Friday, February 6, 2015

Funakoshi and the Bubishi

I may make assumptions about why and what was written in the past. This time I'm looking at Funakoshi Ginchin and his inclusion of Bubishi sections in his books.

Interesting thought on the last quote in the Bubishi section of Funakoshi’s ‘Karate-Do Kyohan’.  Funakoshi incorporated those sections in all three texts he wrote, the 1922 ‘Ryukyu Kempo Karate’ and 1925 ‘Karate Jutsu’ and well as the 1935 Kyohan.  But he incorporated it in the Chinese original, not translated into Japanese.

One wonders, after leaving Chinese names for kata behind, why he was still willing to show that Okinawan Karate had Chinese connections.  In fact (outside of Bubishi translations in English, which I suspect are one’s he’s made himself, it was only in last years publication of ‘Karate Jutsu’, the 1925 book, that a translator presented them in that book in English.  In the notes he also suggests that Funakoshi may have altered his presented text from the original Bubishi.

 “When one's hands and feet move together, one's form is flawless." John Teramoto’s translation reads, “Your hands and feet [stance] must never fail to be aligned in the proper direction.”

To my way of thinking both are describing the same conceptual thought.

 “ The obvious meaning is that maintaining the unities gives proper function to the form, as it were. I'm not coming up with anything more, though...“

By way of example in my early fighting days (pre safety gear) I can recall sparring with individuals outside of my dojo.  On occasion (and almost certainly by happenstance) I can recall delivering strikes that just seemed to flow into my opponent with no force and dropping them with a strike into the solar plexus, or the jaw.

On reflection it was part the area being struck, but in part the correct alignment of my body, the angle of the strike and the correct target. Not due to my brilliance, but to happenstance that I was in the right place at the right time. Of course I then worked on trying to repeat those performances, but rarely with the same results.

When every aspect of your body is correctly aligned in a strike, all your force is moving into your target and not partially vectoring elsewhere. This makes one’s form flawless. 

In this sense, the practice of kata is a tool to work on achieving that unity, to work on the alignment and timing of the extremities with the central corpus of the body. The Kumite is the next step on taking that practiced form and adapting it to sell it when the circumstances arise, not from happenstance but from control and intent.

Personally, I believe the original use of ‘Sanchin’ testing was to do just that, test the total alignment of the student, not to strike into their arm to see if they could take a strike, but to apply appropriate pressure to see that their total alignment was correct and capable of neutralizing the opposing force.  But I also believe such testing was often misunderstood as it wasn’t given verbally, and the obvious nature of striking the body replaced the intent of challenging the alignment of the whole.

I remain wondering what did Funakoshi intend by leaving these passages in Chinese. Was he testing his students to see if they would undergo the challenge of understanding their value. Was his lack of ‘bunkai’ or application study with his students intentional or perhaps was it that they weren’t training deeply enough to address the application potential in the manner in which he was originally trained and he wasn’t willing to give them a lessor version. Instead leaving the signposts from the Bubishi.

Of course this is speculation, and my words aren’t better than another’s thoughts. But as simple as the words from the Bubishi may be, there seem to be lessons for us to ponder.

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