This post is long overdue - my apologies for those wondering what happened. To sum up the last few months I have been looking outside the blogging world and making connections, and taking a well earned vacation. I have also taken up some basic hojo undo exercises, which I find rewarding in their benefit as well as their simultaneous difficulty and simplicity. I have also been a little tired of blogging - not all of my thoughts are what I want to share, and they aren't what I want to embody. So why share negativity?
At any rate, I have been working on the below for a little while. Just a few thoughts for those with familiarity with karate or similar systems where solo forms comprise a significant part of practice. It also leads from my last post about the hierarchy of forms within a system.
The question on my mind recently has been: what makes any form the capstone of a system? And as a subset to that question, how many years of practice does it take to understand it? Karate is unique among martial arts in that it contains forms for combat which are largely misunderstood by most if not all. Even those with a solid background in their application do not understand all movements in all forms, and hence we often see masters (who founded their own schools!) puzzling over certain movements their entire lives. Somewhat like a physical koan. With this in mind, I must look to the form I have learned as the highest in our system - Suparinpei.
Now abstractly, a capstone to any system could be the hardest lessons to teach. The techniques require greater skills to apply successfully in a battle, but present a wider range of options and abilities in keeping with the core intent of the art. This is in keeping with Western educational theory, but is unlikely to be applicable to Eastern education methods.
The capstone could also consist of deadlier techniques, those which will unquestionably kill the attacker. The release of such techniques at a lower level would be irresponsible for any teacher without truly knowing a person for several years, possibly decades. This sounds a little too much like reserved special techniques only given to the chosen few. While it is a romantic notion and perhaps could even be the case in certain styles, it isn't as practical nor as likely. If such knowledge does die out, then it can be rediscovered. As the saying goes, there is nothing new under the sun...
The capstone could also, like in some koryu, be those that are the oldest and most central to the system. They contain the intent of the style in the most simple and yet difficult to understand techniques to which you have been building over the course of your studies.
There could be more possibilities - if those reading this have any ideas, I would be glad to read them and increase my own knowledge further.
In regards to Suparinpei, it is said to contain the full syllabus of Goju Ryu. So perhaps one could see it as a recap or condensation of all other forms? If this is the case, then why include the others? IF this is the case, why isn't the form longer, or feature less repetition, so as to include a single defining technique/principle from each of the other forms in the style? This is also problematic when considering the history of the style - if some forms are newer than Suparinpei, or even older from a different style or lineage (eg: not of White Crane connected origin) how can Suparinpei encompass those forms and their lessons? If we accept that it only contains the lessons from Higaonna Kanryo Sensei, does it only encompass Sanchin, Seisan, and Sanseiryu? Moreover, there are records indicating that Suparinpei existed on Okinawa before Higaonna left to study in China. There was also at least a form of Seisan as well before Higaonna left. So where does this leave us?
The above were my thoughts in abstract about suparinpei. But after a lot of reading and training, I am beginning to discover more information and come to realize several things physically about this kata.
First, who am I to question this? I have made the beginner mistake of assuming that because I learned the form that I know it. I see the surface, but I have not really seen more than the surface of the form. With additional reading and study I have come to find an incredible amount of information in the simplest movements. The subtle body mechanics, turning, stepping, where you place your feet and how that hinders your opponent and makes your technique possible or more effective. The repetition in directions, the timing - I forgot the subtle science that is kata. This has caused me to go back and look at other forms as well - especially my favourite behind Suparinpei, Kururunfa. The opening has long bothered me, and the more I watch and learn and play, the more I come to think and understand and try. I understand more fully now why they say you could have all of your training in a single form and be complete.
As always, the way is in the training. Training means physical, mental and somewhat spiritual.