Dec 14 1996

The History of the Dan Test and Bunkai

Recently a number of Cyberdojo members began questioning when the bunkai began and whether the teachers of old practiced them. As a charter member of the “old gizzer’s” club, I offered the following experience from my memory bank:

One of the few benefits of being a member of the “old gizzer” club is that occasionally we can say “I was there”! In the case of recent posts regarding when the Uechi-ryu Seisan Bankai was created, I can fairly certainly state that it came about because of the formalized dan tests which began in June of 1958.

I was scheduled to be tested for Shodan at this first test, but because of my possible return to the US that month, I was tested earlier in a “special” test. I learned from my instructor, Ryuko Tomoyose, that the group would use my test to review the test procedure.

I kept the original test form, which Tomoyose Sensei translated for me. The test included:

Sanchin, with test categories for 1.Form, 2. Tightness and 3. Spirit. Seisan and Seirui (The 3rd kata of Uechi-ryu, now called Sanseiryu), each with the same three test attributes.

Additionally, I had to perform a “choice of Forms”, which was one of the new kata of Uechi-ryu, created by Uechi Sensei. Next came “Arranged Tricks”, which was similar to a “bankai”, but if I remember correctly, consisted of some basic self-defense applications.

Pounding Arms was next, then exercises. (used as warm-up drills in class)

Next was “Mental Testing”, which consisted of the board asking me questions about why I was studying and if I was planning to continue my training.

Next came “Getting out of Holds”! Here again, the board was interested in seeing practical applications of the kata in various grappling senerios created by the board.

Then came the bombshell. The board asked me to “Explain Seisan”, using a board member as “Uke”! I remember spending nearly twenty minutes in front of the board, trying to “wing” it through this segment. The board explaned that I should first demonstrate the technique, then tell my partner what attack to use, then I should defend myself using the technique.

By the end of my terrible performance the group huddled and decided that perhaps the dojo should agree on a standardized “Bankai”!

My request for a delay in transferring home was granted and I was able to attend the first formal test later in the month. No bankai was performed at that test.

The final segment of the test was freestyle sparring. No equipment and essentially no rules! But sparring I understood and enjoyed. In spite of my “bankai” problems, I passed the test and became the first person promoted under the new test board system in Uechi-ryu.

Mr. Omi, in his excellent post, brings back more memories of the way Tomoyose Sensei instructed me and the way I teach my students….

“. . .However, when it comes to “teach” the meaning of karate and the karate training, I must be careful, and patient, so that I do not try to explain it to my students. Because, by doing so I might be forever taking away from the students the opportunity to find it out themselves. (I thank Sensei Sugiyama in Chicago for pointing this out to me.). . .”

I don’t believe a formal “bankai” was ever part of Uechi-ryu or its root system in China. Kata are performed to develop movements that “happen” without conscious thought. To “give” the meaning to one’s student, robs him/her of discovery. . . and interestingly enough, many of these techniques are hidden and will only happen in life threatening situations, where the block and counter may be something totally different than what you practice on a conscious level. To teach the “meaning” of hidden techniques, steals that technique from the student!

I used to listen to my instructor explain these things as I pushed him to give me more and more “tricks” and explanations. He would keep saying… “be patient George-san. . . the more I hand you on a platter, the less you will experience.

We give our students more material today with more explanations, bankai, sparring and incentives, but the heart of Uechi-ryu (and probably all systems) lies in the quiet practice of the kata. How one fares in a tournament is meaningless in trying to evaluate how that same person will react in a real fight. . . where one’s life is one the line. I still hear Tomoyose Sensei saying “only then will you use your real knowledge!”

I wish to thank everyone for making this forum so interesting and providing a place for many of the “seniors” to share their experiences and personal point of view.

George Mattson

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