Tag Archives: Dante’s Inferno

Kata Lab Central Theme: Three States Of Bunkai

20 May


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)


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.©


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.”


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),


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.


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

DANTE’S ISSHO – DOJO (The Lifetime Dojo Of Dante’s Hell)

7 Feb
As with the other articles in this category, the following need not be confined to Karate-Do or even the martial arts for that matter. A practitioner of any art form, sport or hobby may wish to consider their field of personal endeavor within the following ideology. Additionally, anyone may wish to reflect upon their life’s journey within the context of the following.

I call this martial ideology “Dante’s Dojo“. The ideology involves contemplating your Karate-Do training (or life) in light of Dante’s journey through the gates of Hell as escorted by the poet Virgil.

This ideology calls forth a contemplation of your journey, as escorted by your Sensei, into the “Way-place of Hell” and the rewards of having entered such a place of woe. Anyone who has either trained at my Dojo or attended one of my seminars will recall the various signs that I hang to motivate and invigorate students and seminar attendees. I am especially fond of displaying the following excerpt taken from The Divine Comedy by Dante Alighieri.

Though me you enter the woeful city, through me you enter eternal grief, Through me you enter among the lost. Justice moved my high maker: The Divine Power made me, the Supreme Wisdom and the Primal love. Before me, nothing was created, if not eternal and eternal I endure, Abandon every hope, You who enter. These words of obscure color I saw inscribed over a portal; wherein I said: “Master, their meaning is hard for me.” and he to me as one who understands, “Here let all cowardice be dead….” and when he placed his hand on mine, with a cheerful look from which I took comfort, HE LED ME AMONG THE SECRET THINGS. Dante Alighieri, The Divine Comedy, Inferno, Canto III, (Emphasis Added).

Even the most informal reader of Dante is familiar with the last sentence of the above Canto, specifically, “Abandon Every Hope, You Who Enter.” To be sure, there is much insight to be found within the dynamic expression of the gates of Hell as expressed in the Canto; however, for purposes of this article, the significance of the placard to Hell is to be found in the combination of that infamous passage with the last sentence where Dante observes “. . . He led me among the secret things.” I submit that it is in that combination that the true essence of a (traditional) Karate-Do Dojo is to be found. By extension, I submit that concept of Dante’s Dojo applies to anyone who embarks upon a journey of learning the secret teaching of any art.
The placard to Hell speaks in terms of abandoning hope. Within the sphere of Dante’s Dojo, hope is a metaphor for an abandonment of a pre-conceived notion of self. Upon entering the Dojo (or commencing the study of any art form) a new initiate is stripped of all forms of self-proclaimed “status”. Thus, the initiate is liberated from the bounds that contain the human spirit within the confines of an artificial sense of “self“. By way of example, an initiate who is successful in financial matters (and thus “rich“), may be an utter failure in matters concerning relationships or emotional well-being (thus, emotionally and spiritually “poor”). The initiate, by way of the pre-conception of success, is utterly unaware of, or chooses to ignore),those areas wherein he has failed. Such blissful ignorance is derived from one’s spiritual and emotional filters that are designed to deter suicidal attacks upon one’s ego.
It is the mission of the Sensei to actively nudge the initiate along the journey of knowledge while passively guiding the initiate through the pitfalls (physical and particularly emotional) encountered during the Karate-Do journey. In this manner the initiate is physically, spiritually and emotionally broken down to the most fundamental level of self-awareness.
 Sodello Da Goito, Salvatore Dali (1904-1989)
 Within the Dojo the process of stripping the initiate of the preconceived sense of self and self-worth is accomplished on external and internal plains. Externally, the process of stripping the initiate e to the fundamental level of self-awareness involves inserting the initiate into a outwardly homogenous Dojo group. This is accomplished in several ways, including, though not limited to the following:  
 1. The initiate is stripped of his clothes of normalcy and dons a plain white uniform (a “Gi”) that is indistinguishable from the uniform of any other student (save for a colored belt or “Obi” which is discussed later);
2. As to the Gi, there is only but one purpose for wearing it as clothing. It is not necessarily comfortable, provides little warmth and some may say is not fashionable. The sole purpose of wearing a Gi is to train in the martial arts;
3. The initiate must train in bare feet (thus, the initiate is reduced to the status of primitive man, who trod the dirt shoeless);
4. There is no indicia of external status. The initiate, like all other students, is prohibited from wearing jewelry, watches and any other indicia of status (even the fragrance of the initiate’s expensive cologne or perfume is quickly replaced by the odor of the initiate’s sweat);

To be sure, there are reasons and traditions associated with the above, for purposes of this article, I am addressing the above solely as a means of stripping away external factors that outwardly define one’s status as “self”. The above external regime also serves to internally strip the initiate of his spiritual and emotional pre-conception of self. Examples of the internal mechanics of this process include:

1. The concept that one’s ego is left at the door of the Dojo. The sole distinguishing attribute that separates the initiate from the homogenous group is the initiate’s ability. Within the Dojo, the initiate’s ability is a direct result of the initiate’s devotion and determination as filtered by a pure heart and open mind. Notwithstanding the different colored Obi as a symbol of “status”, ithe determinate factor is always ability. To be sure there are times when a “lowly” student of white belt grade will out perform a student of “higher” grade. As Sensei Thomas DeFelice, Ku-Dan, Menkyo-Kaiden (Goshin-Do Karate-Do), would say, “The man makes the Obi, not the reverse.”;

2. The pervading rule of any Dojo is that “All start at the bottom”. Regardless of one’s position outside the Dojo, all enter at an entry level position. Unlike the corporate world, no-one skips upward to middle or higher management.

3. The result of the above is the ideology that “Nothing is for free.“ All knowledge and thus all sense of self-awareness must be earned. Period.

Once the initiate is reduced to this most fundamental state of awareness, a primordial sense of spiritual and emotional ooze, the journey amongst the secret things begins to have significance. Karate-Do involves a testing of one physically which gives rise to a test of one’s spirit. The same is true of other endeavors such as painting, music and sport. How many times have we heard that an artist “suffered for his art?” The difference is that within Karate-Do there are direct and immediate consequences. An example would be getting punched in the mouth during a moment of carelessness. There is also spiritual and emotional discomfort. For example, in a traditional Dojo (one that does not contractually obligate a student to train) the notion instilled in the initiate that he is free to leave the Dojo and thus quit the process of self-discovery – forever to bear the stain of “failure”. Through this process, ultimately the secret thing to be discovered is an authentic self-defined sense of self and how one’s self interacts with the worldly environment and the universal arena that the drama of life plays out upon. Again, though the process is explored herein within the context of Karate-Do, by extension, it can be applied to any art or life in general.

The ideology of Dante’s Dojo is a continuum. Once one has abandoned the pre-conceived, emotionally filtered sense of self, one obtains the pure, empirical understanding of who one is. This understanding is the secret thing of Dante’s Dojo. It must be understood that the attainment of the secret thing is always transitory. Due to the frailty of the human condition, the attainment of a pure sense of self is always susceptible to the prostitution of its pureness by the ego. The process of contemplation of your Karate-Do training, other art form, or even life itself, within the confines of Dante’s Dojo is a continuing abandonment of any pre-conception of self together with an awareness of the secret things that lie before each and every one of us. To be sure, we are all susceptible to succumbing to the self-defining comfortable notion of who we perceive ourselves to be. Again, this comfort notion of perception is conceived within our emotional filters that are designed to protect ourselves from suicidal attacks upon our ego. It is therefore necessary to continually re-examinine and redefine oneself as “self” in as pure and empirical a setting as possible. For me, the setting for this process is Karate-Do which is euphemistically contained within the “Dojo”. It is important to understand that one need not train within a physical Dojo. One must carry the Dojo within by way of continuous active training and thus, continuous self-examination. It is only when one engages in the regular, oft times Hellish routine of Karate-Do training (and self-evaluation) that the continuum of abandoning preconception is realized. Only then can one continue to evolve and awaken to the secret things of this plain of existence. This is the realm of Dante’s Dojo.

 Hell as depicted in the center panel of a Triptch entitled “Final Judgement” by Hieronymous Bosch (1450-1516)

It is upon the foundation of “Dante’s Dojo”, that my ideology of Jiriki Kata-Do (The Way of (attaining) Inner Salvation Through Kata) as represented, inter alia, by the Sanchin Kata, was built. On a higher plain of human understanding , intuition and in a new contextual paradigm, the secret things become the secret of not only a sense of self, but a sense of self belonging and synchronization with the universal environment and consciousness. Such a journey though ultimately rewarding and enlightening, often takes nightmarish turns. Thus, one truly passes through the portal (or perhaps a Torii) to Hell.

Within your own training in any art, whether a Martial Art such as Karate-Do (or its ancestral arts of Kung-Fu and Kalaripayat), or a meditative art such as the various forms of Zazen (seated meditation), or Pranayama, or within the confines of your life, consider Dante‘s Dojo. In considering this point, I would suggest that you take a moment and view the “Memorial Page” of this Blogsite and specifically read the quotation of Ernest Hemingway. Now consider how far has your teacher pushed you out to where no-one can help you AND just how far are you willing to go into heretofore undiscovered territory and paradigms. I know the journey I have embarked into the heretofore undiscovered contextual paradigm of Jiriki Kata-Do. The question for you, the reader, is do you know your present journey and comprehend the ramifications associated with how far out you are willing to go where no one may help you – the point where you abandon all hope and dwell in the realm of secret things.

I have recently obtained the above beautiful digital Hanko seal. It will be used to formalize and seal all future submissions on this Blogsite and my website. I highly recommend such a digital Hanko seal. Anyone interested in either a traditional or digital Hanko seal or other unique Japanese product should visit WWW.TheJapaneseConnection.Com

The impact of my having entered Dante’s Dojo is codified in my exploration of the Sanchin Kata as disclosed in my new, innovative (and some may say controversial) new book entitled The Dynamic Meditation Rite Of Sanchin: Gateway To The Three Battles To The Plateau Of Human Serenity. Please see the “Sanchin Book” page of this Blogsite for more information.

The Sanchin Kata is the initial and premier Kata of my ideology and methodology of Jiriki Kata-Do. You may find additional information on Jiriki Kata-Do, by reading my article herein dated December 15 , 2009. Entitled “Kata evolves into a methodology and ideology …” You may also visit my website at WWW.Dynamic-Meditation.Com

For those readers that have a burning interest in the various works of Dante Alighieri, I would highly recommend the following:

1. For additional biographical, historical and literary information you can visit the following website WWW.GreatDante.Net.  It is an excellent resource center and includes the original Italian language version of Dante’s works and English translations. In other words, it is Molto Benne.

2. For an excellent murder mystery that takes place during the time of the first American translation of The Divine Comedy by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, Russell Lowell and Oliver Wendell Holmes (who are all major characters in the book) I would recommend The Dante Club by Matthew Pearl. WWW.MatthewPearl.Com
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