The reality is that the head and centre mass inner organs need to be protected through a) movement of the entire body away from the potentially damaging blows, and b) the movement of the head, arms and legs so as to deflect, parry and/or block the incoming blows when the centre of mass cannot be adequately moved out the way. In the case of unarmed blows - the muscle, bone structure and inner connective tissue can be 'toughened' through physical fitness and martial arts training. The potential damage of these unarmed blows can be effectively absorbed by the outer physical and near surface structures of the body - this includes the bone structures and soft structures that comprise the entirety of skull including the mouth, teeth and tongue, etc. These areas can be 'damaged' but will heal given time. When dealing with bladed weapons - as these can penetrate the toughened outer layers and do fatal damage to the inner organs - movement of the centre mass is of a greater concern if no self-defensive weapon is held by the victim.
In this case the legs must be well trained for either minute or substantial (instantaneous) distance adjustment. A damaged leg will still have to move by necessity (hence the importance of squat kicks in all their variants). The upper limbs comprising the arms and hands will have to 'deflect' and/or catch or absorb the thrusts of any incoming bladed weapons that cannot be completely avoided by systemic (evasive) movement. This may involve the substantial damage of these body parts which must be conditioned to perform this function whilst carrying-on moving for the duration of the self-defence encounter. These types of injuries can heal (regardless of severity and any potential or long-term damage). An individual will probably survive broken or cut arms and hands - but will not survive damaged or cut inner organs, arteries or veins, etc, as the medical chances are greatly reduced.
The outer limbs can be sacrificed to protect the inner organs and blood supply vessels which lie across the centre line. There are cases of individuals surviving horrific injuries following attacks from blades weapons – even with severe mi-section laceration damaging and exposing the intestines, severe and deep cuts to the neck area and even limbs hacked-off – providing medical care can be found in time. Chances of survival are enhanced if the individual concerned has some medical knowledge and First Aid experience – as this can stem blood loss and prolong the chances of survival. Of course, traditional Chinese martial arts often involve extensive mental toughness regimen – and it is this attribute that can drive a severely injured individual to a) ‘survive’ a deadly encounter (despite being badly hurt), and b) seek-out assistance despite being isolated or far away from medical help.
Building upon my previous work, I am considering the theory that the various Karate-Do Styles originally possessed 'different' and ‘diverse’ terms for their techniques - as each evolved from its foundational gongfu Style. For instance, traditional Chinese gongfu does not possess the unity or conformity that defines modern (Okinawan) Karate-Do - an attribute which gives Karate-Do an inherent robustness and strength – achieved through the process of removing of diversity. On the other hand, even within Chinese gongfu Forms contained within the same Style - exactly the same movement often possesses a completely different name!
This is often due to a) metaphysical interpretations (linked to TCM) and b) to material practicality. A lower block may be performed with an open hand or closed fist - use the edge, palm or back of the open hand - or the 'Hammer Fist' of closed hand. The contact surface might be the boney areas of the wrist, or the bones of the fore-arm - similar to the 'Iron Arm' training performed in deep Horse Stance with fore-arms and wrists robustly striking one another (this is a Hakka speciality, and we do this from childhood - generating tremendous power when an adult)! I remember performing this type of conditioning within the Goju Ryu Karate-Do Style - only in a higher (Sanchin) Stance. Experts tend to adjust their technique to become like 'water' - which envelops and controls any 'stone-like' techniques!
The metaphysical reasons are far too in-depth to cover in a single article – but what follows is a basic summary. The 'jing' [精] (retained sexual energy) and 'qi' [氣] (breath, food, drink and moral thought) are circulated up the 'Governing Vessel' (督脈 - Du Mai) and down the 'Conception Vessel' (任脉 - Ren Mai) in a continuous microcosmic cycle (小周天 - Xiao Zhou Tian). What the Japanese people renamed the 'Hara' (はら) - or '払 (fan3) in the Chinese language (this ideogram has no immediate metaphysical meaning within the modern Chinese language) - is I believe a reworking of the well-known lower ‘丹田’ (Dan Tian) situated 1.5-3 inches below the navel. The three 'Dan Tian' locations (分 - Fen) are found in TCM as follows:
1) Upper Dan Tian (上丹田 - Shang Dan Tian) - situated in the centre of the forehead (the so-called 'Third-Eye' or 'Yin Tang' [印堂] point [穴 - Xue]) situated on the ‘Governing Vessel’. This is where '神' (Shen) - or 'empty' and 'all-embracing' consciousness is first formed prior to 'expanding' through the body (uniting the three 'Dan Tian') and penetrating the physical environment.
2) Middle Dan Tian (中丹田 - Zhong Dan Tian) - situated around the Solar Plexus (the 'Tan Zhong' [膻中] point) on the ‘Conception Vessel’.
3) Lower Dan Tian (下丹田 - Xia Dan Tian) - situated 15 - 3 inches below the navel - depending upon medical source (the 'Guan Yuan' [关元] point) on the ‘Conception Vessel’.
These three pressure-points all exist upon a unified line of inner energy flow that demarks the ‘Governing Vessel’ and the 'Conception Vessel' situated on the front of body – extending deep into the tissue of the body reaching to the back of the spinal bone. This three-dimensional TCM can be observed at work with the 'Upper Dan Tian' (Governing Vessel) - which is comprised of a three-way link between the exact inner-centre of the brain-mass (泥丸宫 - Ni Wan Gong) and the exact centre-point situated at the top of the skull-bone - the so-called 'Bai Hui (百会) point.
All genuine (traditional) Chinese gongfu is comprised of TCM thinking, methodology and spirituality. Killing, maiming (hurting the opponent's mind and body - either temporarily or permanently) or stopping the opponent without hurting their mind or body - are the physical objectives. As for the spiritual side (which I think is also embedded in the 'Gedan Bara-I' - 'Gedan Hara-I') - this is a complex issue. Gee reminded me that one form of the lower block we practice in our Hakka Family Style is performed on each side of the body - and does not cross the front of the torso at all (and therefore does not traverse the Lower Dan Tian point – or ‘Hara’ in the Japanese language).
The 'Governing Vessel' and ‘Conception Vessel’ ‘connect’ between the roof of the mouth (just behind the front upper-teeth) and is connected to the 'Conception Vessel' via the top of the tongue. Whereas the Upper Dan Tian appears within, upon and around the ‘Governing Vessel’ - the Middle and Lower Dan Tian appear within, upon and around the 'Conception Vessel'. However, the following analysis is a correct correlation of Karate-Do ‘Blocks’ and ‘Dan Tian’ pressure-points:
Jo-Dan (Upper Level) Uke (Block) = Upper Dan Tian
Chu-Dan (Middle Level) Uke (Block) = Middle Dan Tian
Ge-Dan (Lower Level) Hara-I (Block) = Lower Dan Tian
This suggests that the Upper Block (when performed to the immediate front of the body) travels through the Upper Dan Tian. The Middle Block (when performed to the immediate front of the body) travels through the Middle Dan Tian, and the Lower Block (when performed to the immediate front of the body) travels through the Lower Dan Tian.
I have accessed a Japanese language page regarding the 'Dan Tian' and this confirms the link between the Lower Dan Tian and the 'Hara'. The Chinese name for the Lower Dan Tian is '关元' (Guan Yuan) which is rendered into the Japanese language as '関元' (Seki Gen). This is also referred to as 'はら' (Hara) supposedly due to the influence of Zen Buddhist practice - but as a Chinese Ch'an Buddhist myself, I have no idea why this should historically be the case. However, by building upon my earlier work regarding ‘Ge-Dan Bara-I’ (下段払い)’ - if we follow this line of reasoning, the original (or 'early') Karate-Do Blocks could have been called something like this:
Jo-Dan Gindo-I (上段 銀堂 い) = Upper Level 'Gindo' (Upper Dan Tian) Forceful Execute!
Chu-Dan Nichu-I (中段 丹中 い) = Middle Level 'Nichu' (Middle Dan Tian) Forceful Execute!
Ge-Dan Bara-I’ (下段払い) which should read ‘Ge-Dan Hara-I’ = Lower Block 'Hara' (Lower Dan Tian) Forceful Execute!
To arrive at the above speculation - I have 'reversed engineered' the structure of the Lower Block (conventionally and incorrectly rendered into English as ‘Ge-Dan Bara-I’ - [下段払い] - when it should read ‘Ge-Dan Hara-I') into the Middle and Upper versions. I have used Japanese language transliterations of the original TCM designations regarding the Dan Tian points even though I do not know the 'slang' terms for these Japanese words. I say this as I am told that 'Hara' is a slang term for the Chinese TCM language term '关元' (Guan Yuan) [which refers to the Lower Dan Tian point] - which translates as to 'Seal the Source' or 'Stop the Leakage to Strengthen the Foundation'. Traditionally, the Japanese people developed the ritual of 'cutting-open' (Hara-Kiri) this anatomical area as a means of 'releasing' what they thought to be their 'life spirit'. I know of no Chinese cultural equivalent to this practice. The 'Blocking' techniques of Karate-Do, however, serve the exact 'opposite' of this destructive practice – and this is achieved by the Karate-Do Blocks 'protecting' these three energy centres - which are considered vital for the evolution of life!
I was asked a while ago to look into the etymology of the Karate-Do self-defence technique of 'Gedan Barai' - once by a British student (who had attended an advanced Japanese language course as he is a Solicitor) - and again by a Japanese student who was passing through the UK and had visited a few Dojos - saying some 'sounds' of the names of the techniques being used did not seem correct:
My view is that this transmission of culture is a) ongoing (and therefore a continuous process), and b) is a two-way street which must involve forgiveness and understanding. We must all help one another until our mutual understanding is correct. What is interesting is how philosophically different the 'Lower Block' is treated within Karate-Do compared to the 'Middle' and 'Upper' Blocks (which are explained merely as mechanical devices and not associated with the 'Conception Vessel' they pass through)! It is as if the 'Lower Block' is from a very old martial ritual! Finally, I was once told that the 'Lower Block' is not just a 'parry' or 'check' of an incoming attack - but is also a simultaneous 'Hammer-Strike' to the opponent's groin-area. Interesting food for thought.
Dear Tony (Sensei)
Exactly - well said. As you already know (these are really 'Notes' to clarify my own understanding - as I know you know) - real combat is fluid and requires an instantaneous adaptation. My view is that this ability stems from years of experience endlessly repeating the same movement - or patterns of movements (in a disciplined manner) - whilst participating in sparring (or various other types of fighting) - where all this ingrained activity comes out (due to necessity) and manifests in all kinds of weird and wonderful ways!
Usually, simplicity prevails over the complex in such situations defined through 'immediacy' - and much of the modern 'Bunkai' is so very intricate and diverse that I doubt any of it could be realistically applied in the few seconds required to nullify an attack AND take away an opponent's ability to effectively respond. (Whilst holding one of their arms - the opponent still has a head, one arm and two legs free to respond - more than enough to be effective).
When I think back to training with yourself in Hereford and Cardiff (and the Tensho Kata you demonstrated in Sutton) - I remember your weight being firmly 'dropped' (rooted) whilst you also seem to 'float' - like a cork bobbing about on the surface of the water! This manifestation is continuous and effortless whilst being retained whether you are standing still, moving (in any direction) or even sitting down.
From this foundation your arms and legs are 'moved' depending upon the Kata, Basic or exercise being demonstrated. I suppose what you are saying is that modern Bunkai focuses too much upon the movement of the arms and legs - but tends to by-pass (or 'ignore') the need to be 'rooted' and to 'move' properly from this root.
What you say about Miyagi Chojun's attitude toward 'Bunkai' is typical of traditional Chinese gongfu. Many Masters will know one or two 'favourite' applications of the various Form moves - but will always teach that each Form movement has hundreds (or more) applications that should not (and cannot) be limited to a single interpretation.
This being the case, where does the concept of 'Bunkai' come from within Karate-Do? Certainly, there are old photographs of Goju Ryu 'Disciples' in Okinawa applying Kata movements as self-defence - quite often as Miyagi Chojun is looking on. As far as Southern Chinese gongfu concepts are concerned - I am not familiar with the term '分解' (Fen Jie) - which in Cantonese is pronounced 'Fan Gaai' and in Hakka 'Fun Ge'.
However, there are some dialects of Hakka (not that spoken in my family - but in villages further North) - which pronounce '分解' as 'Bun Kiai'. Within the Fujian dialect - '分解' is pronounced 'Hun Kai' or 'Pun Ke', etc. This seems to morph quite naturally into the Okinawan-Japanese 'Bun Kai' - and would suggest the concept spread (linguistically) from South China to Okinawa. Of course, this might not be the case and could suggest the experience was developed in Okinawa (as part of the transmission process) and 'reflected' in the adoption of appropriate sounding 'Chinese' terms.
I would agree fully with Miyagi Chojun - as I teach our family gongfu in just that way. Yes - if asked I can easily explain the purpose behind this or that movement - but it is only through 'practicing' each movement until the human awareness and perception penetrates its fully and its multitudinous (and 'empty') essence is found - that the 'movement' itself is totally comprehended. I was always taught that the ability to sit for long periods of time in cross-legged meditation is the highest expression of all gongfu Forms.
On the other hand, a 'Master Chan' in Malaysia (a 'relative') focused all his life on perfecting just one Form movement - which involves the grabbing hold of a single (attacking) front-kicking leg - and 'breaking' that leg around the 'knee-joint'. He would apply a downward fore-arm (elbow) strike (whilst shifting into a back stance) across bamboo sticks thrust at him by students until one, two or three sticks could be easily broken! Whilst sparring, he would attempt to 'goad' an opponent into 'kicking' whilst skilfully avoiding all over incoming blows. Needless to say, the jungles of Malaysia had a number of permanently 'limping' former opponents!
The 'Ricardo Leite' video is much longer than the average 'snippet' types - and for good reason - as it is designed for an 'extended' (detailed) study (at least on my part). It has took me two or three sessions to view the content completely (over two-days) - but even then - the depth of comprehension has only been at the surface level. On initial inspection there is much subtlety that needs to be carefully 'unpacked' - as they say today! This Goju Ryu Kata 'Bunkai' (分解) looks similar in manifestation to Taijiquan (position, timing and using the opponent's momentum against them).
a) 分 (fen1) - Japanese Kanji also written 'ぶん' (bun) = moment (in time - literally 'a minute'), part and 'to divide' and 'distinguish'
b) 解 (jie3) - Japanese Kanji also written 'かい' (kai) = untie, solve and clarify
By continuous observation, the 'bunkai' process allows for a clarification of over-all understanding - developed by carefully examining the constituent parts. Of course, this is as much a practical matter as it is a theoretical analysis - all dependent upon a (repeated) structured experience.
With regards to the first ideogram of 'Bunkai' (分解):
a) 分 (fen1) - Japanese Kanji also written 'ぶん' (bun) = moment (in time - literally 'a minute'), part and 'to divide' and 'distinguish'
Within the Chinese language - the ideogram 分 (fen1) [bun] is used to denote a single 'minute' (comprised of '60 seconds') - as in 'one minute' of the sixty minutes that comprise one hour! This suggests that there is an element of 'time' contained with the concept of 'Bunkai' (分解) - as if when assessing and applying a movement (or 'set' of movements) - there is an element of 'controlling' or 'altering' the perception of 'time'. This might mean that 'Bunkai' is NOT just the correct interpretation of the physical mechanics of Kata - but is also the metaphysical ability of expertly 'manipulating' how an opponent 'perceives' time. If the passing of time can be successfully 'altered' - then the opponent cannot 'occupy' the space they inhabit properly. When a Master controls the time and space (both within the mind and body and outside the mind and body) - then such an individual becomes 'invincible' in the sense that the direct path to defeating him or her is no longer available to ANY would be opponent!
This is a 'PS' to my earlier 'Gyaku Tsuki' article regarding the Karate-Do 'Lunge Punch' or 'Leading Forward Punch' (追 い 突 き). The last two Japanese ideograms (突 き- Tsu Ki) we may take as read. Therefore 'Oi' (追 い) can be read as follows:
a) 追 (zhui1) - Japanese Kanji (ou) = chase, follow and pursue
b) い (I) - Japanese Hiragana = 'to do' (verb) as in '追い払うこと' (Oi harau koto) or to 'drive something away'
This seems to suggest that an 'Oi Tsuki' is a leading punch which (fluidly) follows the movement of an enemy target (similar to - but not identical with - a Western Boxing 'Jab') - and is used to 'drive' the opponent away! There might also be an implication that this punch 'follows' the opponent and then is 'driven' through their centre of mass using immense 'penetrating' power!
Within the Wado Ryu Karate-Do tradition 'Oi' (追 い) is replaced with the Chinese ideogram '順' (shun4):
1) 順 - Japanese Kanji (also written as 'じゅん') and pronounced 'Jun' - meaning 'order', 'sequence' and 'obedience'
The Chinese ideogram '順' (shun4) is comprised of two constituent particles:
i) Left-hand particle = '川' (chuan1) - river, flow and direction
ii) Right-hand particle = '頁' (ye4) - head, top and beginning
Therefore, the use of '順' (shun4) within the context of a 'Jun Tsuki' - refers to a 'leading' (as 'head' equals 'forward') and 'penetrating' punch (like a torrent of rushing water hitting and overcoming an obstacle) which follows closely the movement of the opponent. However, as with all these concepts - a play on words might be in operation. It could be that a continuously 'flowing' punch strikes at the spiritual and physical origin of an opponent ('driving' through their literal and metaphysical centre, so-to-speak) - thus rendering them useless and unable to respond.
This is interesting when assessing the 'reverse punch'. The (Japanese) Karate-Do term (逆突き) seems to be spelt in English as 'Gyaku Tsuki' and 'Gyaku Zuki' - I have even seen this term presented as 'Giaku Zuki' - the latter in a Japanese language dictionary. This is what I can find:
a) 逆 (ni4) - Japanese (gyaku) - reverse, contrary and opposite
b) 突 (tu) - Japanese (Tsu) - thrust, stab and suddenly (abruptly) move
c) き(ki) Japanese Hiragana ideogram - type, theory, tree, wood and indicator
With regard to the Hiragana 'き' (ki) ideogram - in Katakana it is expressed as 'キ' (ki) - an ideogram used to transliterate foreign terms into the Japanese language - particularly those of Southern Min origin. This concept seems to mean 'reverse thrust type' or 'reverse thrust technique'.
Goju Ryu Self-Defence
However, as there may be a play on words in operation here, it could be that 'gyaku tsuki' means that the power of this technique is gained through the agency of 'moving quickly' - and then 'suddenly stopping' stock-still - perhaps 'solid' and 'unmovable' like a 'tree'!
I think the Chinese language title of this video states that this is a 'Japanese' video investigating the connection between 'blocking' - and what this means with regard to 'Budo' practice:
Budo and 'Uke'
a) 受 (shou4) - most often pronounced 'uke' in the Japanese language when used in relation to Karate-Do practice.
This is often translated as 'blocking' in modern English - but literally means to 'receive', 'accept' and to 'withstand' (as in to 'bear the unbearable'). Even within modern Japanese dictionaries - this ideogram is interpreted as only to 'receive' (with no other meaning). (Other pronunciations include 'shu', 'zu' and 'ju', etc, all depending upon context of usage).
The ideogram 受 (shou4) is comprised of 'three' (3) particles:
1) Upper Particle = 爪 (zhao3) - claw, talon, paw - also to 'grip'
2) Middle Particle = 凡 (fan2) - flat plate, dish and common-place object
3) Lower Particle = 又 (you4) - right-hand, repetitive and 'as well as'
Therefore, when all this is assembled and the ideogram 受 (shou4) is formed - the idea is constructed which suggests a 'hand' (爪) is 'passing' a plate to another 'hand' – in other words 'something is being handed over' from one person to another. This is interesting as it suggests that the concept of 'blocking' within Karate-Do cannot be limited to the English translation of 'to block' - as in 'one force deflects another' - and must involve a far more interactive and holistic process where 'attacker' and 'blocker' are united at some deeper level not revealed by the translated term 'to block'.
Shifu Adrian Chan-Wyles (b. 1967) - Lineage (Generational) Inheritor of the Ch'an Dao Hakka Gongfu System.