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DVD Review: Inside Bassai Dai

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Inside Bassai Dai is Mr. Wildish’s first martial arts video offering. The video is a realistic and practical analysis (aka bunkai) of the Bassai Dai karate kata — both from a traditional karate perspective and from a kung fu perspective. Charlie Wildish holds a 3rd dan in Shotokan Karate, studies Lotus Nei Gong Tai Chi, and has also flirted with Wing Chun Kung Fu. He maintains a blog called Bunkai Jutsu whose goal it is to apply realistic applications to the forms or kata of traditional martial arts. The video also features Mr. Keith McKay Cormack, a practitioner of Wing Chun and Choy Li Fut Kung Fu.

Bassai Dai is often used as a black belt grading kata and appears in many traditional styles of karate. Legend has it that the kata was developed by the Okinawan master, Soken Matsummura. Both Matsummura’s teacher and Matsummura himself are said to have studied and been influenced by Chinese Kung Fu. Therefore, it is appropriate that the video analysis of this karate kata features both a karate perspective and a kung fu perspective.

I’ll have to admit that this review may be somewhat biased. I retired from Tae Kwon Do which is a Korean martial art that was heavily influenced by Shotokan Karate. Moreover, since having retired from that art I had the opportunity to study kung fu. Therefore it was a real treat to see a traditional karate kata examined from karate and kung fu perspectives.

The video starts with Mr. Wildish giving us a brief narrative history of the kata. This is followed by a live demonstration of Bassai Dai. After this we are treated to the bunkai or analysis of the techniques and applications hidden within this particular kata.

Throughout the analysis Mr. Wildish selects certain techniques within this kata. He first examines them from a traditional Shotokan perspective. Significant to this is the fact that Mr. Wildish acknowledges where tradition holds up, but also honestly admits when he is skeptical of how a certain technique has been traditionally taught. However, instead of just criticizing tradition, he always offers a modern take on how a given technique could be realistically applied.

Each examined segment of the kata also features a kung fu perspective offered by Mr. Cormack. Given my current martial journey, here is where I personally feel the video shines. Martial artists hailing from linear martial arts (e.g. Shotokan, Tae Kwon do, Tang Soo Do, etc.) get to see a softer and often circular take on many of their basic techniques. Moreover, kung fu stylists get to see the efficient practicality of certain Shotokan straight-line techniques. In short, stylist from either camp can probably learn something new from this video.

This having been noted I do have some constructive criticism to offer: First, though I’m admittedly biased, I’d very much like to have seen more analysis from the kung fu perspective! Given that kung fu very likely influenced how certain styles of karate developed, I think it is beneficial to both camps when a martial artist compares and contrasts both arts in a positive manner. My second criticism is of the video production itself. At certain points in the DVD the sound volume is slightly lower than it should be. This is only a minor problem that is easily corrected by maximizing your volume, and it in no way hampers the educational content of this DVD or its overall quality. However, for future video projects I would advise Mr. Wildish to invest in a good external camcorder microphone.

Overall I recommend this DVD to anyone practicing a traditionally linear martial art or, for that matter, to kung fu stylists who wish to expand their knowledge concerning karate. Given that watching this video inspired me to reexamine Koryo, which is Tae Kwon Do’s first black belt form, I have no doubt that open-minded Shotokan practitioners will also want to purchase this DVD. Therefore I strongly recommend it to all Shotokan stylists. Inside Bassai Dai is available from the Bunkai Jutsu store. For a limited time purchasers of this DVD will receive Mr. Wildish’s bonus DVD titled 10 Kicking Tips (DVD review forthcoming). Buyers can preview Mr. Wildish’s offering at the Bunkai YouTube page.

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