Thursday, August 11, 2011

Meikyo and Rohai Kata of Seiyo Shorin-Ryu

For our style of Shorin-Ryu karate, Soke Hausel included two versions of Rohai kata from Okinawa. Rohai is a powerful kata with finesse adapted from the Tomari-Ryu karate system of Okinawa (for those of you who have read about karate’s origins, three styles were developed near one another in Naha City, Shuri City and in the Tomari district).

Rohai is believed to have been authored by Kosaku Matsumora and originally referred to as Matsumora Rohai Kata. Itosu (Ankoh) Yasutsune (1830-1915), one of the legendary Okinawan Shorin-Ryu masters, later created three versions of Rohai from the original kata to make it easier for students to learn. He named these simply Rohai Shodan, Rohai Nidan and Rohai Sandan.

Itosu was known for simplifying complex kata and did the same to the long and complex Kusanku Kata (also known as Kanku). We teach a Kusanku Dai and Kusanku Sho kata. Kusanku-Dai kata has more than 100 steps. To simplify Kusanku, Itosu broke it down into five katas that became known as the Pinan katas. Instead of retaining all three Rohai, it was decided by Soke Hausel to include two Rohai kata. Thus one day, most of us will learn Rohai as well as another kata known as Meikyo.
Some of you are aware that Itosu and Gichin Funakoshi were two Okinawan masters who introduced karate to the world during the early part of the 20th century. While Itosu remained in Okinawa to teach the art, Funakoshi moved to mainland Japan. Funakoshi had a difficult time introducing karate to the Japanese people simply because he was Okinawan. Okinawans were basically considered Hillbillies to the Japanese – they spoke a different language and did things differently.

Meikyo kata
To win over the Japanese, Funakoshi had to be diplomatic and employ Japanese culture to promote karate. This was also true of the rohai kata. Rohai translates as white heron and Funakoshi decided to modify one of the three kata and name it Meikyo to honor the Japanese. Meikyo translates as shimmering mirror or polishing a mirror. Both of these kata, Rohai and Meikyo use ippon ashi dachi (one-legged stance). Another very interesting technique was introduced in meikyo known as gedan shotei ate or downward palm heel strikes that occur at the beginning of the kata while using one's hands in a movement that might suggest to an outsider that the karate-ka is polishing a mirror.

Jumping elbow strike - a characteristic waza in
meikyo kata
This was a very important diplomatic move by Funakoshi. In Japanese mythology there are three sacred Shinto treasures that are controlled by the Japanese emperor. These are a sword (representing valor), a jewel (representing benevolence) and a mirror (representing wisdom).  In Japanese, these are kusanagi, yasakani no magatama, and yata no kagami. The mirror was very important. Legend states  that the Sun goddess Amaterasu hid in a cave from the Storm god and as a result, the brightness of the clear day was lost since it was hidden in the cave with the goddess. To lure her out of her cave, a mirror was brought to the mouth of a cave as an inducement to her, and once she stepped out of the cave to admire herself, her cave was sealed behind her bringing daylight to Japan. Today, mirrors are found at the center of Shinto shrines and also figure prominently in Buddhism. The great all encompassing mirror is a common reference to the enlighten mind of Buddha.

Since Buddhism and Shinto are important in the Japanese culture, Funakoshi used such references to help promote karate – and with the help of Jigoro Kano, it worked. Most people outside of Okinawa believe karate was of Japanese origin, but it was introduced to the Japanese people just as it was introduced to America at a later date.

Double back fist strike from Meikyo kata.