Kata Lab Central Theme: Three States Of Bunkai

20 May

KATA LAB

Master, their meaning is hard for me.” 

And he to me, as one who understands, 
“Here, let all fear be left behind, let all cowardice be dead . . .”
“We have come to the place I have told you . . . “
And when he had placed his hand on mine,
With a look from which I took comfort,
He lead me amongst 
the secret things – 
(Citation, see Endnote # 1)

secret-1

With the above quote, the poet Virgil led Dante Aligheri through the portal to Hell. I thought it a fitting way to introduce the overriding theme of my Kata Laboratory where I will guide you amongst the “secret things” of kata.©

Background:

After almost four and a half decades of the study of karate-do, it is my firm belief that kata exists in and are performed in three defined states, namely a physical state, a spiritual state (which includes state-of-mind, emotions, psychological factors) and an environmental state (the manner in which the external environment affects kata and vice-versa).
For many martial artists, this simple concept will be difficult to understand. Even more difficult is my proposal that given that kata embraces the three above states, bunkai, the analysis of kata, must also include these states. I designed my Kata Laboratory to provide you with specific training tools and techniques to enhance your kata experience. My Kata Laboratory is not style specific. Thus my methods include any and all kata from any style of karate-do or martial arts other than karate-do. Allow me to begin by guiding you through the three states of kata.(See Endnote # 2 for an important caveat). Historically, the term kata has been amorphously defined. I submit that a full understanding of kata is achieved not by attempting to define kata, but by first simply parsing kata into its most fundamental elements and second, regrouping the fundamental elements into the larger states of kata. On an elemental level, the two elements of kihon (basic techniques) and the two elements of zazen (seated meditation) combine to form the three elements of kata.

KIHON  elements +   ZAZEN elements  =   KATA elements

KIHON  elements           + ZAZEN  elements          =     KATA elements
Breathing Breathing Breathing
Bodily Movement N/A (see Endnote # 3) Bodily Movement
N/A (see Endnote # 4) State-Of-Mind State-Of-Mind

Thus, on an elemental level, kata is moving meditation. Combining the fundamental elements so as to form a larger, systemic expression of kata, we find that kata contains a physical state (breathing and bodily movement) and a spiritual state (see Endnote # 5 for examples). These two states express kata as it is contained WITHIN the individual performer. It is fundamental fact that the kata performer does not perform kata in a vacuum. Kata is performed in an external environment (parenthetically I note it is unfortunate that the majority of practitioners perform kata exclusively in the sterile environment of an enclosed Dojo. Hint: Get out into nature!) Thus, the performer interacts, connects and synchronizes with the external environment during the performance of kata. Therefore, kata exists in two states internal to the performer and one state external to the performer. I call this third state the metaphysical state. These states are derived from the three basic elements of our existence. By extension, these three states are not only present in each and every kata, they are present in each and every human activity. I call my ideology that kata exists in the three aforementioned omnipresent states “Jiriki Kata-Do” (The way of attaining salvation from within oneself using kata). As the three states are readily apparent in the kata Sanchin, that kata is the cornerstone to the ideology of Jiriki Kata-Do. The physical state of kata has been analyzed, ad infinitum (and I submit ad nauseam). Such widespread analysis looks only at the “practical self-defense application” of kata. Each and every individual kata yields a wide variety of physical self-defense techniques unique to the kata being analyzed. Practitioners ignore the spiritual and environmental states of kata analysis. These states when properly (and finally) subjected to analytical scrutiny (bunkai) will yield a rich and diverse understanding of kata. Thus, bunkai (the analysis of kata) must be extended to include not only the common and familiar analysis of the physical state of kata, but also the lesser analyzed spiritual and environmental states of kata (the “secret things”)
The term “Bunkai” has been commonly, and improperly, interpreted as “practical application” or “application”. Not only is this interpretation misleading, it tends to confine one’s analysis of kata solely to physical applications. A more correct translation of bunkai is “analysis” or “disassembly”.
Preliminarily, it is interesting to note that the improper translation of “practical application” or “application” infers a passivity to the study of bunkai. By this I mean that one may be taught an application of a kata by another. Thus, the student need not expand any intuitive effort. The student need only learn, and robotically copy the application as taught by the teacher. Analysis, on the other hand, demands action, one cannot be passively taught analysis. One must actively analyze.
As previously submitted, the vast majority, if not the totality, of bunkai study has been geared towards determining the application of the physical movements of kata. This is because the analysis of the physical movements of kata, while demanding intuition and commitment, is relatively “comfortable.” We spend the totality of our time experiencing the physical world and relish our physical experience of such world. Thus, the analysis of the physical aspect of any subject (including kata) is “commonly comfortable.”
To be sure, physical bunkai is as difficult as a practitioner decides to make it. To date, the physical bunkai of kata has been expressed as three increasingly difficult levels. Without shrouding these levels in mythological and debatable terms derived from the Japanese language, they are:
1, basic bunkai (apparent analysis, for example, usually based upon a storyboard approach, a strike is a strike, a block is a block),
2, intermediate bunkai (covertly apparent, a block could be something else, a joint application for example, a turn in a kata could be a throw and the like) and
3, hidden, or as I like to say “introspectively-intuitive” bunkai (deeply covert and highly subjective, technique is discovered by and works for the individual performer). A practitioner is free to engage in the depth of bunkai as he sees fit. It is a question of personal satisfaction as to how superficially or deeply one desires to study kata and physical bunkai, if at all. As one progresses from basic to intermediate to advanced the level of individual commitment, toil, self-discovery and introspection increases. In my experience, few practitioners are sufficiently committed to this arduous process.
Given the increasing level of commitment, physical energy, mental acuity and intuition required to progress from the basic physical bunkai to the intermediate and introspective-intuitive physical bunkai, it is not surprising that a select limited number of practitioners have endeavored to conceive, yet alone explore the spiritual bunkai (analysis) of kata. It is commonly recognized that the masters of old expressed the concept that the highest aspiration of karate-do is spiritual in nature. (See Endnote # 6). In my kata laboratory, it is fundamental that once you have engaged in a deep, and prolonged exploration of the physical bunkai of kata, the spiritual bunkai begins to be revealed. This phenomenon; however, only begins to manifest itself with continuos, progressive, intuitive and demanding analysis of physical bunkai in a never ending, but always expanding process. Simply put, it is not a practice that develops over-night, when it is convenient or without thinking, sweating and experimenting over many years. It is an arduous journey.
This manifestation of spiritual bunkai commences with a basic level. As in the case of physical bunkai, spiritual bunkai has the same three progressive levels of basic, intermediate and introspectively-intuitive (hidden).
In a similar fashion, environmental bunkai (the manner in which one interacts with the external environment) will begin to manifest itself at a basic level. That is to say that when a practitioner continuously explores both the physical and spiritual bunkai of kata, the environmental bunkai will begin to be self-evident.
It is therefore mandatory to train and experiment with bunkai not just within the physical state, but also on all states of the kata itself. Thus, since kata exists in the three states of the physical, the spiritual and the environmental, bunkai must also exist in the same three states. Bunkai, must be conducted on all three levels commencing with the readily discernible physical stage to the difficult spiritual stage and the environmental stage. To this end, future submissions in my kata laboratory category will guide you.

Recommended Reader Experimentation:

First, begin your kata practice session by performing Sanchin Kata so as to augment your awareness of the three battles, or states of Sanchin, namely a physical state (breathing and bodily movement), a spiritual state (state-of-mind) and an environmental state (interconnection with the external environment).

Next, proceed to practice your other kata, paying particular attention not only to the physical state of the kata, but also being aware of the spiritual state (state-of-mind) enveloped within that specific kata. You should pay particular attention to discovering the state-of-mind to be found within each different kata.

Finally, when you have sufficiently practiced this, begin to be cognizant of the manner in which each specific kata functions on an environmental state – how the kata specifically compels you to interact with your external environment and how such interaction differs from kata to kata. This will lead you on the path of Jiriki Kata-Do which exists integrated, but hidden, within your own style of karate-do or martial art; the “secret things.”

Closing:

It is mandatory that bunkai (analysis) of kata progress from the physical state to explore the spiritual and environmental states of kata. Thus, bunkai (analysis) will exist within the three states of kata. Given that bunkai is limited by the majority of practitioners to the physical aspect of kata, the uncommon nature of the spiritual and metaphysical aspect of bunkai makes them the “secret things” worthy of analysis. Future editions of Sensei John’s Kata Laboratory will contain defined analysis as to how to accomplish the task of analyzing kata on three levels, the physical, the spiritual (state of mind) and the environmental (synchronizing with the external environment).
Please remember, the mandate of the kata laboratory is

☑ Think   –  read and reflect on the narrative of each kata experiment

☑  Sweat  – work, again and again, the protocol of the experiment as set forth. This aspect is crucial. I wholeheartedly invite commentary and yes, even criticism but please SWEAT FIRST, do not pontificate. Comments such as “That’s not the way we do it”, or, “That’s not traditional”, “That’s not pure in our system” and the like are not only egotistical and insulting, but will show the depth of your hubris, and laziness. 

☑  Experiment  – after sufficiently working the specific protocols, begin to experiment with your own thoughts and variations. Do not be afraid of failure – the only failure is not thinking and sweating for yourself but being a slave to dogma.

Cum superiorum privilegio veniaque (With the privilege & permission of the Superiors),

HANKO

Sensei John Szmitkowski

 Please note that, as with most Kata Laboratory submissions, the following is a highly digested and summarized version of my seminar and several of my works. For seminar information, please use the following link: https://senseijohn.me/seminar-kata/

© Copyright 2006 and 2013 Issho Productions & John Szmitkowski, all rights reserved.

ENDNOTES:

1. Alighieri, Dante, Inferno, Canto III.

2. Caveat: the term kata is not restricted solely to kata of karate-do, by functional necessity, the term must also include the kata of all martial arts regardless of nomenclature. Thus, the within applies to the kata of Tae Kwon Do, Kung-fu, Kendo, Kobudo and the like equally.

3. By definition, zazen (seated meditation) does not have the element of bodily movement.

4. Though others may take exception to the following statement, I submit that during the practice of kihon or basic karate technique, the novice performer does not have a clearly defined state-of-mind. In martial terms, the sole expression of a state of mind may be termed a clouded state. That is to say that the novice is solely concerned with and mentally concentrates on the proper copying 9or performance) of basic technique as directed by his instructor. This is the clouded “Shu” stage of Shu-Ha-Ri. It is also the basis by which the practice of martial arts endeavors, inter alia, to “uncloud” the mind. For those unfamiliar with the concept of Shu, Ha, Ri, you may acquaint yourself with same using the following convenient link http://defeliceryu.com/2012/10/07/shu-ha-ri-a-different-perspective/

5. States of mind include not only martial arts states of mind, for example Mushin (mind-no-mind), Nenjjushin (everyday mind) and Tomaranu Kokoro (unstoppable mind), states of mind also include the common, non-martial states of mind such as depression, anxiety, alertness, joy, sorrow, envy, greed and the like.

6. For a detailed explanation of the interrelationship of Jiriki Kata-Do to Goshin Do Karate-Do, please use this convenient link: (Jiriki Kata-Do An Epiphenomenon Of Goshin-Do Karate-Do) – https://senseijohn.me/2011/10/02/jiriki-kata-do-an-epiphenomenon-of-goshin-do-karate/

While the three states exist in every kata, they are codified and amplified in the kata Sanchin. Close scrutiny of the three battles of Sanchin illustrates the inconsistency and redundancy within which the battles have commonly been defined. My research into, practice of and examination of the three battles of Sanchin results in the commonly accepted three battles being rejected and redefined as the physical battle, the spiritual battles and the environmental battle. The term “battles” as represented by the kanji for Sanchin, is representative of the “states” of human existence. Thus the three battles of Sanchin represent the three states of human existence.

For seminar information, please use the following link: https://senseijohn.me/seminar-kata/  For information on my Sanchin DVD and Book, please see the notes below.

8. A full dissertation of the masters expression as to the spirituality of karate-do is beyond this article. Quite frankly, if the reader does not comprehend this concept, then, unless it is too late, he or she needs to acquaint him or herself as to this concept.

Sensei John is now on Facebook, under – FLY FISHING DOJO, you are invited to send a Facebook friend request.

You may wish to view the Goshin-Do Karate blog at WWW.DeFeliceRyu.Com or my blog dedicated to the interrelationship between martial arts protocol & ideology to fly-fishing and fishing in general by clicking WWW.FlyFishingDojo.Com

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