Like many, I am somewhat sceptical when I see a book advertised as having the “previously untold” secrets of karate that were handed down to an author, but no-one else. The fact that Hidden Karate by Gennosuke Higaki also claims to tell the story of a pact by Okinawan karateka, including Gichin Funakoshi, to hide the true bunkai of kata when introducing karate to Japan also made me somewhat dubious. However, I also admit to being a little intrigued, so went ahead and ordered it anyway.
First impressions always count, and I must say that this book is beautifully presented. Clearly a great amount of effort was put into the exterior look and feel of the book, and it immediately made it to the top of my reading pile. Second impressions also count, and reading the author’s bio was interesing as it was clearly written in a poor version of Janglish – that hybrid of Japanese and English. I must admit to worrying about the overall quality, but my concerns were reduced when I set out on reading the intro – clearly the translator did an excellent job on the actual content of the book.
Hidden Karate makes an attempt to provide a set of rules for interpreting the bunkai (analysis) of the application of karate’s kata in a meaningful way. In so doing, the author attempts to provide a cultural context about how and why the real meanings of the movements were hidden, and then lays day 20 or so “rules” by which each movement of a kata can be analysed. He then applies this approach to the 5 Heian (Pinan) kata, and also to the first Naihanchi (Naihanchin Shodan) kata.
To be honest, I quite like the approach taken by the author. With rules along the lines of a primary attack is a punch, kick or strike, and that the effectiveness of a strike is greater if an opponent is immobilised, a good game plan for interpreting kata is provided, whilst continuing to rest on karate’s primary weapons augmented by the locks, holds, strangles, etc.
This is kind of refreshing in an age where many have interpreted karate kata as being primarily responses to very close range, grappling encounters. Although those aspects are clearly catered for, I am a believer that our primary weapons tend to the longer range punch, kick and strike scenarios.
In all, I would recommend this book to anyone who wants to see an approach to kata application that sits somewhere in between the primitive punch and kick only scenarios, and the grappling only scenarios that seem to have some favour today. You may not agree with everything (I don’t), but there is some good food for thought.