The Bigger Picture

Someone asked me what was the difference between the Karate kata bunkai we were practicing and the ‘Ju Jutsu’ techniques we covered in class. The answer is very simple…. NONE AT ALL!!! And I shall try to explain why…

… In my previous post I tried to impart that Karate-Do, along with Judo, many schools of Ju Jutsu/Kempo (certainly the version I studied) and numerous other Japanese MA systems are Gendai Budo Ryuha (Modern Martial Way Schools). Have existed in their current forms for a relatvely short time, but most have a long lineage and connection to the Koryu Bujutsu Ryuha (Ancient/Old Martial Art Systems). This is certainly the case for many unarmed styles, most becoming much simplified primarily for safety reasons or specialised for purpose of competition.

Interestingly, most share a common historic legacy. Nearly all concede that their art originated in China! Certainly the history of Karate (and the Ju Jutsu system I studied) tells of Bodidharma (Darma), an Indian Buddhist Priest, who, travelling form India to the Shaolin Temple in China to train the novice monks in meditation and exercise. This would, over many centuries, develop into Shaolin Chuan-fa (Temple boxing method) and eventually emerge on Okinawa as Kempo. There has been some debate as to whether Darma introduced just breathing exercises (becoming Sanchin) or actual fighting skills. I personally believe he did both, and I will attempt to qualify this statement and then come to the point of this article.

More than a thousand years before The Buddha was born, the Greeks developed and documented 3 distinct unarmed combat systems that most modern unarmed MA are based on.
These arts were:

WRESTLING – A combat system allowing throwing, grappling, lock, hold and chokes but no striking (sounds a lot like judo).
PUGILISM – A combat system allowing any striking or blows from both hands and feet but excluding any wrestling techniques (sounds like sport Karate) and finally….
PANKRASE – A no holds barred anything goes all out fighting system (sounds like Vale-Tudo/UFC cage fighting to me).

At that time, the centre of Greek civilisation was based in what is now modern Turkey. These fighting skills spread across the Greko Empire and would of undoubtedly travelled into the Indian sub-continent where they would of blended with indigenous fighting systems that would have also existed at the time. Furthermore, images painted on the walls of the Shaolin Temple depict exponents practising MA, some with dark completions. This further underpins my belief that the fighting arts were ‘imported to’ and not ‘created by’ the Chinese.

Having developed PANKRASE, the Greeks must of realised the value of specialisation, developing WRESTLING and PUGILISM, both complex unarmed fighting systems. So here is my point. After long study of martial arts we ALL become specialists. This may not always be a conscious decision, however we are all very different and will inevitably exploit our strengths. Shihan Lipinski is recognised world-wide for his exceptional impact technology. Shihan Coleman is one of the best kickers I’ve ever seen, having versatility, accuracy and power. I have a natural aptitude for grappling and throwing. So it would be obtuse trying to emulate either of them by refusing to exploit my own advantages.

Ju Jutsu evolved from the same basic fighting art as Karate (Chuan-fa/Kempo of Chinese origin) but was developed to enable an unarmed Samurai to restrain an armed attacker, so the emphasis was on throwing, locking and restraining. All these elements are, if less exploited, within our Karate. Likewise there is striking in Kodakan Judo Kata but this is not part of the general system. These differences might be deemed ‘specialisation’ of universal principles of unarmed combat.

We are all constantly practice the 3 fundamental building blocks of Karate in an orderly and uniformed way.

KIHON – Basic movement and mobility.
KATA – Formal exercises.
KUMITE – Free-fighting practice (within the confines of safety).

But for me the most overlooked fundamental is BUNKAI. The word Bunkai is often miss-translated as the ‘application’ of Karate Kata. An application is an OYHO.

BUNKAI – To comprehend or understand

In modern Ju Jutsu, instead of practising Kata and then learning their content, exponents cut straight to the chase and practice the kata content without performing the Kata. A good example of this approach is best illustrated by Brazilian Ju Jutsu, a hybrid of Kodokan Judo with exceptional ground-fighting techniques. But the outcome of any practice should obtain a similar conclusion.

We have established that BU JUTSU represent the function and BUDO the form of Martial arts. For me, bunkai is the most valuable element of Karate as it connects the form with the function.  I believe form and function are both of equal value and importance within the study of true Karate.

Kata SUPAREMPAI (key Kata of Goju Ryu) is a translation of the Chinese number 108. Hanshi Patrick McCarthy, founder of Koryu Uchinadi explains this number is related to the 108  ‘habitual acts of physical violence’ noted in ancient training manual the ‘Bubishi’. This suggest that the study of karate isn’t really about how hard we can hit or how high we can kick or even how many throws, locks or chokes we can perform. Karate’s true essence is in how well it can teach up to cope with a potential ‘108’ different attacks in order to affectively defend ourselves.

Twenty years ago the Martial arts world was turned upside-down when the UFC cage-fighting championships came into existence. This event matched exponents from every avenue of unarmed MA together in ‘NO HOLD BARRED’ contests. The first 3 championships were dominated and won by Royce Gracie, an exponent of Brazilian Ju Jutsu. What this showed the Martial Arts Community was that all the ability in the world is useless against an opponent who attacks you in a fashion you are unfamiliar with.

BUNKAI, when studied and practised correctly should enable us to understand, and therefore to cope with any kind of attack to minimise personal injury.

This for me is true self defence – true Karate.

Article written by Ben Craft, 5th Dan.

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