23 posts / 0 new
Last post
arogers
arogers's picture
Funakoshi and children's kata?

I was introduced to bunkai at one of Iain's seminars last year and have been studying it quite intensely since that time.  I have also been trying to read some historical karate books for reference and recently finished Funakoshi's Karate-Do Kyohan.  While reading the explanation of the forms I was struck by the very elementary explanations of bunkai for the katas.  As an example, here are some explanations for heian nidan:

  • Opening sequence - one hand blocks an attack to the face, the other hand is held ready for attack
  • Turn to rear after opening sequence - simultaneously attack opponent's face with back fist and his groin or chest with the right sword foot "In this movement, simultaneous fist and foot atacks are being made as one turns to face an opponent sensed ... to be attacking from behind"
  • Kicks - "the point here is to grasp an opponent's left wrist and to kick his elbow with the right foot.  One should practice kicking as high as possible"

Based on even my moderate knowledge of bunkai, these explanations are along the lines of "children's karate" explanations or "what you see is what you get" and would the kind of explanation given by someone that didn't know anything about bunkai.

Can anyone shed some light on why explanations such as this are given throughout the kata portion of the book?  I understand and can clearly see that Funakoshi had an agenda in his writings to promote the emerging "-do" side of karate, but I don't necessarily think that these simplistic and unrealistic explanations assist in fulfilling that purpose.  I considered that the translator (who replaced original pictures of Funakoshi demonstrating techniques with pictures of himself demonstrating) might have subsituted his own explanations are added to Funakoshi's originals, but there is no attribution that I can see in the book to indicate that was the case.  And I find it very hard to believe that Funakoshi either didn't learn the true bunkai to such movements or believe these explanations to be the true bunkai. 

I bought this book for for the history than the kata applications, but I can't help but feeling quite a bit ripped off nonetheless.  Reading the excellent ratings and reviews for this book, one would be led to believe that Funakoshi's explanations of the katas are very enlightening.  Needless to say, they are not!

Jason Lester
Jason Lester's picture

Hi, you havent been ripped off atall.

Karate Do Kyohan is the Bible of all Karate books and still remains my most read book to this day.

We must remember that Master Gichin Funakoshi knew a lot more about karate than any of us ever will, sensing attacks is very much possible, along with blocking attacks. What is ment by kicking as high as possible is make use of your youth, practice high kicking to maintain flexibility, (read Kanazawas Karate Kumite fighting techniques for more info).

I dont think you have read Karate Do Kyohan properly, may i suggest you read it again indepth.

Kind regards.

Iain Abernethy
Iain Abernethy's picture

arogers wrote:
Based on even my moderate knowledge of bunkai, these explanations are along the lines of "children's karate" explanations or "what you see is what you get" and would the kind of explanation given by someone that didn't know anything about bunkai.

Can anyone shed some light on why explanations such as this are given throughout the kata portion of the book?

Funakoshi was both a product of, and a driving force behind, the shift from karate as an “Okinawan self-protection system practised by a tiny number of people” to a “worldwide form of exercise and character development practiced by millions”.

One of Funakoshi’s teachers, Anko Itosu, pushed for karate to be taught in schools in the early 1900s. Funakoshi ran with the project his teacher instigated (and it’s good job he did, otherwise we would never have heard of karate). This resulted in a form of karate very different from the older version, and it was this modern version that was largely written about in books. Funakoshi tells us this himself:

“Hoping to see Karate included in the universal physical education taught in our public schools, I set about revising the kata so as to make them as simple as possible. Times change, the world changes, and obviously the martial arts must change too. The Karate that high school students practice today is not the same Karate that was practiced even as recently as ten years ago, and it is a long way indeed from the Karate I learned when I was a child in Okinawa.– Gichin Funakoshi, Karate-Do: My Way of Life.

Books need a market. It is only when there is a sufficient number of karateka that books become economically viable. So it is the “karate of high school students” that we see reflected in most of the literature. Thankfully though there are still references to the older karate (even though that will have been terribly “unfashionable” at the time the books were printed) and we can used them, along with the kata themselves, and what we know of the true nature of criminal violence, to return to an older version of the art (even though it will invariably be a modern interpretation of that older version; which I see as a good thing).

arogers wrote:
And I find it very hard to believe that Funakoshi either didn't learn the true bunkai to such movements or believe these explanations to be the true bunkai.

I bought this book for the history than the kata applications, but I can't help but feeling quite a bit ripped off nonetheless.  Reading the excellent ratings and reviews for this book, one would be led to believe that Funakoshi's explanations of the katas are very enlightening.  Needless to say, they are not!

People are often disappointed when these old works don’t provide the “bunkai Rosetta stone” they were hoping for. There is no one ultimate source. No one was writing books on karate in the time period we are most interested in. We only have books that come from later on, and we need to read them and understand them as being products of the time in which they were written.

This was a period of huge change. The fact that the photos of Funakoshi himself were later removed from the book because he was no longer “doing it right” shows that even he, as a great reviser, was quickly revised himself.

There’s no “bunkai bible” which gives a detailed and inerrant account of the karate of the past. However, as just mentioned, there is enough – when drawn together from the disparate sources – to give us a pretty good idea of that the older karate was like. We can then use that to guide our own modern version of that old karate. Karate was always been eclectic and ever changing, so we don’t want a “set in amber” version of karate anyway. I fully agree with Funakoshi when he said,

“Times change, the world changes, and obviously the martial arts must change too.”

Today, we want function, logic and practicality. So that is the goal we are pursuing, and there is loads of stuff from the past we can use to help us with that … but it is not all neatly set out in one place, nor should we be limited or defined by it.

We also need to realise that we can shape what we do too; we don’t need to be 100% reliant on previous generations; because if we are, then karate will stagnate and then regress. We therefore don’t need detailed instruction from the past (as the many highly functional approaches to karate / kata show).

The literature we do have has a line here, a line there, that provide insight and guidance, but there is no individual book that is a “one stop shop”.

All the best,

Iain

Iain Abernethy
Iain Abernethy's picture

Jason Lester wrote:
We must remember that Master Gichin Funakoshi knew a lot more about karate than any of us ever will …

At the risk of being accused of heresy here, I’m going to suggest that’s not true.

While there is no doubt that Funakoshi’s achievements in popularising karate and ensuring its spread are currently unparalleled, we need to be careful about labelling him as an ultimate authority. There are things in his work that we now know to be false i.e. karate having its ultimate origins in the Shaolin temple; the differing types of kata being for differing body types (rejected by Mabuni and Miyagi in Funakoshi’s lifetime); the link between karate and Buddhist thought (an link rubbished by his own teacher); and so on.

We live in the information age, so one would hope that we can know more than Funakoshi. Not because we are better than him, but because we have ready access to not only his works, but everyone else’s too.

Karate has always been eclectic and ever evolving. Because Funakoshi is no longer with us, he has no idea of the karate of today. Things move on.

Newton was a vital part of establishing modem physics and is highly respected for his contribution, but physicists today have moved on and no one looks to Newton as an ultimate authority anymore.

English author John of Salisbury said “We are like dwarfs on the shoulders of giants, so that we can see more than they, and things at a greater distance, not by virtue of any sharpness of sight on our part, or any physical distinction, but because we are carried high and raised up by their giant size”.

I think that sums up how we should think of the masters of the past perfectly. They are not forever above us, but instead they are the giants on which we can stand, and as a result hopefully see further than they did. We do them and karate a disservice when we deify the masters of the past because it invariably means stagnation and from there the demise of the art we all love.

Jason Lester wrote:
sensing attacks is very much possible

Awareness such that we can see potential threats is one thing. Sensing attack through an extrasensory means is not something I could buy into. We are into the realms of “physic powers” then and I think such stuff needs firmly rejected because it never stands up to testing.

Jason Lester wrote:
I don’t think you have read Karate Do Kyohan properly, may I suggest you read it again in-depth.

I’d agree with that partially. If it’s been read with the anticipation of being an “ultimate guide to bunkai”, then you will be disappointed. However, when it is read as a product of its time, designed to record and promote that karate of the time, then there is much value in it. There’s no doubt it is an extremely important book. However, if we are using it to help us understand the karate of an earlier time, then we need to read it through that lens and with a critical mind.

All the best,

Iain

Jason Lester
Jason Lester's picture

Hi Iain,

i wouldnt lable Funakoshi as the ultimate authority either, however, i would say he knew more than you and i regarding karate.

I do not know of anything false to come from Funakoshi so i simply cannot comment on that, indeed Funakoshi is no longer with us, if he was i have no doubt he would be disgusted to see what his beloved art has become.

Although in both copies of Karate Do Kyohan the Bunkai may seem all block and punch etc, however, we do know from source that there was a secret pact made by Funakoshi and other masters at that time not to reveal the true meaning of the Bunkai to the Japanese and westerners in case it was ever used against them for example, this i believe to be true. So i have no doubt that Funakoshi knew the real meaning of the Bunkai, reagrding the grappling techniques and so on but was carefull not to reveal them because of the secret pact that was made. We must be carefull not to judge Funakoshi from what he put in his books and simply because we are not happy that it is not realistic enough for the street.

Although i do agree with you in your comment regarding physic powers, i do believe however that sensing an attack is very much possible, although i know we will have to agree to disagree there.

Karate Do Kyohan is indeed not an ultimate guide to Bunkai, however, depending on how we train, who trains us, and if we are an ordinary person it is possible to use the Bunkai in Karate Do Kyohan as a means of realistic self-defense.

Again everyone has the right to follow their own path, and of course there is no right or wrong when it comes to Bunkai, it is always open to ones own ideas and what works for them.

We must remember that if it wasnt for Funakoshi we proberly wouldnt have had Karate as early as we did if not atall, also the different styles of karate that followed on from Shotokan such as Wado-Ryu, Sankukai etc.

As Funakoshi quite rightly says 'there are those who really know nothing about Karate. They are playing around in the leaves and branches of a great tree, without the slightest concept of the trunk'.

Kind regards,

Jason

karate10
karate10's picture

Karate Do Kyohan is a good read and a must for any MA enthusiast to own this book for a historical reference, but Karate has evolve  ever since he introduce to mainland Japan not just Shotokan, but KARATE in general and Martial Arts as we speak.

Leigh Simms
Leigh Simms's picture

Hi Jason,

Jason Lester wrote:

Although in both copies of Karate Do Kyohan the Bunkai may seem all block and punch etc, however, we do know from source that there was a secret pact made by Funakoshi and other masters at that time not to reveal the true meaning of the Bunkai to the Japanese and westerners in case it was ever used against them for example, this i believe to be true. 

Please can you provide the source you a referring too? I've never heard of this before but I am really interested in the history and evolution of karate and I think this would be a great read :) 

Iain Abernethy
Iain Abernethy's picture

Jason Lester wrote:
Although in both copies of Karate Do Kyohan the Bunkai may seem all block and punch etc, however, we do know from source that there was a secret pact made by Funakoshi and other masters at that time not to reveal the true meaning of the Bunkai to the Japanese and westerners in case it was ever used against them for example, this I believe to be true.

I’ve not heard the before, and I’m very sceptical. I think it highly improbably that every single one of the Okinawan karateka of the time agreed to make a pact. I’m not a fan of conspiracy theories; which is what this must remain unless there is evidence to support it i.e. a confession that such secret meetings and pacts existed.

I think the simple explanation is that all martial arts were undergoing something of a revolution at that time. Judo and Kendo were very popular and the changes they adopted showed how the martial arts could be positive, modern and relevant; as opposed to violent, belonging to a past age, and irrelevant.

Itosu had started the process of karate’s “modernisation” in Okinawa, and Funakoshi ran with that process in Japan. Funakoshi saw what Kano had done with Judo and aped it. He adopted the uniform, the ranking system, the ethos, and he even added the suffix “do” to the name of the art.

The karate Funakoshi shows in Kyohan is exactly what he said it was, “a long way indeed from the karate I learnt as a child in Okinawa”. It is the karate that fit with the culture of the time. If Funakoshi had not continued the process of modernisation, karate would not have got a foothold in Japan and hence none of us would ever have heard of it.  So it’s a good thing he did; but the downside is that it was a largely “declawed” karate that spread.

I think the obvious history explains everything just fine, without the need to suggest there was an active conspiracy. If Funakoshi, and all other Okinanwan karateka, been concerned about their art being used against them, then they simply could have kept it to themselves. I also think that the "typhoon of steel" and events at Hiroshima and Nagasaki will have quickly brought home the idea that knowledge of bunkai falling into the wrong hands was not something they needed to be particularly concerned about.

Funakoshi strikes me as a very intelligent guy who was able to tap into the martial zeitgeist of the time. The others largely followed his lead and because of that a “new karate” found huge popularly; in a way that the “old karate” never could have. The books of the time simply reflect the time they were published. It strikes me as being all “out in the open”.

Jason Lester wrote:
i wouldnt lable Funakoshi as the ultimate authority either, however, i would say he knew more than you and i regarding karate.

I think that is a fair comment which I would agree with … but I disagree here:

Jason Lester wrote:
We must remember that Master Gichin Funakoshi knew a lot more about karate than any of us ever will,

I’m not done yet. While I’m no master (and Funakoshi was), I recon I’m about half way through my life, and I have no intention of stopping training and studying, I live in a time where information has never been more freely available and world travel has never been easier. Training opportunities and learning opportunities are magnitudes greater than in Funakoshi’s time.

I think we all need to aim to supersede the generations that came before, and do our best to equip those who come after us to supersede us. Otherwise karate goes into permanent decline.

We all need to try to supersede the masters of the past; and not set them as an “upper limit” that will contain us all. While we may not manage to surpass the past masters personally, trying to do so will ensure we reach our maximum potential, and it will mean that some may well surpass all that went before. The future of karate belongs to them and I’m sure that Funakoshi would want them to do as he did and build on what went before to take it to ever greater heights.

All the best,

Iain

Jason Lester
Jason Lester's picture

Hi Leigh and Iain,

Regarding the source for the 'secret pact made', please refer to Gennosuke Higaki's Hidden Karate book, and his Senesi Shozan Kubota.

Hi Iain, in confused, how can the training and learning opportunities be greater than those on Okinawa where karate was oringinated and developed by such Masters as Itosu and Azato, Matsumura and the like, who were living legends at that time. Karate was not known to the outside world untill it became public? I understand what you mean by information and world travel etc, however, in order to truly understand karate we should be constantly training with the source in which it originated, we cannot seriously compare ourselves to these past masters of karate, who again were the main source of this great art at that time and formidable fighters.

Having knowledge and showing fancy moves is one thing, being able to do it for real is another matter.

Kind regards,

Jason

Th0mas
Th0mas's picture

Hi Jason,

With all due respect, I think you are missing the point.

What Iain is saying is that Funikoshi was a man of his time and was limited, constrained and maybe empowered by the circumstances he found himself in. His writings and teachings were influenced by the culture of the time in Japan, and I suggest, the way he wished to present karate.

Personally I don't think he was the greatest martial artist of his age in terms of fighting prowess or self protection skills, but as a promoter he deserves a lions share of the credit for the worldwide spread of Karate.

Give credit where credit is due, but don't promote him to quasi-religeous saint hood, he was only human. He deserves to be recognised as a hero, but like all heroes he will have feet of clay.

Any other approach limits critical thinking, which is the bedrock of pragmatic karate practice.

Cheers

Tom

css1971
css1971's picture

Iain Abernethy wrote:

I’ve not heard the before, and I’m very sceptical. I think it highly improbably that every single one of the Okinawan karateka of the time agreed to make a pact. I’m not a fan of conspiracy theories; which is what this must remain unless there is evidence to support it i.e. a confession that such secret meetings and pacts existed.

On the goju side, Seikichi Toguchi stated in "Okinawan Goju-Ryu II: Advanced Techniques of Shorei-Kan Karate (p47)  ISBN 978-0-89750-140-8" that the rule sets needed to decode kata were typically only passed on to the most senior student of the school. This may have simply been a cultural thing to retain "trade secrets", but the Chinese arts appear suffer from almost exactly the same problems as I see in karate, in fact more so.  I have a pet theory that rather than being "inspired" by the animal kingdom, all of the animal/drunk kung-fu styles are attempts at obfuscating the techniques the teachers want to remain hidden. If that's the case then the idea behind drunken style is genius.

So not passing this kind of information on to Japanese and western students may simply be or have been the historical cultural norm in China and Okinawa.

arogers
arogers's picture

Thanks for the insights and interesting debate.  I should probably clarify better that I bought the book for interest and not because I believed it would contain any significant bunkai explanations, so that is not the cause of any disappointment.  It is no doubt an important historical text and I did note many valuable pieces of information in the first half of the book, which I am sure I will reread many times.  But I remain of the view that the second half containing the kata explanations is not very useful, and the fact that Funakoshi was the founder of modern karate and largely responsible for the spread of karate doesn't change that fact for me in the slightest.  If the exact same words were written by someone that didn't know anything about bunkai or karate in general I doubt that any of us would consider them insightful and something to emulate without due consideration of how realistic the suggested applications are.  With respect to the point about "sensing" an opponent in particular, which I think is ridiculous, I am reminded of the Mabuni quote that viewing the katas as explaining multiple assailant's attacking from various angles is nonsense - yet that is clearly what Funakoshi is suggesting here and viewed objectively I don't see how one can view this as a reasonable explanation of the technique.

Iain's explanation that Funakoshi was writing the book with a specific audience in mind makes sense to me and is an angle that I did not consider.  The explanations that Funakoshi gives obviously relate to the"block, punch, kick" school of karate that was being promoted at the time.  Thanks for that Iain - I will see you in Burlington next week.

Iain Abernethy
Iain Abernethy's picture

Jason Lester wrote:
Regarding the source for the 'secret pact made', please refer to Gennosuke Higaki's Hidden Karate book, and his Senesi Shozan Kubota.

They are good books. I enjoyed both volumes. I retain my reservations about a universal pact of silence though for the reasons stated. I also have some reservations with the bunkai shown in the books too. The “action shot” style of photography really brings home the flow of the techniques, and there’s some very cool stuff, but I have practical reservations i.e. method of attack and distance are unrealistic, recommending the assumption of a “lower block” posture to draw attacks, etc. Definitely very good books people should read, but I don’t think those books could accurately be viewed as a bunkai version of WikiLeaks. I would encourage people to read them though, but, as always, with a critical mind.

Jason Lester wrote:
Hi Iain, I’m confused, how can the training and learning opportunities be greater than those on Okinawa where karate was originated and developed by such Masters as Itosu and Azato, Matsumura and the like, who were living legends at that time.

Because we have a far wider pool of knowledge and experience to draw on, which not only includes the works of the people you mention, but thousands of others from various cultures and systems. I don’t see karate as being an unchanging entity, but something that is ever evolving. The past masters would be flabbergasted by the opportunities we have today.  

Jason Lester wrote:
in order to truly understand karate we should be constantly training with the source in which it originated, we cannot seriously compare ourselves to these past masters of karate, who again were the main source of this great art at that time and formidable fighters.

There are definitely better fighters in existence today. That’s not a slight on the past masters, it’s just that access to modern information and training methods is enabling karate to develop at an accelerated pace. As I say, that’s not to diminish the past masters because it is their legacy that has enabled that to happen. There’s loads of great people around today that we can learn from; many of whom would surpass the past masters in their given areas. Funakoshi himself would encourage this:

“Both Azato and his good friend Itosu shared at least one quality of greatness: they suffered from no petty jealousy of other masters. They would present me to the teachers of their acquaintance, urging me to learn from each the technique at which he excelled.” – Gichin Funakoshi, Karate-Do: My Way of Life

Not just karateka either. We can learn the “methods at which people excel” in a way that was not possible before. The throws of Judo, the footwork of boxing, the groundwork of BJJ, the functional training of modern day RBSD, etc all mean we can learn and push karate forward in a way that was not possible when people were limited by what was available in their immediate location.

Again, I’m sure Funakoshi would approve of this and would be unhappy if we tried to “freeze” karate at a specific point in time. After all, he never did that:

“Times change, the world changes, and obviously the martial arts must change too. The Karate that high school students practice today is not the same Karate that was practiced even as recently as ten years ago, and it is a long way indeed from the Karate I learned when I was a child in Okinawa.” – Gichin Funakoshi, Karate-Do: My Way of Life

Just as Funakoshi saw what Judo was doing and brought great swathes of it across into karate (the ethos, the suits, the ranking structure, etc.) I think we should be doing the same. If it works, we will have it!

If we are sticking to a notion of “pure karate” – which never really existed because karate itself is an eclectic mix of a huge range of things – then I’m sure people like Terry O’Neil, Lyoto Machida, Peter Consterdine, Dave Hazard, etc would delight the masters of the past when they saw the levels they had achieved.

Jason Lester wrote:
Having knowledge and showing fancy moves is one thing, being able to do it for real is another matter.

Absolutely, but again we are in a way better position than those who came before. We have way more information and collective experience to inform our training. Interpersonal violence has not changed, but there are definitely training methods that were not available to our forbearers. When I think of people like Marc MacYoung, Rory Miller, Peter Consterdine, Dave Grossman, etc there can be little doubt that the information they have collected can help produce improved training methods to ensure combative function.

We also have better equipment. A lot of which we take for granted i.e. kick shields, focus mitt, Thai-pads, punch bags, etc. The past masters had none of that, and yet we know how vital such equipment is to developing real functional power. We also have way better protective equipment which allows us to spar / do scenario training in a manner the past masters could not.

I love karate and I’m eternally grateful to those who formulated it. However, I think we betray their legacy if we no longer do as they did in seeking constant improvement for ourselves, our training methods, and the art itself.

No other field of human endeavour has notions of achieving its zenith in the 1930s. Knowledge and ability keep moving onward and upward. Karate needs to do the same.

To give an analogy, Dick Fosbury (originator of the ‘Fosbury Flop’ technique which is now universally used in high jumping) had a personal best of 2.24 m. However, others have taken what he started and improved on it. The current world record is over 20cm higher, and in the last Olympics all of the top 10 were jumping higher than Dick Fosbury – himself a winner of Olympic gold – ever did. Does that mean that Dick Fosbury’s contribution to the sport is diminished? Quite the contrary! It’s only because of him revolutionizing the jumping method that these things have been achieved. However, none on the current crop would look to Dick Fosbury and proclaim him the greatest high jumper there ever was or ever could be. And I’m pretty sure that Dick Fosbury would not want his passion to peak with him and then go into permanent decline, and that, as it is, he delights in seeing people build on what he set off.

I am confident that if Funakoshi were alive today, he would similarly delight in seeing the progress made. He may not agree with all of it, but as a moderniser himself, he would acknowledge the need for karate to continue to move forward and surpass what went before. He certainly says that in his writings i.e. “Times change, the world changes, and obviously the martial arts must change too.”

Funakoshi also seems pretty clear that he knows he will be superseded and indeed he seems to welcome that if his attitude to kata names can be taken as being indicative to his attitude to karate generally:

“Let me hasten to assure the reader that I labour under no misapprehension that the names I have chosen are changeless and eternal. I have no doubt whatsoever that in the future, as times change, again and then again, the kata will be given new names. And that, indeed, is as it should be.” – Karate-Do: My Way of Life

I’m totally with you that Funakoshi was a major force in shaping karate and that his contributions cannot be overstated. Where we differ is that I don’t seem him – or the other masters of the time – as somehow being “beyond human” and something we can never surpass. I also don’t think the past masters themselves would want to be seen that way, but instead would actually want us to attempt to surpass them.

Ultimately though how we see the past masters and their relationship to us is a matter for the individual. Hopefully this thread help people identify some of the issues to ponder over. Thank you for the contribution!

All the best,

Iain

Iain Abernethy
Iain Abernethy's picture

It occurs that this old article of mine covers many of the points discussed in this thread.

http://www.iainabernethy.co.uk/article/history-it-thing-past

All the best,

Iain

History: is it a thing of the past by Iain Abernethy wrote:

I don’t have to accept the past entirely or reject it entirely. I also don’t have to agree with the past masters (or anyone else for that matter) entirely or disagree with them entirely. It’s an issue by issue, technique by technique, and practice by practise affair. It’s a matter of taking what works for me and rejecting what does not work for me. It’s simply a matter of choosing pragmatism over historical dogma.

As I frequently say at the seminars, there are two very common errors when it comes to the traditional martial arts:

Error 1 – Thinking that the old master got everything right (as the more blinkered traditionalists are prone to do).

Error 2 – Thinking that the old masters got everything wrong (as the more blinkered modernists are prone to do).

The truth, as is so often the case, is found between the two extremes. History has passed on some amazingly effective things, but not everything passed on is amazingly effective. We need to discriminate and examine all that has been passed on without wholesale acceptance or rejection ...

...Karate has a strong history that all karateka, regardless of preferred approach, should be very proud of. However, I would say that looking to the past only had value when we use that information to take us forward into the future.

Jason Lester
Jason Lester's picture

Hi Tom, arogers and Iain, thank you for your replys.

Hi arogers, of course the idea of sensing an attack does sound unlikely, however, Kenji Ushiro in his great book 'The Essence of Bujutsu Karate', explains what is ment by sensing an attack.

'If you watch your opponents attack with your eyes when executing offensive and defensive movements, you will end up receiving his attack and be to late. You must develop eyes to be able to perceive your opponent's intent in order to control him.

The term used in Japenese for seeing with your eyes is miru. However, in Bujutsu Karate you must "percieve", the word also being miru but consisting of a different kanji. In other words , you must see with the mind's eye. You will be able to sense the beginning of your opponent's movements by "perceiving "it. Extract from 'The Essence of Bujutsu Karate: Kata

I think this is what Funakoshi may have ment by 'sensing' an attack.

Hope this is of interest.

Kind regards,

Jason

Marc
Marc's picture

As to the specific applications mentioned in Kyohan, I'm sure we all agree that there are more plausible applications to be found elsewhere.

From the rest of the book (especially the section on sparring) I get the idea that Funakoshi was quite practically minded when it comes to training kata applications.

Why then does he give notes on such questionable applications?

Here's two guesses:

Guess 1 - Translation mistake:

This is something that only somebody with an original Japanese copy of the book and the appropriate Japanese reading skills can confirm or reject.

He does give notes on only very few moves. The notes are not given only for the most mysterious or the most obvious moves (in my opinion). In fact I don't see any system in the selection of moves which he gives notes on and which he left without notes. So why did he feel the need to include them at all?

The "applications" are mentioned as little notes within the detailed description of the movements of the kata. His book shows a systematic approach and is very well structured. I think, if Funakoshi had intended to give examples of kata applications he would have added a section on applications, just like he did with explanations of kihon or kumite or throws.

I guess that within all the other detailed descriptions of movements, the "applications" are not ment to be read as actual applications but rather as simple and easy to visualise mnemonics to remember how to do the moves.

Example: We can explain the correct height of a chudan oi-zuki as "directed at the height of the solar plexus of your own mirror image" - or to phrase it differently: "When you do chudan oi-zuki, think like you would punch to the stomach." Now, the actual application of an oi-zuki in kata is probably directed to the head because with the preceding technique we did break our opponents posture so that his head is now at chudan height. But, to simply learn the move this explanation could be much too complex. "To the stomach!" is much quicker and easier to comprehend while doing kihon or kata.

So I guess the "applications" in Funakoshi's kata descriptions might better be read as "practice this motion as if you would..." and not as "here's what the motion is actually used for".

Does that make sense?

Can somebody please check the original text for any clues on whether I might me right or wrong with this theory?

Guess 2 - Historical context

If my first guess fails, here's my fallback guess:

When Funakoshi tried to have karate officially accepted as a Japanese martial art, he needed to market it as something that was missing from the other martial arts. Judo did the throwing and ground work, Jujitsu did the locks and stuff, Kendo had the swords, so the niche that karate could fill was punching and kicking. Hence the association of punching and kicking with karate, although Funakoshi states in Kyohan that "in karate, hitting, thrusting, and kicking are not the only methods; throwing techniques and pressure against joints are also included."

So maybe he sought to give applications in the book that were in line with the marketing of karate as a punching, blocking and kicking art. They might not be the true applications, but they make kind of sense within the punch-block-kick context, and with lots of skill and little luck they could even work.

I really don't feel that Funakoshi put the applications in the book because he thought those were the best examples of what karate had to offer in terms of self-defense.

Looking forward to read your comments about these two guesses.

Marc

ky0han
ky0han's picture

Hi everyone,

Jason Lester wrote:
The term used in Japenese for seeing with your eyes is miru. However, in Bujutsu Karate you must "percieve", the word also being miru but consisting of a different kanji. In other words , you must see with the mind's eye. You will be able to sense the beginning of your opponent's movements by "perceiving "it. Extract from 'The Essence of Bujutsu Karate: Kata

Thank you Jason for posting that. Now I understand where you are coming from. I also think that it is possible to "sense" attacks. If you see whats going on and understand a situation you can guess pretty good if a situation is escalating or not.

With regards of the term "miru" Funakoshi wrote a very important text on that topic. It was published in the Karate Kenkyu Magazine in 1934. Here he explains a calligraphy he made for the Waseda Karate Club. He wrote Seikan which means something along the lines of calm observation. You can find an english translation in McCarthys Tanpenshu book. I don't like that particular translation very much but it is the only english translation of that text that I know of.

In that text he explains that there are 12 kanji for the word miru all meaning to see but with different conotations and why he chose the one he used for Seikan. Then he goes on explaining Seikan and how it is related to the very important concept of Kiai, which is about sensing attacks.

With regards to the Kyohan book Funakoshi is explaining the techniques more than what they are usefull for. He never did Bunkai (guessing what a certain move is for). He learned that from his teachers. Bunkai is a modern thing, back in the days all they did was Kata and Kumite (the application of the Kata moves). And we all agree that block is a bad translation of uke don't we?

Regards Holger

Steve from Watford
Steve from Watford's picture

Interesting debate! For my part I think Funakoshi was the right person, in the right place at the right time. There had been others before him teaching in mainland Japan (Mabuni and Motobu) but it was he who developed the relationship with Kano (a very influential man in Japanese martial arts) and who therefore was in a prime position to develop karate. If you really wanted to see who actually took it worldwide though you'd have to say Nakayama was the man. He developed a lot of the kumite practice you see up and down the dojos and it was his teachings that the likes of Kanazawa etc took around the world. With reference to the original question regarding bunkai, it was said by Motobu that Funakoshi had no idea as to what he was teaching and it is a fact that his knowledge on kata was no where as deep or as wide ranging as Mabuni's (he sent his own son to Mabuni to learn more kata and it is said that Mabuni corrected his, Funakoshis,  Heian kata for him). You also need to ask was it particularly useful at that time to be focusing on the supposed application? Did any of us get into karate because of the bunkai? How do you promote an activity that practises such techniques as joint dislocation, eye gouging, anatomically weak area striking etc, probably not the best way to get folk into the dojo! Given the context at the time he probably felt it was not that important and we must remember a beginner wouldn't have an opinion as to whether something looked bona fide or not. On top of that many of the kata had been changed by this time in order to make them easier to teach so what was left may not have transmitted the original applications very clearly...

Jason Lester
Jason Lester's picture

Sensei Shozan Kubota, a Senior student of Funakoshi, said that Funakoshi while teaching in the day, the training was as much as the same as it is today, Kihon, Kata and Kumite. However, what Funakoshi taught at night to his senior's was completely different as to what he taught in the day.

When asked why this was, the answer was simply that he was not actually supposed to teach it, meaning the true techniques or Bunkai. When Funakoshi taught his students, he taught them kata's they could not use for real. Sensei Kubota also learned from Master Kenwa Mabuni, who also divided his teaching into the "orginal form" and the "other form".

Sensei Kubota goes on to say, there is a well known saying in karate, if you teach kata, , dont teach the actual techniques.

I hope this is of interest.

Leigh Simms
Leigh Simms's picture

Hi All!

Jason Lester wrote:

Hi Leigh and Iain,

Regarding the source for the 'secret pact made', please refer to Gennosuke Higaki's Hidden Karate book, and his Senesi Shozan Kubota.

I have read the book and found some of it to be useful. However, there is no substantial evidence regarding a secret pact. In fact the "secret pact" seems to be a theory created by the Author. 

In Chapter 5, the author writes about a conversation he had with Sensei Shozan Kubota in respect to the teaching he recieved at night from Funakoshi being different to the teaching he recieved in the day time. The author recalls Kubota's response as "Master Funakoshi was actually not suppose to teach it"

From that second hand quote, the author dives into a theory that a secret pact must have been made that kept bunkai from the non-okinawan. So the source isn't that Funakoshi confirmed a secret pact, or that Kubota confirmed a secret pact, it is that the author has concluded there is a secret pact based on the quote above. 

Now the author does go on to try and expan and consider the pact, but the premises he uses are not logical and I believe he falls into the trap of confirmation bias as he is looking for evidence that supports his claims rather than taking an objective view of the facts. 

As Carl Sagan once said "extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence". I think the author fails when it comes down to providing any kind of evidence that supports a secret pact theory. 

Jason Lester
Jason Lester's picture

Hi Leigh, i do totally agree with you there.

unless we can go back in a time machine and relive the early history of karate we will never know for sure about many things.

However, i do believe there was a secret pact made betweem the Okinawan masters at that time as it does make a lot of sense, again that is my own personal belief and of course we will never know for sure.

I only really concern myself with the history of karate from around 1922 when karate was first introduced into Japan, as this is when it was first started to be documented with books etc. Most of the history before that point is pretty much all hear say and extremely hazy, and as my Sensei says, 'once upon a time'. Dont get me wrong i am interested in the early history of karate, however, as i said unless we can go back we will never know, know matter how much continued research we do.

Kind regards.

css1971
css1971's picture

Looking at Tokyo, two schools related to Funakoshi came out of that time; Shotokan (JKA) and Shotokai. They are quite different in approach and syllabus.

Whatever you think of the effectiveness of Shotokai, I see bunkai being practiced, throws, takedowns, use of hikite, use of stance to attack being taught at an early stage. What we know is that the JKA tradition don't do this. Here's a kids grading video. At 1 min 12 there's a couple of red belts demonstrating the use of hikite and the takedown application for shuto-uke in Pinan Nidan then an application for Pinan Sandan. Tai-sabaki.

I don't think it can be said with certainty that Funakoshi didn't teach the applications and principles he knew when he was in Tokyo.

Anthony Ryan
Anthony Ryan's picture

Jason Lester wrote:
Hi Iain, in confused, how can the training and learning opportunities be greater than those on Okinawa where karate was oringinated and developed by such Masters as Itosu and Azato, Matsumura and the like, who were living legends at that time.

Having knowledge and showing fancy moves is one thing, being able to do it for real is another matter.

Hi Jason, 

I'm risking offending here but I think that many martial artists of today know a lot more than those venerable masters you speak of. Inlcuding Iain Sensei.

Ive trained alongside people who have dedicated 40years to karate, in the process a decade or more to Judo or Ju-jitsu etc. Their years of training as grossly outweighed the very masters mentioned. Exposure to information has grossly outweighed these masters also. And modern Sport science theyve been exposed to has grossly outweighed these masters.  Even the UFC has helped. Techniques people thought were sound were proven poor in combat, and thus modified and imporved through trial and error.

Yet these people I speak of always say "I can only hope to be half the karate-ka that XYZ is". 

Humility is a fine quality, and humility keeps us striving to improve. But the reality is, they have taken much of the knowledge of these masters, and gleaned enormous amounts of knowledge from others over the decades and amassed an incredible wealth of knowledge and incredible ability.

In no other sport does this happen. Pele is the great footballer to ever live. The way he carved up the opposition was incredible. But if he hopped in a time machine he would struggle against high school students of today. Times change, we learn and grow. These high school students are better than Pele... because Pele lifted the bar for everyone "A rising tide raises all ships".

The same would apply to tennis, boxing etc.   Roger Bannister broke the 4minute mile (legend) now high school students do it.

I dont think Funakoshi would argue this either. A great teacher expects their students to supercede them in ability and knowledge.

Peichin Takahara suggested Tode Sakugawa go and train with Kusunku.  Seisho Aragaki introduced Miyagi to Higaonna.  Funakoshi did not stop Gigo introducing kicks, altering kata etc. The old realise that young students with the right spirit have the potential to exceed them and dont hold them back.

If you read an article by Jesse Enkamp sensei on the difference between okinawa and Japanese karate, he discusses the Okinawa masters were very big on WHY. As the Japanese were not exposed to this 'why', they focused more on the HOW and as such developed a deeper knowledge of biomechanics. 

I train in Japan regularly and love the HOW. Then I always go spent a couple of weeks in Okinawa to get my WHY fix.  So I get the best of both worlds. Then I go to China and get their take on it all.

"Dont follow in the footsteps of old men, seek what they sought".

Not too long ago Royce Gracie was considered the greatest martial artist on earth. A decade passes and Matt Hughes makes him look like a white belt. Afterwards Matt Hughes (on why he was so calm against Royce) says, "I knew he just didnt have the tools to do anything to me".   It only took a decade for Royce's reportiore to be outdated.  But only because people studied what Royce did and then built upon it. 

Matt Highes was a better grappler (more tools and skill) than Royce... thanks to Royce.  As it should be.

With respect (and certainly no disrespect to any mentioned masters)

Anthony