I’d like to share a story given by Bill Hayes Sensei. Pardon any paraphrasing.
One time Hayes Sensei was training with his instructor Eizo Shimabukuro on the kata Passai. This kata is known for its power generation and its sweeping motions that feel for the opponent and almost reach out to him/her.
After training, Shimabukuro mentioned that this kata was like fighting at night.
The statement caught Hayes Sensei’s attention who thought he had gained some valuable insight into the original impetus for the form. Brave Okinawans, he decided, must have crept along during the night and dispatched their opponents using the passai kata! Certainly that explains the ‘feeling’ and ‘scanning’ hand and foot work.
Some time later the topic of Passai came up again, and Hayes Sensei engaged in discussion about how the kata came from night time fighting.
At that point Shimabukuro peered into Hayes Sensei’s eyes as if to see if there were any lights on.
“No, no”, he said. “Not at night. Like at night.”
Many times things can be lost in translation, especially when it comes to the mysteries of kata. In this case Shimabukuro Sensei was never suggesting that Passai kata was specifically for night time fighting, or that it was born from it. Instead he was trying to express that the same sensations and abilities you would rely upon at night are summoned and utilized via training in the Passai system.
Consider this: at night, you would not be able to see well. Therefore, when you make contact with an opponent, you must maintain Muchimi, or stickiness. Once that contact is made you can instinctively know where each part of your opponent’s body is. Essentially, should it be necessary, you could fight blindly.
This is an important concept to remember when considering the adrenaline dump that occurs during combat. Humans acquire tunnel vision when under extreme stress, which means you will have much less visibility (even during broad daylight) than you are used to. Therefore you have to rely on proprioception and touch response to first acquire your target and then properly eliminate him/her.
It’s important to remember that kata were not created for one specific environment or circumstance. That would be far too limiting a form of practice. Instead the concepts that are contained within each kata are omni-useful and work in harmony with the concepts of other kata.
The translation for the term Passai, which is frequently stated to be “penetrating the fortress” or “extracting from the fortress”, is not to be taken literally. The name may have a poetic connection to breaking down the barriers of an opponent, but it was never necessary to have an actual castle involved.
Speed is undoubtedly a desirable attribute for any martial artist. The ability to move your mass quickly from point A to point B allows you more opportunity for effective and powerful striking. However, if speed were the only needed quality in order to be a skilled martial artist every energetic 20 year old would be a 10th Dan Grandmaster. how is that 60 year old experts can take these youngsters to task time after time?
One of their ‘secrets’ is variable acceleration.
Let’s say a hypothetical person knows how to strike very quickly, but only really knows how to fight at his/her top speed. Sure this person may experience occasional success, especially against unskilled opponents, but crafty fighters will tune into their timing and figure them out in short order. Then, despite their raw speed, they will become predictable and easier to defeat.
If, however, that same person knew when to appear slow and when to truly be fast, he/she would add a layer of depth to their fighting. They would have captured the basic component of variable acceleration.
Knowing when and how to accelerate into an opponent is one of the hallmarks of outstanding fighters. But one arena in which this strategy seems to be neglected is kobudo. I have found that many weapon users slip into ‘clubbing’ mode as soon as they get an implement in their hand, and lose all the subtlety of their empty handed arts. Check out this video as I explain how to add some variable acceleration into rokushaku bo fighting:
At first applying this concept to kobudo can be tricky because things seem to happen very quickly and dangerously. If you are a student of kendo you are acutely aware of how fast a strike can come in. But even kendo players pretend at being slow or vulnerable by creating various suki (gaps) in order to entice actions, which they can deflect and then explode into their opponent. Over time you gain a sense of how weapons can be used, and what tactics will keep you safe. you can then begin to add more complexity into your combatives, including variable acceleration.
There are times when a flurry of activity is appropriate, but then there are other times when a calm mind combined with one blindingly accelerated punch/kick/strike will do the trick. In the realm of weapons, this is particularly so as age and physical capacity are evened out by the unforgiving result of a single weapon strike.
I talked about the following concept once before in a previous article but I wanted to re-approach it from a video angle.
When thinking about bunkai, there are many different ways you can dig deeper into the heart of your kata. As a beginner, it is enough to show that you can move your body with proper technique. If you can then use the movements of the kata to avoid getting hit and perhaps even hit the opponent back, then that’s great.
However, as you increase your experience and comfort level, you must begin to ask yourself if you are utilizing technique to its fullest extent. Does the motion you’re doing make sense, and is it an optimal response when put in a common sense context?
The following video explores layers of bunkai by utilizing a piece of the Pinan Shodan kata (note: used in the video are the terms Go No Sen and Sen No Sen).