Seienchin (Seyunchin, Sieunchin and all other spellings).

As an Isshinryu stylist it is difficult to separate my study from the other (ShitoRyu and GojuRyu) versions but I believe the application potential analysis I’m offering will move between the different versions with little problem.

The largest difference is the Isshinryu version of this movement is done to the side while in horse stance where the Goju/Shito Ryu version is done to the front while in a horse stance on 45 degrees. Selfish of me but I’ll use the Isshinryu standard for my starting point, but that will make for little difference in the application potential.

Ground Rules -

I am only going to work with the 2nd and 3rd techniques (the overturning hand parry and the counter strike) for the main part. In many cases they will offer a complete answer, but in all cases by literally performing the next step of the kata there is the potential for a reap, sweep or takedown. In most cases I’m not going to add that conclusion and leave it up to you if your practice requires it for conclusion.

Following Mabuni Kenwa’s answer technique change is permitted and expected where appropriate. Likewise additional techniques may be incorporated where logical.

For the initial technique in application I am going to keep to the stance from the kata.

Likewise the kata utilizes a palm up spear hand, where Mabuni Kenwa shows a fist up strike (variation of an uppercut). To simplify things that spear hand may represent 1)the spear-hand or 2) a leopard paw knuckle strike or 3) an inverted strike (akin to the uppercut) or 4) a strike or 5) the spear-hand collapsing to a leopard paw strike or 6) the spear-hand collapsing to an inverted strike or 7)the spea-rhand collapsing to a punch (items 5,6 and 7 examples of double multiple strikes or 8) the spear-hand collapsing to a leopard paw strike collapsing to a punch (a triple multiple strike). Each of them represents a different application potential and multiples one application into many applications themselves.

The goal in training is to work towards a very vigorous initial strike requiring a serous defensive opening to control the situation and not allow the attacker to launch a successful 2nd strike. This requires the defender to have skill in the execution of their technique.

The last paragraph is an example of an underlying principle behind striking. It is accompanied with the principle that the location to strike is any area within the natural range of motion for that strike. I will be using various examples of this during my analysis.

I will break down my analysis by type of attack and then exterior and interior line of defense or counter – offense for each application potential for this Seienchin technique series. I will not share every potential application I understand but on the first few show a greater range of possibilities, that same range can be applied to the other attacks too with additional work. In addition to those applications I share I will offer a matrix of attacks for further study.

Note: many of these technique exercises require control and lower level of execution not to hurt your partner. Practice safely, and in time the skill can be increased as both understand the potential for practice.

01 Attacker Right Foot steps Forward Right Lead Punch

0101 Exterior Line of Defense

010101 As the attacker moves step forward with your right foot in your horse stance and perform a right outer ridge-hand block behind the attacker’s elbow, on their triceps, then turn that hand over and use a pressure flow to move their arm to your right. Follow with 1) a left uppercut to their right lower abdomen or 2) with a left spear hand to their arm pit.

010102 As the attacker moves step forward with your right foot in your horse stance and perform a right outer ridge-hand block behind the attacker’s elbow, on their triceps, using that block to parry their arm towards your right and follow with 1) a right strike to their face or 2) a right palm strike to their face then conclude with a 3) left uppercut to their right lower rib cage or 4) a left spear hand to their arm pit.

010103 As the attacker moves pivot on your right foot and step with your left foot to form your horse stance at a right angle to their strike and at the same time perform a right outer ridge-hand block behind the attacker’s elbow on their triceps. Then turn that hand over and slide it down their arm to grasp at their wrist. When done pull them slightly forward in the direction of their punch and execute the left open hand spear hand strike (palm up) across their triceps tendon. This motion with the accompanying forward pull causes their upper body to move forward and then down as they’ve extended beyond their center of gravity. A question of timing they punch and then put their face into the ground.

** note the use of the 90 degree turn is arbitrary, it may be greater as an additional force multiplier working with the spear hand crossing the triceps tendon to force their head down.

*** a further force multiplier is as their body descends your left leg can then cross stomp into the back of their upper calf top pin their leg into the ground.

010104 As the attacker moves step forward with your right foot in your horse stance and perform a right outer ridge-hand block behind the attacker’s elbow, on their triceps, then turn that hand over and perform a following spear hand thrust into the attacker’s armpit. Then close your right hand grabbing underneath their armpit and pull down (following the flow of the kata). As you do so execute a right uppercut into the side of their rib cage (anywhere on the Thoracic Long Line of Bell). See what happens from having a surgeon participate in the program for 15 years, gives all of you something to look up.

010105 As the attacker moves step forward with your right foot in your horse stance and perform a right outer ridge-hand block behind the attacker’s elbow, on their triceps, using that block to parry their arm towards your right and follow with a right palm strike to their face. As you do so then pivot on your right foot and step with your left foot about 135 degrees ( so you’re now facing 1:30) and as you do so your right open hand flows across their face turning it counter-clockwise till you can then pull down with the pressure of your palm (you’re now using their face/neck as you did their arm). As you begin pulling them down your left open spear hand (palm up) strikes across the back of their neck, a force multiplier increasing their neck turn, and provides a point to crease their neck now bending it back, to bend them backwards in a takedown.

0102 Interior Line of Defense

010201 As the attacker moves step forward inside their attack with your right foot in your horse stance and perform the right hand parry as a rising spear hand into the attacker’s throat.

010202 As the attacker moves step forward inside their attack with your right foot in your horse stance and perform the right hand ridge-hand parry into the side of the attacker’s throat. The right hand then turns over and rolls the attacker’s head clockwise with the kata motion. As this is done the left hand disrupts the attacker’s balance and turns the complete motion into a rotary throw takedown. Among the options for the left hand are 1) a left spear hand strike into their throat or 2) a left spear hand into their arm pit or 3) a left uppercut into their lower ribs or 4) a left spear hand strike into their groin. With the initial strike to the throat and the rolling head, any of those strikes will break the attacker’s balance making the throw a natural progression.

02 Attacker Left Foot steps Forward Left Lead Punch

0201 Exterior Line of Defense

020101 As the attacker moves forward step forward outside their attack using the back of your right hand of the rising ridge hand block to parry their strike to your left. Then turn your right hand over and grab their shoulder to pull back and down as in the kata. As this is done strike into their lower ribs with your left uppercut. (Optional your left foot can sweep out using a crescent step to cut their left leg out from under them as a force multiplier to the natural throw that ensues.

020102 As the attacker moves forward step forward outside their attack using the back of your right hand of the rising ridge hand block to parry their strike to your left. Then execute a right strike into their face. This causes them to rotate away from the strike in a clockwise manner, the left hand then can strike into the middle of their thigh for a quick takedown as their leg gives way.

0202 Interior Line of Defense

020201 As the attacker moves forward step forward inside their attack and perform a right outer ridge-hand block behind the attacker’s elbow, on their triceps, then turn that hand over and use a pressure flow to move their arm to your right. Follow with a left spear hand strike to their 1) throat or 2) groin. Alternately use a triple strike described above to their solar plexus. Then conclude with a right reap of their lead leg causing them to fall forward after the strike breaks their centering.

020202 As the attacker moves forward step forward inside their attack and perform a right outer ridge-hand block behind the attacker’s elbow, on their triceps, then your right hand strikes their face. Follow with a left spear hand strike to their 1) throat or 2) groin. Alternately use a triple strike described above to their solar plexus. Then conclude with a right reap of their lead leg causing them to fall forward after the strike breaks their centering.

03 Attacker Right Foot steps forward Left Reverse Punch

0301 Exterior Line of Defense

030101 As the attacker moves step forward with your right foot in your horse stance and perform a right outer ridge-hand block behind the attacker’s elbow, on their triceps, then turn that hand over and use a pressure flow to move their arm to your right. Follow with 1) a left uppercut to their right lower abdomen or 2) with a left spear hand to their arm pit

0302 Interior Line of Defense

030201 As the attacker moves reach your left hand forward and raising it and then using the spear hand to chamber as a sliding block for their reverse punch Step forward with your left foot in horse stance and perform the right hand parry as a rising spear hand into the attacker’s throat.

04 Attacker Left Foot steps forward Right Reverse Punch

0401 Exterior Line of Defense

040101

0402 Interior Line of Defense

040201

05 Attacker Right foot slides forward Right jab followed by a left cross strike

0501 Exterior Line of Defense

050101

0502 Interior Line of Defense

050201

06 Attacker Left Foot slides forward Left jab followed by a right cross strike

0601 Exterior Line of Defense

060101

0602 Interior Line of Defense

060201

07 Attacker Right foot slides forward right uppercut followed by a left cross strike

0701 Exterior Line of Defense

070101

0702 Interior Line of Defense

070201

08 Attacker Left foot slides forward left uppercut followed by a right cross strike

0801 Exterior Line of Defense

080101

0802 Interior Line of Defense

080201

09 Attacker Right Kick - hands in left boxer guard position

0901 Exterior Line of Defense

090101

0902 Interior Line of Defense

090201

10 Attacker Left Kick - hands in right boxer guard position

1001 Exterior Line of Defense

100101

1002 Interior Line of Defense

100201

Friday, September 9, 2011

Bunkai III – Where’s the bunkai?

We have moved from no discussion of ‘bunkai’ in the 70’s to continual examples of ‘bunkai’ today. Countless YouTube video’s, endless tournament kata bunkai divisions. Varying video series explaining how kata works. Unfortunately no matter how compelling the video or conversely how non-compelling it is impossible to do more than review what is presented. The content of programs remains hidden and making assumptions is not a good way to spend one’s time.

Discussion on ‘bunkai’ across the internet seems to suggest that there is the ‘bunkai’ for a movement of a form and there is an additional ‘oyo bunkai’ for that movement. This seems to indicate that ‘bunkai’ is a structured way to use kata technique and build a specified set of skills.

I can understand the logic behind this, presenting a scope of defensive techniques tied to kata studies, and by limiting the techniques this way the karate-ka ends with enough technique studies to respond to a wide range of attacks. Yet almost all of those studies shared are using only the basic training attacks, leaving one to speculate whether other layers of training are involved.

Somehow this seems to me that those karate-ka if facing an attack must use movement 3 from kata A but against a different attack must use movement 2 from kata B, and so forth. With skill and correct practice certainly reasonable but my own studies and experiences lead to a different paradigm.

Essentially most techniques can deal with any attack if you train up to it, making it less necessary to switch answers to respond to specific attacks. As I see it being used ‘bunkai’ is far to restrictive a way to understand what karate technique potential encompases. Because of that reason I prefer to use kata technique ‘application potential’ to describe the study of what a technique can do, then the method to develop a technique application potential into a way to destroy any attack results in kata technique ‘application realized’.

The first thing to realize is knowing that a movement can enter a space is not the same thing as using the movement with skill to enter and control the space. This involves a lot of time in study and the use of many force multipliers to increase that movement until ‘application realized’ results.

Among the force multipliers are:

1 1. The alignment of your body during technique execution.

2 2. Full utilization of your entire body movement.

3 3. The manner of breathing is either hard or soft.

4 4. Full utilization of makiwara for +10 years increases the effectiveness of the technique by a factor of 10. Partial utilization of makiwara for at least 2 years increase the effectiveness of a technique by a factor or 3

5 5. The more you understand the underlying principles of karate application the greater your choices become.

6 6. The definition of a technique resides in the mind of the karate-ka.

a. A technique may be a fractal of a kata technique.

b. A technique may be a standard kata technique.

c. A technique may be a series of kata techniques.

7 7. Stepping is a form of kicking. Appropriate to disrupt the attacker’s lower body.

8 8. Turning itself is a technique.

9 9. There are no rules restricting your application to the techniques found in a kata.

1 10. The spirit of karate is the most important factor in application. You must believe in the technique for the spirit to come alive.

1 11. The more force multipliers you can effect in a technique application the greater the result. As a group they are cumulative<, the more which add-in the greater the effect.

In a sense the goal is the complete utilization of one technique.

There is a great difference between teaching a program for a group and spending a lifetime exploring karate potential and your own developing ability.

What do you need to understand, that is up to the individual for they have to believe in it to make their training work, you can’t do that for anyone else.

What I do is demonstrate some of the application potential for any technique during the kyu studies, but only have the kyu work on a small defined series of application techniques. After sho-dan I teach a short course of 50-75 possible applications for the first movement section of Seisan kata, to suggest some of the ways a movement may be used, but I do not teach that way from that point on. What I then do is continually take a section of a form we’re working on and explore some of it’s application potential, moving around with no set structure. The long tem goal is to help the dan realize they can trust each technique and then let the decades roll.

I believe the ultimate goal is not to have 100, or 1000 or 10000 techniques. Instead it’s to reach the understanding that you can make any movement work against any attack and to in turn become totally unreadable. No fixed position no fixed mind, just a feather floating on the wind (and 10 cents if you know where I got that one from).

But words are cheap, instead I’m going to do something my students will regret, for the next section I’m going to go head to head with Mabuni Kenwa and see what I can do with a section he shared.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Bunkai II – The Start of the Investigation

Having had a chance to review the beginning explanation of ‘bunkai’ as offered by Mabuni Kenwa, I’d like to offer some suggestions on the use of ‘bunkai’ drawn from my experience.

As those who have followed my blog understand the way I was taught Isshinryu there was no ‘bunkai’ or application studies for my Isshinryu kata. I have studied some of the ‘bunkai of Tristan Sutrisno with his Shotokan and Silat Tjimande studies, I have a very minor understanding how Faan Tzi Ying Jow Pai moves from form technique to full usage and I was fortunate to spend too short a time with the late Sherman Harrill and obtain a little of his understanding on Isshinryu kata technique application. Together with my own small effort these past 38 years I see some of a techniques potential and have had occasion to train my students in my understanding.

I am only interested in how we can find positive value understanding ‘bunkai’ and have no interest in focusing to any great extent on those versions that follow other paths. Life is too short to focus on the negative. The reason is that the entire concept of applying kata technique is so large none of us can approach but a part of the way. If you followed my suggestion and read the Charles Goodwin article I suggested you can see part of the reason I suggest this. I think you will find my presentation will ramble through the idea of ‘bunkai’ because of the depth of the material to review. In this it will parallel the same process I have been working on for a long time, looking at clues and working them out.

What we can suggest, looking at Okinawa, is that we do not know enough how the application of Karate was passed by each instructor on Okinawa in the Classical Era (pre 1915 or so). Mabuni Kenwa sharing 10 or so applications for Seienchin Kata showed a suggestion of karate usage.

Let’s start with the first applications Mabuni shared. The first thing I see is this is being done at mid range against the attacker.

The technique as illustrated and demonstrated involves moving away from the initial attack with a low block/parry and then shifting forward with a parry and counter attack underneath the line of the attacker’s 2nd attack.

This is a reasonable starting point for learning the application of a motion. Mid-range allows more time to execute the technique and gives the defender the time to choose to counter or break off, understanding the threat involved. On the other hand it also allows the attacker more chance to respond against the defense. This should not be under-estimated. Are the likely attacks the student may face requiring the most extreme response? Certainly that may be so, but it is also possible that won’t be the case and having trained in a range of possibilities allows them to choose appropriately.

Higher level understanding of the technique potential would involve executing the technique while moving into the attack which is a much quicker response for the response strikes them before they conclude the initial attack. In fact the quickness of a technique application when both parties are moving on each other is something that must be felt to be understood. In such circumstances many times you don’t even do more than the kata section and the opponent is struck hard.

Yet you have to start someplace. Working application from the middle range is a better starting point. The most important factor in making an application work is the skill of the performer. I don’t have kyu students work on application studies. I freely show how each movement they study may be used but for their own skill development they only work a very small set of techniques up to dan training. Without the correct skill, power and movement potential there not a chance to develop the application properly. In my understanding having beginning students learn a kata and it’s ‘bunkai’ before long term technique skill is built may inhibit correct application study.

Middle range actually helps the basic learning, the defender feels less threatened (this is on an emotional level) from the pressure of the attack making it easier to perform as directed. When there is a higher threat felt (as when moving into an attack, even skilled technicians often don’t trust a technique they’ve worked for decades and in turn use something else. This is where the Spirit behind karate, the belief in one’s technique, comes into play. If you don’t believe in your technique your training will turn to something else, even against slow motion beginning attack studies.

The role of the attack in bunkai studies. I often see comments about ‘bunkai’ how the attack isn’t realistic for nobody attacks with a lunge punch, or that the attack and stop flow create a false space to work the ‘bunkai’ and this would not occur in a real attack. What I see is far different, I believe this style of attack is a very good starting point and an extremely realistic training tool. It’s just a question of how you look at things.

I have received some small instruction in ‘bunkai (Sutrisno)’ a far different sort from this discussion, and the initial training attack was the same lunge punch. I simply accepted the training and in turn taught my students the same way, but then one of my students revolted with the comment this attack is ridiculous. That caused me to think and what I came to realize was it was too easy to assume an attack is any one thing. Really we can’t assume what a random attack may be. It might be a boxing style attack, it might be a grappling attack, or it might be something else. Especially as an instructor perhaps I’m larger and don’t fear some attacks, where a student with less stature is more open to other attacks than myself. If you assume an attack must be a specific sort you’re just opening yourself to being played if you guess wrong.

What I see with the stepping lunge punch is a line of attack that the beginner learns how to shift around/through and work against the attacker using the open space that line of attack creates. And every attack does leave space to counter attack if you acquire the skill. Beginning with mid range counters learns how to use those spaces, perhaps how to shift away from the attack. Then working at close range entering the attack you may begin to use your forward momentum to move the attack away from you.

A different skill if the attacker doesn’t open that line is the skill to draw their attack out and create that opening, and this requires different training than just the ‘bunkai’ or application potential.

The primary purpose of the lunging strike is that many attacks begin with a grab, as in the attacker grabs you and then strikes. The grab actually come at you on the same line that the lunge strike uses. You can practice against grabs, but the lunge punch allows a faster attack building stronger counters for an actual grab.

The lunging strike attack for ‘bunkai’ studies is only the opening. The next level is to increase the speed of the attack as well as increase the speed and power of the counter. Then follow with more complex attacks, etc. Working to light “bunkai” sparring and finally to random “bunkai” sparring.

Even so there is a range of technique you cannot use with any power and speed because of the damage they might cause your partner. This is where kata contributes as there’s no one to hurt and full speed and power can be practiced with the understanding fitting into the appropriate space from your other studies adds to those kata practices.

Part II fin.