Monday, October 1, 2012

Traditional Karate Kata


The path, known as the way or 'do' in Japanese. There are many paths: some
lead to righteousness 
It is said karate is kata & kata is karate. Kata provides a living encyclopedia of basics, self-defense applications (bunkai), muscle memory, timing, visual and physical focus. But kata must be treated seriously always keeping in mind timing and focus when you train. If you have no snap in your blocks, kicks & punches, then this how you learn karate – and the next time you are attacked in the Cowboy Bar, you will defend without power and with lack-luster effort. Whenever I train in kata, I focus every technique and practice kata slowly and periodically with great acceleration.  Whenever I finish a single kata, I am sweating and breathing hard - this is how kata should be done.

Next time you practice - imagine having to defend yourself with the power and focus you currently use to practice kata: this is how you are teaching yourself to defend on the street. I can’t emphasize this enough. If you are punching with no power or snap, you are training to do the same for future self-defense scenarios. This does not mean that you have to do every single kata full speed and power – but it does mean that you need to consider practicing each kata at least three times in each session: twice relatively slow with extraordinary snap in your punches and blocks (in other words – focus) and the third time with acceleration of technique (but also keeping your stances and timing in check).

Several years ago, I traveled across the continent to attend an international black belt clinic hosted in Florida. I was told at the clinic, I would test for godan (5th dan) in front of the grandmaster (who was and still is my instructor). At the time, I only knew of a couple of legitimate living grandmasters - extraordinary martial artists. So I was concerned about testing in front of the Grandmaster – but decided I would do my best and if it wasn’t enough, at least I tried. When I was called to test, I was surprised I was not only testing in front of the grandmaster, but also testing in front of about 250 yudansha (black belts) ranging from 1st to 9th dan. It was make or break.

Training in Naihanchi kata at the Arizona Hombu, Winter 2014
Much of the exam was kata, and I did every kata I knew – all with extreme focus and maximum power. During the exam in a large gym, there were other activities going on, but all stopped to watch my test from beginning to end. At the end of the test, I must have been 3 or 5 pounds lighter from sweating, but I was also promoted to godan and told by some yudansha that it was the most extraordinary exam they had witnessed. Two individuals even told me it was as if the building shook from the power (ki) of my punches. I was successful, because I had been practicing all kata at least twice a week (with focus) along with teaching several classes.

As you learn more about kata, you will discover hidden meanings & techniques. And in some cases, you will discover new techniques that no one ever thought of. As an example, one of Arizona yudansha – Dan Lang was testing for shodan and part of his exam was demonstration of Wanshu (Empi) kata. In the kata, he discovered one of the techniques can be used as taiotoshi (body leg drop). Now it seems so obvious, but why had no one ever seen this before? This is typical of kata.

Kata include training exercises for dachi (stances), uke (blocks), geri (kicks), uchi (strikes), ma (distance & timing), omote (techniques that are understandable), ura (hidden techniques), miegakure (techniques purposely hidden from outsiders or just plain misleading), ki (internal energy), ibuki (breathing), shitai kori (body hardening), tien hsueh (pressure point strikes), nage waza (throws), hitotsuki (one-punch knockouts), okurasu goroshi (killing strikes) and other techniques. Kata is the heart & soul of karate. Without kata, karate cannot be considered karate-do. Even so, there are kyoru systems, (ancient Okinawan fighting schools), that do not have kata and are referred to as karate-jutsu rather than karate-do. Even so, these old schools have considerable focus on traditions and respect for rank.

Kata should be practiced keeping bunkai (applications) in mind while applying sufficient focus with every technique. Recently, I was reading a book entitled ‘Moonwalking with Einstein’. The author mentions tools used to memorize seemingly impossible numbers of words or ideas simply by installing interesting images at different points along a walk, and then just remembering the walk. The method is so efficient; legend suggests that one King of Cyprus could recite the names of every soldier in his army. Today, some people (mental athletics) employ this same method to remember the order of two or more shuffled decks of cards, whole books - things that most of us think are beyond us. And none of these people have photographic memories.

This made me think about kata. Kata can be liken to a walk – a walk that must be learned in detail. After this walk is learned, we apply self-defense applications along every turn of the walk. By doing so, every single feature of a kata, no matter how subtle, can be used to trigger self-defense applications that can be embedded into one’s long term memory. Personally, I use this method in teaching martial arts. Not only do I extract basics (kihon) from kata to use to warm up classes, I try to find different combinations of basics to keep students from getting bored. When I teach self-defense, I often go back to kata to extract techniques for teaching self-defense (bunkai). I do the same for kobudo, ibuki, shitai kori, etc.

"If there is no kata, there is no karate, just kicking & punching" - Shoshin Nagamine

KATA of Seiyo Shorin-Ryu
Kihon (Basic) Kata. Kihon kata of Seiyo Shorin-Ryu include two that are unique to Seiyo Shorin-Ryu and designed to teach hip rotation while striking (tsuki) and basic kicks (geri). The basic kata are termed Taikyoku (太極) and translate as ‘first cause’: the original taikyoku forms were apparently created by Gichin Funakoshi of Okinawa and we still teach two of his kata.


Yan Ma of the University of Wyoming Campus Shorin-
Ryu Karate Club performs Pinan Godan kata.
These are not only used to teach basics but also to instill self-confidence. When teaching martial arts, it is very important that a sensei focus on both self-confidence and technique. There must be a balance between these two. If a sensei focuses too much on technique while constantly hovering over students, self-confidence will suffer, and the deshi will not be able to complete any technique without looking to the sensei for guidance.  It is important as sensei to teach technique and leave our deshi alone to discover for themselves. And in doing so, we must demand all students learn to respect rank and respond with ‘Oss’ when corrected. This is part of learning self-confidence. In Okinawan karate, students of all ranks must bow lower than seniors and respect their seniors in every way.

In teaching kata, some styles use as many as six Taikyoku kata. We have four in Seiyo Shorin-Ryu.

  • Taikyoku Shodan - Developed by Gichin Funakoshi to emphasize proper blocking, punching, stances, balance and respect.
  • Taikyoku Nidan - Developed by Gichin Funakoshi.
  • Taikyoku Sandan - Developed by Soke Hausel to emphasize gyaku tsuki (opposite hand punches), hip rotation & focus.
  • Taikyoku Yondan - Developed by Soke Hausel to teach basic kicks.
Similar basic kata are found in other styles of karate and are named juni no kata, fukugata, etc.

Soke Hausel teaches Pinan Nidan kata at the Arizona Hombu in Mesa.
Pinan Kata. Pinan (平安) (Ping-an) translates as 'peaceful mind'. According to 'Martial Arts - A Layman's Guide' and 'The Overlook Martial Arts Dictionary' Pinan kata were developed by Yasutsune (Anko) Itosu between 1903 to 1906 when karate was introduced to public school system on Okinawa Prefecture. These five kata were simplified from two longer kata known as Kusanku and Chiang Nan (also Channan). According to legend, the original Chinese kata (Chiang Nan) has been lost, but was originally introduced on Okinawa by a Chinese martial artist.


Shihan Vance of Cheyenne, Seiyo Shorin-Ryu
practices bunkai from Pinan Nidan with Sensei
Schroeder of the Utah Shorin-Kai
After dissecting the original two long forms, Itosu named his new five kata as Pinan (Mark Bishop, 1989, OkinawanKarate, A & C Black, publisher, London). Funakoshi, however; termed these Heian (‘peaceful and calm’) when he introduced karate to mainland Japan. Karate was also introduced to Korea. One style known as Tang Soo Do (the style of ChuckNorris) teaches these kata but they are termed Pyong-an on Korea. These are also taught to traditional Taekwondo practitioners.

We preserved these basic five kata with modifications unique to Seiyo Shorin-Ryu. Each Pinan kata in Seiyo Shorin-Ryu is accompanied by realistic bunkai (applications): a set of self-defense techniques for each step in kata. The applications include defenses against unarmed & armed assailants and incorporate strikes, kicks, pressure point activations, throws & restraints. Notable are simultaneous block-strike combinations (common in Juko-Ryu) as well as powerful strikes followed by throws (nage waza).
Sketch of Chuck Norris of Tang
soo do by Soke Hausel.
  • Pinan Shodan
  • Pinan Nidan
  • Pinan Sandan
  • Pinan Yodan
  • Pinan Godan
Naifanchi Kata. Naifanchi (ナイファンチ) (Okinawan dialect) is pronounced Naihanchi in Japanese and renamed Tekki (鉄騎) by Gichin Funakoshi when he introduced these on mainland Japan. These are three kata referred to as 'horse-riding' forms that are performed in a linear pattern focusing on kiba dachi (horse riding stance). The kata is designed to teach hand and leg strength. 

Arizona grandmaster Soke Hausel demonstrates application
from Naifanchi Shodan Kata at clinic at the
University of Wyoming assisted by Sensei Kyle Linton
from Colorado.
One colorful figure in Okinawan history, Motobu Choki was known as a brawler and spent much time in the tsuji of Okinawa (red light district) testing karate. He indicated these kata were all anyone needed to become a proficient fighter.

In Seiyo Shorin-Ryu we break down each individual technique into ippon kumite (one step sparring).  Each bunkai is followed with and additional strike or throw that is not choreographed.
  • Naifanchi Shodan
  • Naifanchi Nidan
  • Naifanchi Sandan
Passai Kata. Passai (披塞) kata, known as Bassai in Japanese, include two kata that translate as ‘Penetrating a Fortress’ although other translations have suggested it could refer to ‘Leopard-Lion Form’. These are also practiced in some Korean styles of karate (Taekwondo, Tang Soo Do and Soo Bahk Do). The origin of these is unknown, but they have similarities to Chinese Leopard, Lion and Wuxing QuanKung Fu. The suffix ‘dai’ translates as large and ‘sho’ translates as ‘small’.
  • Passai Dai
  • Passai Sho
Jion Kata Group. This series of kata, known as Jutte (also spelled as Jitte), Jion, and Giin (also spelled Jiin) provide many interesting techniques.  Jutte (十手) translates as 10 hands, is believed to have been named because practitioners who master this kata, are be able to defend against five adversaries (with 10 hands). Others have suggested that the translation actually refers to the Japanese weapon known as the jutte as some of the hand positions suggest a jutte. This kata is also practiced in the Korean styles and called ‘Sip Soo’.  Some techniques in the kata can be used to take a bo from an adversary. Jion (慈恩) translates as ‘mercy’ but also refers to Jion-Ji, a Buddhist temple. Jiin (慈陰) translates as ‘inverted mercy’.
  • Jutte
  • Jion
  • Giin
Kusanku Kata.  Kūshankū (公相君), Kūsankū,  Kōsōkun or Kankū-dai (観空大) is named after a Chinese diplomat from the Fukien Province of China who taught this kata to Okinawan martial artists. Gichin Funakoshi renamed it Kanku-dai (Japanese). The kata are also practiced in Tang Soo Do as Kong Sang Koon. The two kata have a similar embusen (pattern of movement) and both are very long and complex. In Japanese, they translate as “Looking at the Sky" because of the unique opening move where the martial artist looks to the sky.


Looking to the Sky in Kusanku Dai
This kata is typically taught to advanced yudansha (black belts) because of length and complexity. They have at least 65 steps and more than a hundred hand techniques.

I personally know of one ‘egg-head’ professor, after being promoted to shodan in Shotokan, offered to teach a class in ‘beginning karate at a University of Wyoming where he was also teaching engineering. For some unknown reason, he decided to teach his karate students, Kusanku Dai, one of the more complex kata. You can imagine the frustrations of these students who had never performed a karate punch or kick prior to his class. By the third class, the room was filled with one person – the professor.
  • Kusanku Dai
  • Kusanku Sho
Group 7 This group of kata includes Niseishi (二十四歩) (introduced as Nijushiho to Japan by Gichin Funakoshi), Unsu (雲手) and Chinte (珍手). Niseishi kata (Okinawan dialect) is practiced by Tang Soo Do and named E Sip Sa Bo. The kata has 24 steps which is where it receives its name, but its origin is unknown.

Unsu (Unshu) translates as ‘cloud hands’ because of the motion of hands in the opening move of the kata. They are suggestive of clouds gathering for a thunderstorm.

Chinte translates as ‘rare hand’, ‘unusual hand’ or ‘Chinese hand’. It has unusual close quarter strikes along with taitoshi nage waza (body leg drop throw). The strict Japanese schools, like Shotokan, include a strange set of backward hops at the end of the kata that do not occur in other styles.
  • Niseishi (24 steps).
  • Unsu (Cloud hands)
  • Chinte (Chinese hand form)
Group 8 Kata. Wanshu, also known as Anshu and Ansu (Empi in Japanese) was taught to Okinawan martial artists by a Chinese delegate named Wang Ji in 1683 A.D. Wang Ji is said to have been a martial artist of Fujian White Crane Kung Fu. The name of the kata may reflect this Chinese delegate’s name, and may translate as ‘dragon boy dumping form’ or as ‘strong arm form’. There are two principal versions of this kata, one from Matsumora Shorin-Ryu and the other from Itosu. When Gichin Funakoshi introduced this kata to Japan, he renamed it Empi (also Enpi) kata. Empi translates as ‘flying swallow’. Members of Tang Soo Do call this Wangshu or Yun Bi.


Kata training at the University of Wyoming
Sochin kata (壯鎭) translates as ‘tranquil force’ in Japanese. This is a powerful kata likely from the Naha-Te school in Okinawa.

Seisan translates as ‘13 steps’ or ‘13 killing positions’ in Okinawan. In Japanese, this kata is known as Hangetsu and translates as 'Half-Moon Form' where it derives its name from the common use of hachi-dachi stance throughout the kata. This kata provides a feeling of a moving arch or half-moon due to common pigeon toe stances designed to protect the groin area from kicks. The form is originally from the Shorei-Ryu school. It is called Seishan in Korean.
  • Wanshu (Empi) kata. "Flying Swallow".
  • Sochin kata. Based on the powerful 'Rooted stance".
  • Seisan (Hangetsu). 'Half-Moon Form'.
Group 9 Kata. Okan or Wankan kata (王冠) are separated into two forms – Wankan Dai and Wankan Sho. These are believed to be from the Tomari-te school of Okinawa karate. The Seiyo version of Wankan Dai is different from kata practiced by other styles and incorporates a few of Soke's favorite techniques. Wankan translates as ‘Kings Crown’ and is also referred to as Okan kata.

Gojushiho (Useishi) Kata training at Arizona Hombu in Mesa.
Useishi or Gojushiho (五十四歩) kata translates as ‘54 steps’ (photo to right – Useishi kata). In some schools, there are two nearly identical kata: Gojushiho Dai and Gojushiho Sho. Because these two are so similar, Soke Hausel combined them into one kata. Gojushiho is also known as Useishi in the Okinawan dialect.

Anaku (安南空) kata was developed by Chotoku Kyan and translates as ‘Light from the South’ or ‘Peace from the South’. It is a relatively simple, but powerful kata from the Matsubayashi Shorin-Ryu system.
  • Wankan Dai.
  • Okan (Wankan Sho)
  • Gojushiho (Useishi)
  • Anaku
Hakutsuru  Kata. Kata of the White Crane include Rohai. Rohai translates as ‘vision of the white crane’ or ‘vision of the heron’.  The original Rohai kata is thought to have been created by Kosaku Matsumora and later broken down into three kata by Itosu.  Gichin Funakoshi took these three kata and again combined them into one that he named Meikyo (明鏡) (translates as ‘polishing a mirror’). In the Seiyo Shorin-Ryu style, members not only learn Meikyo, but also a separate kata we retain the name of Rohai.

White crane wings from Hakutsuru Dai Kata Photo of Soke Hausel of the Mesa, Arizona Hombu teaching White Crane Shorin-Ryu Karate Clinic at the University of Wyoming in 2010.
Other kata of white crane include Chinto (renamed Gankaku by Funakoshi) (岩鶴). Chinto, according to legend, was the name of a shipwrecked Chinese sailor (also known as Annan) who became known as a great fighter on Okinawa and taught techniques to some Okinawan martial artists. Chinto translates as ‘fight to the east’ or ‘fighter to the east’ in reference to China or more likely to this particular sailor. When Funakoshi introduced this kata to Japan, he renamed it Gankaku "Crane on the Rock". Some say this was done to appease the Japanese by removing any reference to China due to anti-Chinese sentiment at the beginning of the 20th century. It is also known as a one of the Rohai kata.

Hakutsuru Dai and Sho kata are considered as advanced kata and have many unusual techniques that mimic movement of a cranes. For example, there are crane wing blocks (see above photo), and many pressure point strikes. It is thought these forms were originally developed by a Chinese female kung fu practitioner who created the kata while observing movements of white crane. The white crane kata have several deceptively powerful strikes and blocks.
There are many other empty hand karate kata taught by other martial arts styles (such as Goju-Ryu and Shito-Ryu) that include Annan, Annanko, Happiken, Jyuroku, Kururunfa, Matsukaze, Nipaipo, Ryuko, Saifa, Sanchin, Seiryu, Seiunchin, Shisochin, Suparinpei, Tensho, etc.