Bunkai for Kata by Steve Rowe

Steve Rowe 8th Dan
Steve Rowe 8th Dan

“Tensho!” We all prepared for the ‘5 animals’ kata.

“Snake, crane wing, tiger, leopard, standing dragon, laying dragon, remember to sink from the chest, find the feet, float from the waist, use the ‘asking’ hand, come on now, stay connected…. Manipulate, swallow the energy, now…. Release it, spit it out!

Breathe from the stomach… now the back, soften the midline, use your eyes, tongue to the top palette…. C’mon guys…. Don’t make it hard work!

Who remembers what the trinity of kata is?” The hands shot up. “Marcia?

“Firstly medical, secondly, skill and thirdly, boxing Sensei!”

“Well done!” Sensei gazed around at the sea of faces. “And how well balanced do you think these skills are in the Martial Arts today?”

“I don’t think they’re balanced at all” said Marcia thoughtfully. “Everyone is talking about bunkai forgetting that it’s the trinity – and focusing on the third part, ohyo, the practical application.”

“Which means?”

“That they’re forgetting the other two steps that lead up to the application.”

“Exactly. Why is this a bad thing?” The hands shot up again. “John?”

“Is it because obsession with the application stops you from learning the skills?

“A good point. But I’m looking for more……”

shihan book

Marcia couldn’t help herself, “if you’re not healthy and you can’t do the move properly, how the hell are you going to apply it?” Sensei roared with laughter

“Say it like it is Marcia, don’t beat around the bush! Again, you are partly right. What do we actually mean by ‘medical’?”

“Good health Sensei?”

“As bunkai means ‘to break down and examine’ lets just do that on these terms. How can kata improve your health?”

“It’s good exercise Sensei – knackers me out!” Everyone laughed

“I’m sure it does, but let’s view the subject more historically, don’t forget that martial arts are also a yogic exercise. We work on posture.”

“Yeah, good posture is important.”

“Yes it is, for several reasons, it is said ‘the body stands on itself’, this means that when the skeleton is erect, ‘it stands on itself’ in the sense that there is no unnecessary tension. This means that when achieved, you can move easily and freely. The Chinese classics say that when your posture is aligned and there is no tension, it allows ‘free passage of chi’ this is of vital importance in our training.”

“This is getting deep, Sensei…

“It’s only just beginning, you learn in layers and there are many, many more layers to come. When we say ‘health’ we mean of course health of mind as well as body. Metal alertness means that our ‘aliveness’ – and thus our ki or chi is bright, giving a good vigour. Concentration means that we are able to focus and direct it. No good having ‘free passage’ if we have nothing to move is there?”

“How do we make our mind more alive and concentrated Sensei?”

“By good breathing, getting more oxygen into the bloodstream and thus to the brain, makes the mind very bright, which of course, is greatly assisted by good posture, the focus is sheer will power and training.”

“The resolution of the conflict of 3….. Sanchin!”

“Well done that man…. This then brings us on to the ‘greater heavenly cycle’ of the Governor and Conception Vessels, with good posture, breathing, mental alertness and concentration in place, we are able to focus on manipulating the energy through the internal system. This engenders good health, vigour and vitality. It’s like having acupuncture without the needles.”

“Now I see why you use the term ‘medical’ – in the old oriental system of qiqong, longevity through self help!”

“It’s not just that, the good posture, breathing, mental alertness, concentration and ki direction empower our techniques, and it’s where the real secrets of the Martial Arts lay. These skills underpin the next part, which is skill learning.”

“But surely the skills are in the ‘boxing’ aspect?”

“Then why do kata? As many people have observed, direct application of kata into fighting technique is a farce.”

“My head hurts already with this conversation….”

“Then let me finish the train of thought. When you look at kata ask yourself why the founder would put these techniques together. What you’ll discover is that the sequences naturally compliment the skills of the previous and/or the following ones. In other words, they enhance the skills of the others. Some kata work on specific skills and others are ‘system’ kata, but the skills are usually put together in an ingenious way for skill learning. They wouldn’t work in a fight – but for training they are brilliant!”

“But you can’t kid me that the techniques are really good for fighting!”

“Depends if you know where to look. You have to view the form as a continuously moving sequence with no stop points, then look at the body and limb weaving, the classics say ‘study in feet, then inches, then hundredths of an inch and then thousandths of a hundredth of an inch of each body part’.”

“You mean metres, centimetres and millimetres Sensei?”

“Whatever…. But only with all this put together do you begin to understand the first layer of bunkai.”

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