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Thread: Shotokan's Secret

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    Default Shotokan's Secret

    I'm glad to see the forum back online. I missed it.

    To get a discussion going, I will post the following comments and ask the members to respond with their views and analysis.

    I recently finished Bruce Clayton’s book on Shotokan, entitled “Shotokan’s Secret,” which proposes a radical re-interpretation both of the history of this style and of the kata bunkai. Whether you agree with Clayton or not, the book deserves study and discussion.

    Clayton’s postulates that hard style, linear karate, as developed by Matsumura and passed down to Azato, Itosu, and eventually Funakoshi, was not intended as a general system of self defense. Rather, it had a limited and specialized purpose: as a combat system for the unarmed bodyguards surrounding and protecting the 19th century Okinawan kings. According to Clayton’s analysis, the kata were created or adapted from older versions to address the specific problems Matsumura expected the king’s bodyguards to face.

    Clayton argues that the kata should be looked at first with regard to the environment that the bodyguards faced. He suggests that the main challenge the bodyguards faced was an attempt to seize the king’s person, so the guards trained to accomplish two things. First, they trained to evacuate the king from his immediate location. Second, they trained to fight in a crowd of hostiles (either Satsuma samurai or Western sailors, who frequented Okinawa in the 19th century before the opening of Japan to the West by Perry) so that evacuation could occur. Clayton contends that these two imperatives explain why kata takes the form it does and contains its specific movements.

    For instance, in tekki, Clayton argues that this kata represents the method of defending the king or another high official who is behind the bodyguard, often against a wall. (Dillman rejects this view.) One fights outnumbered against attackers until the principle can be spirited away, usually up a staircase.

    The other kata represent the techniques to be used by those not immediately with the principle. Clayton argues that those bodyguards not immediately with the principle were expected to wade into any hostile group and strike down as many as possible, creating confusion and delay, until the “extraction” team removes the principle. At that time, the delay team withdraws. Combat by the delay team is marked by rapid movements from one attacker in the crowd to another. Attackers receive one or two blows which are intended to be debilitating but not necessary fatal or long-lasting in effect (although they could be both). Because the defender is surrounded and attacked from all sides, he does not have the luxury of giving much attention to any single attacker. He must strike hard and move on. Thus, the emphasis on the one-punch knock down and the rather reckless firing of techniques without much heed to one’s own safety. As a bodyguard, however, one is not interested in one’s own personal safety, but that of the principle.

    Clayton proposes that the kata should be studied with these “bodyguard” factors in mind. He starts by speculating what techniques a bodyguard in the Okinawan throne room of Shuri castle, the most likely venue for combat, would need to carry out his mission. He comes up with an extensive list which includes breaking out of various holds and chokes, defeating attempts at tackles, rapidly shifting from one opponent to another, rapidly clearing a path through enemies, snatching enemy weapons, and dropping enemies quickly with a minimum of blows.

    He goes on to suggest a number of bunkai for the kata based on this evaluation. Many of them I have not seen before. Some of them are rather startling and, once you see them, they seem obvious and you want to hit yourself in the head for not having thought of them already. For instance, the mysterious and odd opening to Heinan Nidan is explained not as two simultaneous blocks (outward and rising) but as a neck twist to defeat an attempted tackle followed by a hammer fist to the attacker’s head. I have tried this bunkai and it is sweet. The movements exactly match the kata. It is a far more satisfying bunkai than the lame double-block, arm break sequence which is usually taught (or is in my system and as shown to me by one of Chosei Chibana’s students). In another example, Clayton suggests that the opening move in kanku dai, when you’re “viewing the sky,” is not a passive meditation but actually a break to a double wrist grab. In a third, he suggests that that weird opening to bassai dai is also a break to a double wrist grab. I’ve also tried both of these and they work as described. There are others equally as surprising and effective.

    Clayton concludes by speculating why Azato and Itosu did not pass down the bunkai to Funakoshi. As bodyguards to the king, they were preparing the next generation of guards should the king, who was taken into exile in Japan 1879, return to Okinawa. But they were pledged to secrecy and because the trainees were not sworn bodyguards, Azato and Itosu could not tell them what the techniques were for because that would have broken their vow of silence. But the last Okinawan king died in 1901, releasing them from their vow. The following year, Itosu took karate public, but by then, when the bodyguarding aspect of karate was not longer needed, he had become convinced of the “do” nature of karate and taught it as a “do” rather than a combat ryu.

    I am not an expert, or even more than moderately informed on Okinawan or karate history, so I am not sure if Clayton has his facts right. However, his view that the kata should be interpreted as containing far more than just blocks and punches really resonates. His explanations of some of the katas’ weird moves as grapples, rings true, for they work when you try those he has suggested (or at least the ones I have tried make sense). Moreover, the theory explains many of the puzzling aspects of the kata, such as why so many techniques (like the various kicks) which are effective in self defense are missing and why we so often block in two directions at once. Clayton suggests that Matsumura deliberately eliminated all the techniques he believed would not be useful in the specialized environment of the Shuri bodyguard. They may still have been practiced by other Okinawan karateka, but they do not appear in the Shotokan kata because they were not required by the king’s bodyguards. So Clayton’s thesis is deeply intriguing, even if it may be flawed or untrue.

    Because I am no expert on this area, I invite participants of this forum who are more knowledgeable in Okinawan and karate history -- or anyone who has read Clayton’s book -- to weigh in. I’d like to read your opinions, analysis, and criticism.

    Thanks.

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    I think the entire premise is faulty. I believe that the early masters were just as smart as today's experts, and that they designed kata to teach principles of movement and fighting, not for specific scenarios.

    Jeff Cook
    Wabujitsu

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    I agree.
    Also there are several bunkais to Heian Nidan opening (Pinan Shodan to me) some of which are not double blocks, but two different techniques.
    So ther are many different interpretations.
    While your application (or Clayton's) may not with without merit, how he comes about the history is suspect at best.
    Tony Urena

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    I agree that in general karate was not intended as a general self defense:

    Pat McArthy also holds a similar view. One of the most logical arguements he has come up with is that only the "elite" would have had time to train to the extent that was required for mastery. Most of the great masters were well to do officials or of well to do families.


    I have several questions regarding weather or not it was specifically for the kings bodyguards.

    1. Why wouldnt they have had weapons?

    2. Tacticlly having your body guards "wade into the mass" is not good, keeping them together as a unit would make the most sense and would infact follow the japanese philosophy of combat. Having them strike out into the mass, splitting a unified group of their own warriors, is quite contradictory to how the japanese fought in general. How did this come about?

    The misconception of Tekki:

    I have studied Tekki, Nihanchi, Nifanchi and from several styles over the last 25 years. Many people teach that it is against a wall. The problem with this theory is that at mid point in the kata you face an assailant square on, totally contradictory to 90% of the teachings of okinawan karate. This theory would have you fighting someone fighting you as you stood in an exposed stance, those that use horse stance, in a stance that has the least amount of balance in that particular position. If we see this kata as teaching a transitional stance, something to move in and out of quickly that generates power and reach, it makes, in my humble opinion, more sense.

    I didnt want to get this thread on a binge about Tekki, but to me it is an extremly misunderstood kata. To me the "wall " theory, is a beginner level understanding of this kata, used to emphasize a straght line series of movements. It is equivalent to saying that Chinto is only designed to fight on a 45* angle because in some styles that is how it starts, and it continues on this line for the rest of the kata. Some styles do chinto straight on some on the angle, I beleive that all kata need to be worked in all directions, the basic layout is not the determining factor nor is it intended to set limitations.

    It is an interesting theory, I must admit I have not read the book, but a response based on your thread start, leaves me wondering where this information was gained from.

    Mike O'Leary
    Old Dragon

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    I have read the book, actually the author very kindly sent me a copy. I am with Mr. O'Leary on this one. Why would the bodyguards ned to be unarmed? Actually if you were developing a bodyguard art to operate in the way the book describes I think the prime option would be to use two fairly heavy knives, along the lines of the Wing Chun butterfly knives. The attacking group could wade into the enemy slashing and hacking to cause maximum damage and disruption while the close protection group moved the king to safety using knives etc to cut their way to safety.
    I find the argument ingenious but not convincing.
    Harry Cook

  6. #6
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    Quote Originally Posted by Harry Cook
    I have read the book, actually the author very kindly sent me a copy. I am with Mr. O'Leary on this one.
    1) Why would the bodyguards ned to be unarmed? Actually if you were developing a bodyguard art to operate in the way the book describes I think the prime option would be to use two fairly heavy knives, along the lines of the Wing Chun butterfly knives. The attacking group could wade into the enemy slashing and hacking to cause maximum damage and disruption while the close protection group moved the king to safety using knives etc to cut their way to safety.
    I find the argument ingenious but not convincing.
    Harry Cook
    1) I think the Bo was the weapon used by guards at that time, possibly swords of some variety when there was no weapons ban.

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    Yes the bo, swords etc seem to have been used. I think the initial problem with the karate as a bodyguard art idea is that the myth that the Okinawans were disarmed has been accepted for so long. It is fairly obviois from various sources that the Okinawans had access to various kinds of weapons and also had the skills and material to manufacture weapons should the need arise.
    Harry Cook

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    Quote Originally Posted by Harry Cook
    Yes the bo, swords etc seem to have been used. I think the initial problem with the karate as a bodyguard art idea is that the myth that the Okinawans were disarmed has been accepted for so long. It is fairly obviois from various sources that the Okinawans had access to various kinds of weapons and also had the skills and material to manufacture weapons should the need arise.
    Harry Cook


    Since we are talking about bodyguards for the king, we have to assume he was in power at the time, this means that the japanese were not occupying the country at the time and there fore there was no weapon ban. As to weather they used sword or bo, think about it. Given a choice would you use a snub nose 38 with 6 rounds or a glock with 14 rounds if you were guarding the king? Better yet if you were king what would you want your body guards using?

    Mike O'Leary
    Old Dragon

  9. #9
    Jason Ward Guest

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    Dear: Jay

    In order to fully understand the meaning and the purpose of your forms, I would suggest to any or all of you practicing forms, to stop looking for the answers to come in your Bunkai. This method will not lead you to understanding knowledge and wisdom. I have heard these statements over the last twenty years that continuously recycle the dogmatic myth of Bunkai. Naihanchi was not made to simulate fighting against the wall, and just because someone comes up with a “new” application to your forms does not mean he has achieved understanding and wisdom. It merely means he came up with another interpretation.

    For most of my career I would have agreed with you on the subject of Bunkai. I remember coming up with applications after applications, and I remember writing articles much like this one. Please bare this in mind, I am not writing this to dismiss what you are trying to do here, but rather I would like to help you in your quest to understanding what it is you are doing with your particular martial art. I was once there myself, and it was not until I moved past the Bunkai myths, that I was able to expand my universe and begin to really understand what we are doing.

    There are so many historical factors that have not been introduced by this book, or by many of the people that either support or denounce it. History must not be looked at as linear, but rather from all angles possible. True historical research looks more like a spiders web, than a straight and “official” time line.

    I would encourage you move past this approach to understanding your forms. Anyone can postulate a theory, and use Bunkai applications to support that theory. This approach is identical to stating that crops circles were made by alien Ba Gua stylists.

    If you would like to explore these possibilities, please feel free to contact me here or personally at: heavenlydragon@rogers.com
    Thank you for your time.

    Jason Ward

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    Jason:

    I think that what you are talking about is what we are already doing. This thread was a comment on a book and a theory and if you look closely I think that the dicussion of weather or not Nihanchi is designed to fight against a wall is already started. Perhaps starting another thread to dicuss the relationship of kata and bunkai is in order. Inviting people to contact you off the thread is halting that side of your view on this forum. Why not have the dicussion on the forum?

    MOderator!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! perhaps if Jason is willing his note is good to start another thread?


    MIke O'Leary
    Old Dragon

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    To restate what I said before (and in support of Jason) the form is not learned for the form's sake, but rather to understand and own the principles. Principles are formless in application, but a representation of a principle can be expressed through forms. The bottom line is form does NOT equal principle. Principles need to be expressed (in combat) in a "free-form" or "formless" way. Coming up with multiple bunkai (which does have value) still only applies even more structure to what should be an unstructured (formless) expression of principle during combat.

    Sorry if that sounds convoluted! Structure IS good, but it must be expressed through formlessness when it is really needed, as in a life-or-death situation....

    I have a headache now.

    Jeff Cook
    Wabujitsu

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    The Satsuma never really had an army of occupation controlling Okinawa - there were a number of samurai administrators but in general the government was in the hands of the Okinawans, but they were in a form of feudal relationship with the satsuma overlords. It suited the Satsuma to allow the appearance of dual sovereignty - their were trade benefits with China etc.
    Harry Cook

  13. #13
    Jason Ward Guest

    Default An object in Motion...

    Greetings:

    We could start another thread, but I think for continuity’s sake it would be better to simply continue what has already been put in motion. We could start many threads but all those roads would eventually lead to a very familiar location.

    What this forum can be used for is an educational academy where much growth can happen. I would say lets do it here now! The discussion here is not about whether or not Naihanchi was created to fight against a wall, but rather on the origins and purposes of the forms themselves. My initial statement is to change the direction of the focus from what the forms were used for but rather why the forms were used.

    I think Jeff put it simply when he said:

    “The form is not learned for the form's sake, but rather to understand and own the principles. Principles are formless in application, but a representation of a principle can be expressed through forms.”

    This is of course, 100% true. But if we take this approach to the topic at hand the questions and answers will change course. Many researchers are trying to understand the origin and purpose of the forms, because they do not fully understand them. In this case, the author has taken the body guards to the Okinawan Kings, and used this as a basis for his understanding the bunkai of the forms. My argument would be that you could take any aspect of Okinawan Society and use applications to support your theory. This of course is linear research and not what I mentioned earlier.

    I would suggest that one should look at the inherent principles within those forms, (that support the laws of nature), and then begin to look at the transmission of those forms from one cultural society to another. Taking into consideration the environment, Sociological patterns of that time, and of course the individuals mentioned, we can explore this idea more fully. Since the book is about Shotokan, why don’t we take a form from Shotokan and perform this experiment right here and now, and dissect it.

    If you would prefer to move this to another thread I understand, but I do think it will do more justice to remain here, so others can follow easily.

    Also, I must state that my invitation to private emails stills stands, but it was not intended to remove the subject from the forum, sometimes, emails work better for me, than to check the various forums which I connect with.

    Yours in the arts

    Jason.

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    There are some points of interest in the book.

    But it mostly poorly reasoned and poorly supported.

    Take this as just one example, if someone "really" wants to use the "bodyguard" concept.
    Why have the king meet the western barbarians at all?

    They have no clue as to whom the king is, nor what he looks like--why not just dress up the royal food taster as the king?
    Solves all kinds of problems with one stroke.

    Makes just as much sense as the authors assertions.


    Chris Thomas

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    Quote Originally Posted by Old Dragon
    Since we are talking about bodyguards for the king, we have to assume he was in power at the time, this means that the japanese were not occupying the country at the time and there fore there was no weapon ban. As to weather they used sword or bo, think about it. Given a choice would you use a snub nose 38 with 6 rounds or a glock with 14 rounds if you were guarding the king? Better yet if you were king what would you want your body guards using?

    Mike O'Leary
    Which weapons ban are we talking about? The one that the Japanese "supposedly" started or the one the Okinawan King started 100 years before the Japanese arrived?
    Either way, the Okinawan kings still remained in existence until I believe the 1800s.

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