Tag Archives: Chess Quotes

Dr. Richard Feynman “Visits” Sensei’s Kata Lab – Part 1

28 Sep


BUNKAI--beauty of move copy  “On the chessboard lies and hypocrisy do not survive long. The creative combination lays bare the presumption of lies; the merciless fact, culmination in checkmate, contradicts the hypocrites.”  Chess Grand-master (GM) Emanuel Lasker  

sanchin-tonto forest  “With Kata bunkai lies and hypocrisy do not survive long. The creative combination lays bare the presumption of lies; the merciless fact, culmination in self-realization, contradicts the hypocrites.” Sensei John adapting GM Emanuel Lasker.

The 2015 Sinquefield Chess tournament recently ended. In a field of eight of the highest rated chess GM’s GM Levon Aronian emerged victorious.



The tournament was broadcast live on You-Tube. As I watched the matches, I thought about the similarities between chess analysis and kata analysis (called “bunkai”). Being familiar with his analogy between chess and scientific experimentation, I thought to “invite” the preeminent physicist, Dr. Richard Feynman, to my Kata Laboratory.


Here is the result of his “visit.”

Dr, Feynman’s analogy presupposes that you don’t know the rules of the game of chess but can observe it. Similarly, I presuppose that you may know the sequences of a kata, but not understand their purpose. Summarizing Dr. Feynman,

Observing a chess game, we may notice that there are two bishops that move on a diagonal, one is on the black squares and one is on the white squares and they d0 not change its color. This observation becomes a law or rule of the game. If the observer understands the law but wants a deeper understanding of it, then something unusual happens — the thing that doesn’t fit the rule is the most interesting.

Observing more, we may see that there could be three bishops or one of the two bishops could have changed colors so you could have two bishops on either the white or black squares. So, after this observation, we must ask, “How did this happen?” Based on the observations, we noticed that a pawn may have crossed the chessboard to the other side and thus became a new bishop. And so we have a new rule, that is a pawn is not sacrificed and crosses the chess board, it becomes a bishop and based on the colored square of the pawn, that bishop moves diagonally on squares of that color.

The same is true with kata and bunkai. When you first analyze a kata, your observations lead you to the most basic applications (Dr. Feynman’s“rules”). Those karate practitioners that dismiss kata will never get beyond this point. More often than not, their analysis results with a conclusion that, “Kata is useless in a “real” fight.” In the chess analogy, this would be akin to saying, “Pawns in chess are useless minor pieces.”

With time and deeper analysis, you see that those initial Kata “rules” (analysis) were basic and superficial. You begin to see a richer picture. Such deeper analysis is similar t the observation of a pawn being promoted to a bishop. Once kata bunkai (analysis) goes beyond the basic, the specter of ego and hubris may is appear. If your analysis is deeper and richer than that of a person of higher rank, including your Sensei, you may be met with systemic dogma. Chess provides a perfect example. “In our style of chess (karate), pawns are always meant to be sacrificed and therefore do not cross the board to become a new bishop.” Thus your (innovative) analysis of the game of chess (kata) is flawed in that it violates the dictates of the system as imposed upon its “leader.”

Continuing Dr. Feynman’s analogy one step further. A prolonged observation of the chess game would require a new rule to replace the old rule that a pawn can be promoted to a bishop. A promoted pawn can become a any new piece, be it a bishop, queen, knight, or rook, based upon the needs of the game. Thus, the pawn, which is the most basic piece, at all times hides an advanced piece within – as long as it is not sacrificed early in life and can be promoted on the last rank.

Again, this directly applies to kata analysis. New, richer deeper and dare I say even previously undiscovered applications may be found. In my personal practice, these applications extend beyond the mere physical applications. Through deep analysis, I have discovered spiritual applications of kata (how kata affects your state-of-mind, emotions and psyche) and environmental applications (how kata is influenced by and influences your external environment). More importantly, I have been able to formulate training exercises to assist others in discovering these hidden fields of application. This is the heart of my 40,000+ word “Kata Laboratory” project.

I have shared snippets of my Kata Laboratory with many comrades and masters within my karate-do sphere. The majority have commented in a positive manner. There are some; however, that due to their own lack of kata bunkai exploration, allow their ego and hubris to skew there comments. Their comments range from the “That is not part of kata” to the most disingenuous, “Of course.” Those you give the latter comment have then been known to go home to study the observation and conclusions (never having previously taken the time to do so) and teach it to their students as if its it their discovery. But, that is all part of the game of chess, I mean kata bunkai.

For those readers that would like a preview sampling of my 40,000+ word Kata Laboratory project, please visit the page tab above, or use this convenient link

Remember when it comes to kata bunkai it is always time to:


Please check back again as I apply more of Dr. Feynman’s observations to kata bunkai in Part Two of this submission.

Respectfully submitted,

HANKO-masterSensei John Szmitkowski

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