The New Dojo Currency

By: Sensei Steven Walley – IOGKF England EGKA

Bunkai, something that among many styles is now open to experimentation and interpretation, but that is perhaps killing our traditional standard Bunkai. Sensei Roy Flatt – IOGKF 7th Dan has taken action with his students introducing a system to make sure we never lose our roots – the new Dojo currency...

(Note: The word "Bunkai" is used several times during the following article. This is a Japanese word referring to the analysis of the set movements in kata. Kata is the performance of a set form, all of it's movements having a meaning. These bunkai are a way that martial arts students are able to disassemble a kata and then look at it's component parts, then reassembled into small fighting simulations to be used in pre-arranged sparring simulations with a training partner. The extraction of a set of techniques from a given kata is a common practice in many styles of martial arts, including Goju-Ryu karate-do which this weblog is about. There are many styles of martial arts throughout the world and many of them include several kata. In these styles the kata are thought by many to be the place where one will find the essence of the style, referred to as Gokui.)

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Tonight's class at Childwall Dojo here in Liverpool tonight focused upon a few subjects; sparring drills (combinations on pads), kata practice (Kururunfa kata for black belts of 3rd dan and over) and finally the session concluded with a special "3 man attack" variant of bunkai. This 3-man attack is especially designed to make the most of the practical nature of Kururunfa kata, taking advantage of a sequence of movements where one person is attacked by two assailants at the same time; they are placed into a "Full Nelson" wrestling-style headlock by an assailant from behind, then attacked straight away by a 2nd assailant from the front who attempts to kick the target in the groin and then punch them in the face in quick succession. This is all acted out as though it is was one single flowing attack, hence the need for three people training together as partners. It would be interesting to make a recording of the sequence and embed a copy of it here on this blog for you to see what I am referring to... I will see what I can arrange.

Toward the end of the lesson Roy Flatt Sensei called all of the senior dan grades together to give us a lecture regarding kata bunkai. He is quite concerned of late about the way that some of the applications are being transmitted from himself to his senior students, and then onward down the sequence from student to student. To put it bluntly, Sensei is not happy that he is spending an exorbitant amount of his time, money and energy these days travelling around the world (to Okinawa, China and all around Europe) to train with his own instructor, Morio Higaonna Sensei, and then when he returns home to Liverpool armed with updated kata information that information is not then being disseminated down the ranks in a uniform fashion. In simple English: We are being told the official kata bunkai straight from The Source but we are then being seen by our instructor to be handing down false or corrupted versions of this information. For some reason we are not fully taking on board the new information that we are being given from a very reputable source, which I am sure you must agree kind of makes a mockery of the student/teacher relationship system.

To say that he is not impressed is an understatement. Sensei had 8 or 9 of us gathered together (all 3rd degree black belt and above) as he explained the new dojo rules regarding the passing of kata bunkai - the most precious of Goju-Ryu information. Bunkai are the essence of the Goju-Ryu style, they are the fighting applications of the kata that have been handed down from our style's Founder. Although each individual bunkai is possible to be interpreted in many different ways (one individual bunkai may indeed have several different variations, known as Oyo bunkai) Sensei has been shown during his recent trips to train with Higaonna Sensei - and with our country's Chief Instructor, Ernie Molyneux Sensei - that there are a set version of each kata bunkai which are to be taught to students in a precise manner. These are especially important to get right, not to be altered or confused - even getting a single block wrong will mean that the bunkai becomes a variant. Teaching variant bunkai is fine - providing that the student also knows the correct syllabus version of the bunkai first and foremost. Sensei was very forceful in letting us know that he is becoming tired with having to explain to us, his senior students, how the bunkai should be performed. "You should know this now," he told us. "I've told you enough times!" He compared the passing of incorrect bunkai from senior student to junior student as being like passing a virus through the dojo. This act is something that happens needlessly and can prove to be very difficult to correct.

Now we have been told that a new "Currency" for information exchange is to be imposed at out dojos (Childwall and Heswall). The new dojo currency is going to be paid in push-ups. If a junior-graded student is unsure of a particular bunkai and they then turn to a senior-graded student to ask for counsel, that person is then expected to know the correct syllabus bunkai and tell the junior student the proper way to perform it. If the senior student is unsure, that is fine - they must then tell the junior student "Ah, I am not 100% sure on that one - Stay right there, let me go and clarify that with Sensei." They are then to go directly to Sensei Roy and ask to be shown the correct bunkai to be demonstrated. It is at that point that they will have to "pay" for this knowledge transfer - the cost is 50 push-ups, to be performed then and there. Once they have paid the fee, Sensei will show them the bunkai. The senior student then goes ahead and shows the lower grade student the bunkai.

This is not all however. The real stinger is going to occur if Sensei Roy should ever see a senior student demonstrating an incorrect bunkai to other lower graded students. This is now what Sensei calls "a federal wrap", the most severe form of in-dojo crime. The student performing the incorrect bunkai then has to "pay" a fine of 1,000 push-ups. Again, this is performed there and then, until the fine is paid in full.

The first instance of the new rules being meted out happened at Heswall Dojo yesterday (Feb 29) when a 3rd dan student was unsure whether the 1st bunkai from Kururunfa kata began with a block that pushed the incoming chudan tsuki attack to the side - or if the punch should be block downward with an open hand. That student was let off lightly with a payment of 50 push-ups, then Sensei told them the correct way to perform the bunkai. Sensei finished this lecture by telling us: "And by the way, I certainly know the correct way to perform this application as I had to do them all, about 3000 times each, in front of The Gov'nor (Higaonna Sensei) in his Dojo in Okinawa a couple of months ago - so believe me when I say that this is how you are to do it!!"

If this all sounds a bit harsh or unrealistic to you, I understand your concern. But let's just stop and think for a moment about the performance of kata that we see in karate clubs all around the world today and let's then compare those kata as they were performed by karate students a mere 50 years ago... and possibly 50 years into the future.

Karate is but one of many martial arts in this world, one that is often seen to be struggling to maintain an unchanging tradition in an ever changing modern world. As such I am happy in the knowledge that there are still instructors in the world who think that the best way to maintain a strict discipline is to be strict and disciplined.