Subtleties

"If you want someone's attention......whisper".............from a Perfume advertisement 

Freddie Roach, owner of the Wild Card Boxing Club and trainer of several world boxing champions including Manny Pacquiao, was demonstrating the following movement; the defender drops his left lead hand slightly to entice the opponent. As the opponent throws a right to the defender's chin, the defender twists his left shoulder inward to deflect the punch while throwing a left hook over the opponent's right punch. I could demonstrate the above sequence without a partner to a thousand students, but without explaining how to set up the technique, its essence won't be understood. All one would see is my turning to throw a left hook.

Boxing is called the "Sweet Science." There is so much which the observer doesn't see. For most, it just looks like two guys beating on each other. The subtle eye movements, body feints and other strategies each fighter employs are very hard to catch. The lynchpin of boxing is timing.

These subtleties are a problem when trying to use kata as a tool for preserving combat methods - one can preserve a gross movement in the kata, but that is it. Yet, the gross movement such as the left hook in the above sequence means little if one doesn't understand how to make the technique work.

Watch how people practice bunkai or one-steps. The receiver of a strike does not react - he remains motionless after being "struck". But, if it were a real strike, he would react accordingly; that is, retreat, flinch, cringe, double - over, etc. If one looks at kata and wonders why a step is taken after many techniques, it may be the opponent has reacted to the previous strike and has moved accordingly. I once heard a good criticism of hitting a heavy bag - we tend to remain stationary and hit rather than being "in pursuit" of our opponent.

Good examples are the Taikyoku kata of the Goju Kai. The three stepping punches in a row demonstrate how the opponent is moving after the punch lands. The sequence builds momentum; the first punch stuns, the second prevents the opponent from marshalling his defenses and the third is an all out fight ender. The sequence is about pursuit, not repetition. Yet, most students see the sequence as simply three practice punches.

As I understand it, the Taikyoku kata were a collaboration of Kenneth Funakoshi's Shotokan and Goshi Yamaguchi's Goju. If so, the linear pursuit strategies of Shotokan seem obvious.

Continuing with these basic kata, we see why movements such as the turning yoko uke, the arm is extended at what seems an unreasonable distance. The turns aren't simply to face the new opponent; the turn builds power and the extension "pushes away" while "closing" the opponent's arms against himself. Turning, pushing away and vacating the assault line are natural responses to an attack - and the best techniques do not work against instinct - they compliment it. Even a child will get the heck out of the way and raise his arms when confronted with danger. The turns we practice in kihon ido aren't so we don't run into a dojo wall. This combat application, which is at the core of many aikido techniques, has been lost. It takes a full power attack from the rear to grasp the devastating effect the turn has on an opponent. Subtle in its practice, extreme in its application.

But, finding subtleties is like an archaeological expedition or traveling the wrong way down a road- dig for years in the wrong place and one finds nothing - continue in the wrong direction down the road and you get farther away from the destination. As often as not, luck finds the treasure, or your wife has you stop and ask for directions. Due to a fall several years ago, I developed carpel tunnel - like hand pain which forced me to hit a BOB bag with my forearm. It was an epiphany which confirmed the "ukes" may be something much more. Just as Muay Thai uses the shin for kicks, the outer edge of the forearm is a weapon which is much more durable than the hand and its increased leverage can topple the heaviest of opponents.

Beauty is in the eye of the beholder and kata interpretations are the same. If I see it, it does not mean it really exists. It is simply another interpretation from another student. Bunkai doesn't mean Xerox. It means "to examine". What one sees is what one gets.

Subtle interpretations of kata movements are like being in a group of shouting people. louder until they catch sight of the whisperer.............. then quiet down to listen.

No one listens. They just shout