Showing posts from February, 2009

Naifunchin/naihanchi and goju-ryu

We have always taught the kata we call naifunchin (naihanchi shodan) along with the goju kata (we teach naifunchin just after saifa). Even so it is not an especially popular kata because it is so different. It really has nothing in common with the other kata (no goju kata uses kiba dachi - a horse stance where both feet point forward - but instead the kata use shiko dachi where the feet point outwards at 45 degrees). Some “shorin” schools practice naifunchin with shiko dachi and not kiba dachi - eg. Tomari te, however this might be due to the influence of Naha‑te, rather than reflecting its original form. Despite its somewhat "strange" feeling and uniqueness, we find that it is a very useful "conditioning" kata (heishugata) and would not consider dropping it from the syllabus. But I’ve often wondered why we, as a goju-based school, should have adopted this kata. The simple answer has always been that our instructors originally studied Kyokushinkai, then Shotokan in

Daoism, Buddhism and the Martial Arts

I get the impression that Daoist thought and xingyiquan-like internal arts developed largely in tandem about 600 years ago without any Shaolin/Ch’an Buddhist influence at all (ie. they are truly “indigenous” arts, much like the original Okinawa te). The Shaolin school of external arts was a later development via India, bringing with it a “second wave” of thought and a second wave of martial tradition influenced by yogic exercise and health concepts. These spread/developed in tandem, but were not strictly related. The fact that monasteries became training grounds for various warlords may have strengthened the link between Ch’an Buddhism and the external arts. I get the feeling that initially the monasteries would have taught an “indigenous” xingyi-like arts, but that over time the Ch’an Buddhist/yogic influence conspired to evolve these arts into what we now call the “external” or Shaolin tradition. Their emphasis on pragmatic, effective exercise (cf. the somewhat theoretical and philo

What is "traditional"?

Lately I have become intrigued by the term "traditional". It is frequently used to distinguish martial arts such as karate or taijiquan from modern combat sports such as MMA. At this point it seems profitable to distinguish "traditional" from what many call "classical". My esteemed colleague Victor Smith defines the latter (for the purposes of karate) as pre-1920s, the "traditional" era as dating from the '20s to the '50s and the "modern" era as dating from then onwards. 1 While this is quite a useful "potted account", in this discussion I am not particularly interested in the "classical" era; there are few people who maintain that they are studying something that they know with reasonable certainty has a high fidelity to what was taught more than 80 years ago. Those who study such "classical" arts (eg. Tenshin Shoden Katori Shinto Ryu - the oldest existent samurai arts school) are few and far

Kata - as a vital training tool

In my opinion kata is a very effective training tool on a multitude of levels. If nothing else, it is an excellent solo training exercise for building anaerobic and aerobic fitness. Try doing 40 seiyunchin kata in a row. Boxers do exercises like skipping and shadow boxing because they are good for fitness and coordination etc.. But skipping etc. have nothing on kata. This is because the low stances and dynamic tension in kata come nearest (in solo practice) to mimicking the tension and stress your body is under in combat. Notice I said "nearest" - nothing will replicate the stress of real fighting. Come on folks, do the challenge. Can you manage 40 full power seiyunchin kata in a row? And that is just for starters. The most I have ever done of a kata (our Fukyugata ichi) is over 300 in a row. In any event, kata does not replace kicking bags, sparring, etc. It complements it. From a technical perspective, kata is also an important tool for grooving combinations and tenshin/t

Kata - art or science?

Kata assembly is of particular interest to me in relation not only to its ability to summarise technical information in an aesthetic, economical and balanced manner, but also in its ability to impart essential kinesthetic prinicples to the practitioner. In other words, kata should teach you how to move (taisabaki and tenshin), breathe, tense certain muscles, balance, focus, hold or shift centre of gravity etc. Often enough the technical information can only be effected with an understanding and mastery of the kinesthetics taught by a kata. In some respects the subtle "understanding" one derives about one's own body mechanics from practising a kata over and over again feed directly into an understanding and ability to apply bunkai from the kata. The real genius behind the design of the kata is that they can all impart this knowledge if practiced correctly and frequently. I get the feeling that those who designed the kata did so intuitively based on their own experience and

Form and formality in martial arts techniques

Cross referring the internal arts and goju has helped me discern not only a possible historical and technical relationship, but more importantly it has helped me understand the function of "formal" training, such as kata. I think that seeing how someone else does the same thing can give you a great deal of insight into what it is you are doing and why. Ultimately we all want to effect a natural, "no-nonsense" technique. However it seems to me that many “modern” stylists have thrown the baby out with the bathwater by abandoning the "formal" aspects of traditional martial arts, not realising that these have a training purpose (not unlike the speedball might have a particular training purpose for a boxer, even though no boxer ever "hits someone like that"). I have found the Chen Pan Ling taijiquan movements generally correspond the most with minimalist, natural way of moving. Bagua and xingyi tend to have progressively greater elements of "form