I often recommend that my students make use of a full length mirror as part of their training, in order to make visual acknowledgement of their form. A mirror is a useful tool because what you see in the reflection is also what an opponent will see when facing you. In addition, it allows those with poor body awareness to 'see' individual transitions taking place. However, we must also develop to a point by which we begin to let go of the visual cues and come to 'internalise' the subtle feelings associated with movement. Aesthetics then becomes a secondary consideration over what is required for function.
Old-style karate is less concerned with what a techniques looks like and more concerned with how well it functions. There is more freedom to move in a natural and fluid way, as opposed to always maintaining the same height and exclusively employing rigid rotations of the waist and excessive muscular contraction in order to express power.
Rather than seeing the body as an industrial type machine, old-style karate considers the human form more as an extension of the universe and its natural elements. Therefore, we see fluid multi-dimensional dynamics that include spiralling, screwing and figure eight pathways, expansion and contraction, raising and falling, sequential action and relaxed wave-like movement patterns.
For such aspects as above to be absorbed, they have to be felt. For instance, the feelings associated with spiralling are infinitely more important than the aesthetics of the physical action taking place. So rather than using the shape of a physical movement to ascertain correctness, the physical movement itself should be a consequence of attaining the right feelings. Becoming more aware of how your body feels internally can be a very enlightening experience, as such a degree of inward exploration is rarely on most people's radars.
There's nothing esoteric about this - it's just a case of altering one's perspective on what reference is used to justify technique development. If function is your goal, then it pays to give consideration to the changing 'states' felt within the body. Plus, it takes your study of classical kata (bunkai) to a whole new level!
Just as the kata movements can be associated to different feelings, they also hold a specific 'character' that we are tasked with expressing through the conduit of our physical body. A useful tool that I have integrated into our dojo is a simple short stick, which we use not as a weapon, but instead as a method of 'drawing out' and emphasising the dynamics associated with our body movements. For instance, it is impossible to to move the stick in a smooth flowing manner unless the body can also emulate the same characteristics. As such, this short stick can be considered is being an 'extension' of the body.
Here's a short video clip that shows one of the ways in which we use the stick to better understand some of the feelings associated with the fundamental 'uchi (inner) pathway' and exploring how it may be expressed for impact using tettsui...
In order to delve into the kata, one must not only embrace the combative applications of the movements, but also how the body can best articulate the dynamics held within them. So, not only do we need the knowledge and skill to apply the techniques, but we also require the necessary attributes in order to express those applications sufficiently. In my mind, this holistic view makes much more sense of the term 'kata bunkai'.
Thanks for stopping by and enjoy your training!
Chris Denwood has been studying martial arts since childhood and specialises in the practical application of karate's traditional principles for civilian self-defence, personal development, life integration and discovery.