Defense to the Defense by Harold Wisner
Like many of us, I love Kata. I love practicing kata, I love studying kata, and I love teaching kata. Especially since teaching leads to the highest level of learning when the purpose is more than mere rote memorization of information. Over the last the decade or so, most likely thanks to modern technology, the focus on studying kata rather than memorizing kata has really taken hold. For far too many years, training for the purpose of rank or for competition has overshadowed the origin purpose of self-preservation and transcending the knowledge to do so. As a youth training in the early eighties, I was conditioned to believe that the more kata we knew, the more knowledge we knew, to never go to the ground, period, and with time, dedication, and practice, all the “secret techniques” will reveal themselves. With time and research I learned, more is not always better, needing to know how to handle one’s self from the ground is essential, and the idea of “secret techniques” was really a fallacy. Unfortunately, my early instructors didn’t fully understand the vast application of kata for themselves. They were only teaching what was taught to them, I cannot blame for that. We do as we know how to do, when we know better, we do better.
Now, at this point, there are some common truths that we can agree on and don’t need to be addressed in detail.
1. Kata is not a complete fight rather a complete fighting system.
2. Kata, without addressing application from multiple directions and ranges limits its depth of knowledge.
3. And, unless joint locking, throwing, and choking techniques are understood independently from kata, it is very unlikely that a practitioner will ever see them within kata.
The latter probably being the most common shortcoming of kata training throughout the Twentieth Century. I am sure there are many more that can be listed, but that is not our purpose. I myself did not start fully understanding kata until I stepped outside of the limitations of what I was told was “Traditional Okinawan Karate.” The more I studied other arts, i.e. Jujutsu, Aikido, Kenpo, and others, the more I began to feel what I have always been doing in kata but never knew it. The understanding of motion became more important than studying techniques by their labels. The range that kata was to be applied also took on a whole new meaning. While we studied spearing and gouging techniques as long range strike, in reality, contact with the target was often made before the thrusting of the technique occurred, such as to the eyes, or was done to slip between body parts such as under an arm or behind a head. It also became apparent that most techniques had many more points of contact than what I was originally taught and no movement was a wasted or preparatory movement. The list goes on. The moral of the story, unless all these concepts are taught in conjunction with the memorization of kata, the study of kata will never reach its potential. Simply put, there is a art and science to reading kata. I know I am not the first to address these, but we all come to similar conclusions through different paths. The goal of our karate community is, after all, to make all this common knowledge and to help the evolution of the art.
There is, however, one aspect that I have yet to see addressed, granted I have not read everything out there so maybe it has. That concept is of kata teaching the defense to the defense. If we can agree that kata teaches locks, throws and takedowns, and submissions, and that kata is a complete fighting system, would it not be rational to believe that kata also directly or indirect teaches the defenses to those exact same techniques that kata teaches us to apply. This, in part, is the same rationale that brought me to believe grappling was/is an essential aspect of karate and kata training. If kata teaches to throw to the ground, would it not also teach what to do if thrown?
When it comes to concepts and principles, many can be utilized either from standing or grappling positions. But what about specific applications? The purpose of this is not teach specific reactions to application in kata, but to introduce the idea of viewing kata from the perspective of the uke. Next time you cover a lock, throw, takedown, or submission within your kata, pause for a second and see if the defense to the defense can also be extracted whether from the same kata or another kata. Bunkai cannot be done from a fundamentalist approach to the study of kata, it is a process and sometimes we have to step “outside” of the kata to see its depths. in this case literally. I would have never seen a fraction of what karate has to offer if I would have stayed within the confines of what I was originally taught as karate. Bunkai is an investigation, a reverse-engineering of a schematic whose exact original intention will never be known. With the use of guidelines on how to read kata, there really are no limitations on what knowledge can be extracted with an open mind as long as the results are practical, versatile and quick, easy, and effective to execute. No matter what the situation, somewhere, in some kata, the solution can be found.