Bunkai: Final Chapter (Repost)
Now, with all the preparatory narratives in place, let’s jump right in. Let’s see just how far down the rabbit hole we can go.
Forget everything you think you know about your Karate. Forget high block, forget reverse punch, forget front stance, forget kata …forget it all. Isn’t that one of the mantras of BJJ, the mother of the UFC and MMA; to set aside the impractical for the practical? Although BJJ is a largely known as a sport defined by ring rules, the approach to teaching their art is superbly defined.
In my humble opinion, BJJ has done something very few modern martial arts can’t even come close to claiming. The Gracies took jujutsu/judo to a whole new level by dissecting not only the techniques, they examined entry and exit points of various mounts, the connectivity of opponents, turning disadvantage to advantage, turning advantage to disadvantage and much more. The Gracies did exactly what Bruce Lee did. Either understood that the intent of their training was not to fit a mold but rather mold their technique to fit an ever changing combat need.
General George S. Patton’s 3rd Army were key to the downfall of Hitler in WWII. Patton moved faster and more successfully than any other allied division. Hitler’s military tried creating barriers to deter Patton but each time they failed; largely because Patton anticipated their actions. His successful campaign was based on one of his most famous quotes, “Fixed fortifications are a monument to the stupidity of man”.
In BJJ, transition is everything. The same applies to boxing, wrestling, silat, arnis/balintawak/escrima and almost all forms of hand to hand combat. Solo practice serves only to help instill technique recognition and subsequent muscle memory. Only by engaging with a partner(s) does the student begin to rationalize the underlying components that are the “real” basics. And what are those “real” basics, you ask? Well, now that you ask, let’s take another look at the scope of most Karate schools.
It would be safe to say that 99% of Karate schools teach 3 devices of study; kata, sparring and some form of hand to hand [I refrain from using the term “self-defense” when referring to grappling, tuidi, throws, etc. due to the fact that Karate in itself represents self-defense]. If we look at the three, most would agree that on the surface, on a practical and applicable scale of 1 to 3, a majority would assign sparring to #1, followed by hand to hand at #2 and Kata being #3. This was the premise of my first 18 years of martial study.
Sparring and competition represented the “entrée” of our training. Everything else was a “condiment” of sorts. Our hand to hand came by way of one of our instructors who was a police sergeant. Our school acted as the PT and self-defense training center for the police dept. The base for his hand to hand was kuk sool (hapkido). For the most part, I was the “lucky” one at the dojo to act as his teaching and training “uke”. Had it not been for the police dept.’s interaction with this instructor and our school, I can honestly say I doubt we would have had any form of a substantial hand to hand base.
This leaves us with kata. For the most part, even today, kata serves two purposes; 1. Part of a testing syllabus and, 2. Competition. This is why kata is largely viewed as impractical, almost useless beyond the two items I mentioned, yet kata is the prescribed backbone of “traditional” karate. I am one of the first ones to agree that kata and associated basics are impractical and useless; at least in the context they are understood and taught. “Heresy”, you say … BLASPHEMY!!!! You ask, “How can you say that, especially since you practice and teach a traditional martial art?” That’s because I don’t.
My base art of Okinawa Goju-Ryu has deep, connected roots to Okinawa but it is far from traditional, at least not in the usual application of the word. This same attitude is expressly emphasized by the leaders throughout our organization. Our art is ever expanding and evolving, the same as it has done for centuries. What doesn’t change is the nature of our world and most significantly human physics.
Whether it be sparring, hand to hand or kata, the key is studying proper body mechanics. In the simplest of terms, bones provide skeletal infrastructure, muscles manipulate that infrastructure, and nerves activate those muscles that support an ever changing infrastructure. In just this simplest of simple examples, motion is inferred.
The body’s infrastructure is a collection of properly aligned bones functioned by a complex series of push/pull leverage actions or arcs. While a straight punch may move in a linear direction, this “simple” technique requires neuro-muscular facilitation of muscles which affects the entire infrastructure (arcs) from the little toe to the head. Since every motion requires some level of muscle contraction, understanding these internal variances is the essence of kinesthesia.
I am a fighter, plain and simple. I “bang”. Everything I do and teach must support my ability to take out my opponent. If any part of my “karate” doesn’t apply in this area, I throw it out. I do not teach anything for the sake of tradition, which is why I do not teach “blocks” as blocks, at least not in the “traditional” sense. One of first things a boxer is taught is to move and parry. If a “karate” block was so effective, every MMA fighter would include them as part of their training repertoire? Would I ever use a “high block” to defend against a face punch or overhead attack or a low block against a front kick? With all due respect, “HELL NO!” So why I do teach kata?
My entire curriculum is based on what I have termed as “The Five Combative Postures”: Timing, Distancing, Footwork, Targeting/Placement of Technique and Body Alignment. I apply these to every aspect of my trainings and teachings. This was a gift from Prof. Remy Presas. “Tees ees it … noting more”, he would say in his strong “pilifino” accent. “Eet is not enoup to know… you muh peel it.” “Plo (flow)… your techniques muh plo”. I am not making fun of my teacher’s accent. Saying this in this way is like hearing his voice again… brings a smile to my face. This is why I always say Remy Presas taught me more about karate then anyone.
So rather than focusing on a designation, like high block, I focus on the motions. Can the “motions” (both hands) of a “high block” be used against a wrist grab, double wrist grab, choke hold, punch (straight, upper or hook) or even a head lock? What if you could use a front stance in practical application just as you would any hand technique? Apply this to every technique you know, every kata, every partner drill and so on.
As I stated in my earlier blogs, this could create a dilemma for many “traditional” stylists. What I present requires smooth, tight flowing techniques involving both hands. This would require these stylists to dig deep… tradition or useful. Knowing that very few martial arts practiced today hold any real resemblance of their parent system, even fewer created after WWI and even less than those founded after WWII, it is with great respect that we hold onto the cultural traditions of the founders and their birthplaces.
If we truly want to honor these “masters”, then we must accept the baton and follow their teachings. Research, learn, study, fail and share. Today’s martial artist has access to an accumulation of centuries worth of combat from across the world. Combine this with Western and Eastern medical practices and applied sciences and the only limit is that of the mind. My Goju-Ryu sensei, Luis Morales, introduced me to an Okinawa saying, “On Ko Chi Shin” 温故知新 To Study the Old is to Understand the New.
Teach this idea and methodology to your students from day one. Kata now becomes a vehicle for practicing the multitude of concepts and experiences of the teacher. Teaching them to teach themselves is your gift to them. Bunkai is not an afterthought taught after years of empty kata practice. Bunkai is the basis of every technique taught from day one that breathes life into kata.
This is my gift to all my teachers.
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