‘Multiple applications’ and similar BS

In Uncategorized on December 14, 2012 by poetryincode0

Once again, I found myself watching a fellow demonstrating applications of a form. He said “Ok, so this can be a simple punch…” “Or it can be this armbar…..or that…or this…”

I remember myself thinking: Heck, if I created a form, I wouldn’t want people to put ‘this or this or that’ on top of my movement!

Why? Simple: If there is one movement  that is interpreted as several application, naturally, some of these applications will be good, others will be substandard, while the rest will be truly horrific (as was the case with the above gentleman). There is simply no way on Earth to
create an ‘universal’ movement, that could only be interpreted as several top-notch techniques; in this system, the onus of distinguishing good application from a bad one lies entirely on the practitioner!

And please, don’t give me any of that ‘every technique is good’ crap. It is simply not true, as any practitioner of styles where they actually fight can attest to. For example, crossing ankles while holding back mount is simply wrong – you just don’t do it. It is specially THIS KIND of knowledge that a martial art should teach you. Yet, under the above model of ‘every movement has multiple application’, it is actualy YOU who has to know the insider information about the techniques; the founder of the form just supplies the movement! Talk about paying a full price for a cheap seat.

If forms are good for something, they should teach you the ONE RIGHT WAY to do the technique; not myriad of techniques, hodgepodge of good and bad, with only you having to distinguish (and actually having to learn them elsewhere!)

Let me give you an example: If I come to conclusion that certain movement of kata means a hip throw, I want to be sure that somebody put a LOT of thought into that application; that it is the best thing I can do in the situation of the kata.

I certainly don’t want to know that this movement can be a punch if he stands in front, a throw if he’s behind me, drawing a gun if he stands 20 feet away, and a force field generation if he’s on the surface of the moon firing laser at me! Such a ‘universal’ movement doesn’t exist, so I am probably getting away with a substandard solution.

Moreover, if I have to study judo to find out whether I could or could not throw him in such a situation – what the hell is the kata good for? 
At the core of the problem lies this dilemma:

Would you rather listen to a good interpretation of Mozart, or to an improvisation by some pupil
straight out of music school?

‘Multiple application’ people choose the later; Mr. Mozart just provides the notes, and the pupil rearranges them and improvises as he sees fit.

On the contrary, I say that while these pupils might be very nice guys, there is very little probability they have something better going on than Mozart had. So please, save the improvisation for your parents, I want the real deal.


5 Responses to “‘Multiple applications’ and similar BS”

  1. Pretty good article–problem is that the whole “one size fits all” POV is limited.

    You mention “Mozart” quite a bit—but there are 1000’s of MA teachers and very, very, very, few of them are “Mozart.”

    Sure, probably would not want to re-work “Mozart” but does that really apply to Bob the sloppy, overweight dude in the chartruse gi?

    From a practical standpoint–say some dude (assuming its a dude teaching) is 5’2 and I stand 6’1–or vice-versa, is it a good idea to presume that his applications are going to be the same as mine? Or is it a safe bet that “some” alterations are going to be needed?

    I used to wrestle in HS and college–I stand 6’1 and weight 250 lbs and lift weights–so many of “my” applications push closing with the opponent and going to the ground—-you think its a good idea to teach that to a 90 lbs, 5-1 person?

    Like I said–good article but its a bit one sided.

    • Hello. I apologize for taking so long to reply. I guess we don’t quite understand each other.

      I hope we agree that you cannot get from kata something that was never put in there. So if you ‘discover’ an application of kata, there are two possibilities:

      1)The application was created by the original author of the kata (the ‘Mozart’, if you will), based on HIS experience,knowledge and skill.
      2)The application was created by YOU by free improvisation upon the movements, based on YOUR experience,knowledge and skill. (Note that this is not a ‘kata application’; it is a technique you created yourself, based upon your knowledge.)

      Now the question must be: Which is more relevant(better), your knowledge or the knowledge of the author of the kata? I usually believe that the creator of kata knew more about fighting than me, so I choose option 1).

      But what if, as you say, you know more about fighting, or you have different body type from the one the original techniques were designed for, or perhaps you have an injury etc? Well, then you have to choose and design your own techniques,as you said. BUT it doesn’t make sense to design them ‘on top of’ the kata! If the original applications doesn’t suit you, why do you think the movements that code them will? Improvisation over techniques you do not intend to use only constrains you needlessly.

      In the situation you describe, the kata only hinders you, because it forces you to use movements that you don’t want to use in the first place. The ‘little’ alternation would probably mean changing the whole kata. Or, using suboptimal movements in your technique just because you want to conform to (now completely unrelated) kata.

      Is it more clear?

      As for me: Just as I don’t teach people techniques not suited for them (for example, I generally don’t teach 120lbs guy power throws), I don’t teach people kata that are not suited (applications-wise) for them. If my concern is fighting effectivity, it is a waste of time to teach the 120lbs guy Kururunfa 😉

  2. Sorry for the long delay.

    I see your point….I tend to agree–in part. But not my place to to judge–your methodology quite likely works well for you.

    As a general question: As many of the kata are quite old and for most of them we have no idea whom actually created them–how do you know what exactly the “orignal applications” were supposed to be?

    I look at the variations of say Seisan and I wonder if anyone is teaching the “original” application at all.

    How is a student to know?

    • I guess the most important thing is to understand and admit that we do not understand kata(the way it is commonly taught). That is the starting point; only then we may start looking for the right answer; until then we are deluding ourselves. The worst thing people (yes, including the masters) do is that they claim to understand kata. If you are able to admit that you do not understand, you are already a step ahead.

      Certainly, that is where I started – I admitted that all I was taught about kata was wrong and started with a clean slate.

      About what to do with it, there are two parts to the answer.

      First, what sense does it make to improvise fighting techniques over something we do not understand? None. It is a pure ‘cargo cult’ – doing something we do not comprehend and hoping it will work because somebody in the past said it worked.

      Second, can we find out the original applications(sans parentheses, please)? If I thought it impossible, I’d say we should completely abandon kata(see previous point). It is certainly not an easy task; it is a scientific work like any other (say, archeology), involving comparison, elimination, study of related sources. It is not for everybody.
      But kata are creations of men; so there is a hope another man will understand them, provided he has enough information about what the creators intended to pass on,their background.
      Of course we can never be 100% sure. But that is not such a tragedy, as you cannot be 100% sure about almost anything (certainly not about the past). But in my experience, once you find the correct key to this or that kata, things start to sort of click together; they start to MAKE SENSE!

      When I started researching kata several years ago, that was my dream – knowing WHY exactly kata contains this movement and not some other movement. Now, at least for some kata, I know.

      I am glad you mentioned Seisan, as this is one of my favourite kata; and it will also be a good example of what I am talkng about. One of the things that I was surprised to find out was that all the common versions of Seisan (shorin, goju, uechi) contain the same original applications – of course, coded differently and with slightly different emphasis, but the essence is the same. But that is only obvious after you know what the original applications are! Otherwise, the Seisans seem very unrelated.

      To me, that is a nice indicator that the people who derived the several versions of Seisan UNDERSTOOD. They understood what the applications are supposed to be. They just changed the details according to their preferences. And now, people claim that there are 3(or more) different Seisan kata. There are not!
      Moreover, if you view Seisan on the level of (original) applications, you will see it has a specific ‘character’ (I called it ‘theme of kata’ previously on this blog), that distinguishes it from other kata.

      Of course, you might not believe me and I do not blame you; there are too many Messiahs on every corner 😉

      [PS: It is sometimes said that the masters of old guarded their fighting ‘secrets’, so that they would not get into the hands of irresponsible (“outside”) people. They only revealed the true teachings to a handful of their ‘inside students'(uchi deshi); that means that what the majority of students got was crap (or at least, not the real thing). From that point of view, kata are very successful – ‘outside people’ still do not know anything. Now, are you student of an uchi-deshi, or of an ‘outsider’? ;-)]

  3. Make’s sense.

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