The 2 Bassai katas (patterns/forms), Bassai Dai and Bassai Sho are thought to have been authored be the martial arts genius, Soken Matsumura. Matsumura was head bodyguard to the King of Okinawa in the mid to late 1800’s. Bassai is often translated as “storming the fortress”, which is very ironic, as Matsumura being head bodyguard for the King, with most of the official work being conducted in the Shuri Castle, would in fact of been defending the fortress (Shuri Castle) rather than storming it.
In his book, Shotokan’s Secret by Bruce Clayton, a deeper analysis into the kanji reveals a more accurate translation of, “to block and extract”. This he hypothesised is a mirror of modern day head of state bodyguards which have a reaction team to go after and neutralise a given threat, whilst an extraction team removes the head of state out of harms way. So for “block” we can in modern terms say “react” and the extraction is the same. It’s a book that I highly recommend for any Karate/TKD/TSD practitioner as there is a shared history for each style reaching back to Okinawa.
So; back to Bassai Sho!
It is often said that some of the early movements could be used to grab a Bo (staff) that is being swung at you and disarm the attacker. No disrespect to anybody who teaches or has been taught that way, but I’d suggest you’re likely to get a handful of broken fingers if you try that. As explained in Shotokan’s Secret, the main threat faced by the Matsumura and the bodyguards would likely be Western sailing ships who wanted to trade. The Japanese overlords forbade the Okinawans to trade with foreigners, whilst also banning them from carrying weapons. So when the heavily armed Westerns got angry with the unarmed Okinawans for refusing to trade with them, the Okinawans would have to find a way to deal with it. And these Westerners would be much more likely to be carrying muskets than staffs.
The video below on Bassai Sho kata bunkai is my take on one possible tactic that they might have used. It’s not really relevant to today’s world, but may well have been relevant to the Okinawan bodyguards at the time that Matsumura is believed to have authored these katas.
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