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Saturday, February 09, 2008

Bassai-Dai - Penetrate a fortress?

Simon from Haxby asked me last week how does Bassai-Dai translate to "penetrate the fortress", where does it come from?

Above : Sensei Alan Stanley penetrates the fortress for England.

Are we getting too carried away with being karate spotters?
It is great to have a keen interest, but do we always have to take things to the nth degree? Should we spend more time doing Karate and less time thinking about it?

A couple of years ago Kato Shihan taught us six different versions of Bassai Dai in an hour, he spent about 20 seconds telling us where each one came from and who had developed it. I don't think Sensei wanted us to remember the versions but have an awareness of the bigger picture and this hightened awarness would improve our own Bassai-Dai. I can't remember the names of which kata Sensei taught but they were likely to have included Matsumura Bassai, Tomari Bassai, Oyadomari Bassai and Ishimine Bassai.

If we micro analyise are we like the mathmaticians that look at Da Vinci's last supper and find all kinds of theories, or is it just a nice picture of Jesus Shihan having a meal with his kohai?

Above : Leonardo Da Vinci's Last Supper

I think in the West we are more tied up with trivia, Sensei spends a lot of time explaining technique, demonstrating application to improve understanding, but his focus always seems to be spent on us doing kata not watching him demonstrating. You really only learn when you imitate and practice.

Anyway coming back to Simon's question, Bassai appears in a lot of different styles, just go to you tube and type in bassai or pasai and you will see how diverse they are from our IJKA style Bassai-Dai. Versions of Pasai include: Matsumura-passai and Oyadomari-passai. Bushi Matsumura may have created his kata from earlier kata from Yara and Sakugawa.

The penetrate the fortress translation comes from Nakayama's translator, this has to be thought of as one mans translation of one set of Kanji, Rob Redmond in his Kata book states that Bassai can be written with six different characters. All will have different translations.

So what does Bassai mean then? Well take your pick from:

Penetrates the fortress
To breach or break through the fortress
Extract from the fortress
Rescue from the fortress

Anyway Dia means large and Sho means small.

I think I'll stop writting now and just go and practise both the Big and Little versions, who cares what it means.

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  • An interesting article Sensei. I have taken some time to do some of my own reasearch on the subject. If you wish to read it, please use the link below:


    I have to disagree with your comment when you say it doesn't really matter what it means. I think it is very important to think about, and analyse, what the purpose and meaning of the kata is.

    I was wondering though, what has 'viewing the sky' got to do with karate? Answers on a postcard.

    By Anonymous Simon, at 1:51 PM  

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