Thursday, September 20, 2012

Happy birthday Soshihan

Today is Soke Takayuki Kubota's 77th birthday. I thought I'd mark the occasion as he was responsible for probably the most formative period of my karate training, from late 1985 to summer 1986, when I trained at the IKA headquarters dojo in Glendale, California, when I lived in the US. As a tribute to Soshihan (as he was then, now titled Soke) and to the brief yet important influence of Gosoku Ryu upon my karate training, I have decided to learn and add the kata Gosoku to my repertoire.

Friday, September 14, 2012


For various reasons it's been a while since I've been able to update here, but I thought I would return with a little catch-up. Seeing as I started this blog to record my thoughts and research into Kanku-sho for a kata test at our club, I should record the outcome of that ...

I was quite disappointed because in the two weeks running up to the day of my test I was ill and unable to practice. Consequently, on the day, my performance was not at all good from my own perspective. Still, I managed to come joint first with sensei (who did Hangetsu) so perhaps it wasn't as bad as I imagined. The main outcome of it is that I got to know Kanku-sho in much better detail. The kata is a real challenge for me, and will continue to be so!

Monday, April 30, 2012

The second jump in Kanku-sho

Towards the end of Kanku-sho you reach out behind you, slowly, with jodan haishu-uke. You follow this with a spin into a mikazuki-geri, hitting the sole of your foot against the open hand, then continue round, thrusting the left foot out into ushiro-geri and landing into ryote-fuse, again facing the front.

This is the main reason that Kanku-sho is a popular tournament kata, giving the contestant the opportunity to show off an impressive high spinning jump, with an ushiro-geri in mid-air, and often to applause and whoops from the spectators.

In actual practice, according to Nakayama, the jump should not be a high one. It is really a fairly level spin (though the left foot does leave the floor) into a sudden drop to the ground, thrusting the left leg out into ushiro-geri before landing. A jumping spin in Shotokan represents a throw.

It is a very hard move to master. The points I am trying to incorporate include hitting the mikazuki-geri against the open hand directly behind me (ie. not moving the open hand further round once I start turning), getting the ushiro thrust out, and landing with my hands and feet in the right position. Not to mention then springing up into the low gedan shuto-uke! My worst fault is not controlling the aftermath of the mikazuki, which often carries my ushiro leg round too far on landing.

It is important to note that in Kanku-sho, in ryote-fuse, the left extended leg is positioned on the ball of the foot, different from Kanku-dai where the foot is sideways on and flat on the ground.

The old version of the kata (Kushanku-sho) didn't have this move as a jump, it is a spin with the foot planted resolutely on terra firma. Some people say that the jump was included by westerners purely to bring more glamour to competition karate, but as we know from Mitsusuke Harada, he described seeing Kanku-sho in the 1940s complete with the Shotokan jump. I think this points to it being a development by Yoshitaka Funakoshi, and here is a quite impressive photo of him doing the tobi ushiro-geri from Kanku-sho …

The application that I'm demonstrating for this technique is to step away from a close-quarter grab or punch, while parrying with the haishu-uke. With the open hand I grab the assailant's arm and twist it slightly so my mikazuki-geri strikes hard against the locked elbow joint. Keeping hold of the arm I then turn quickly into ushiro-geri, thrusting my heel into my attacker's mid-section at close-range.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Kanku-sho: technical comparison with Kanku-dai

I have categorised the moves in Kanku-sho into those that are exactly the same in Kanku-dai, those that have a counterpart in Kanku-dai but are not exactly the same, those that have counterparts or are the same as moves in other kata (apart from Kanku-dai), and moves that are unique to Kanku-sho. Some of these present themselves in more than one category, depending on how they are viewed.

Techniques in Kanku-sho that also appear, unchanged, in Kanku-dai

1) Gedan-gamae, taken out of its sequence in isolation, appears twice in both kata and is performed slowly in both.

2) Yoko-keage, yoko-uraken, mae-empi-uchi, appears in both kata just before the final main sequence.

3) Kosa dachi, uraken, uchi-uke, nihon zuki, appears twice in the main sequence of Kanku-sho, and once in the altered final main sequence of Kanku-dai.

Techniques and sequences that have a counterpart in Kanku-dai

1) What I call the 'main sequence' in both kata are analogous. In Kanku-dai it consists of jodan shuto-uke, mae-geri, turn into manji-uke, nagashi-uke, gedan nukite and then it ends with gedan gamae. In Kanku-sho it consists of kake-dori, mae-geri, uraken, uchi-uke, nihon zuki, turn into kasui-ken, and end with gedan gamae.

In both kata the sequence is performed in the same way - first to the south (I'm calling north the direction you face when you start the kata), then to the north, and then to the south again, and in both cases the third sequence is altered at the end.

Both contain an opening move and a front kick. Both turn into a technique that is related - manji-uke in dai, kasui-ken in sho, and both end in gedan gamae done slowly.

In Kanku-dai the changed main sequence becomes the end of the Kanku-sho sequence (uraken, uchi-uke, nihon zuki). Both changed main sequences then turn into the move that leads to ryote-fuse.

2) Ryote-fuse. In Kanku-dai a jodan ura-zuki is executed before a drop straight down into ryote-fuse (both hands on the ground), then you turn into gedan shuto-uke in a low stance. In Kanku-sho you jump into a mikazuki-geri and drop into ryote-fuse with an ushiro-geri (sometimes executed in mid-air, sometimes upon landing). You then perform a rapid switch-step into the low-stance gedan shuto-uke.

3) The final four techniques of Kanku-sho (turn west into uchi-uke, oi-zuki, repeat to the east) have something of a counterpart in Kanku-dai's turn west into uchi-uke, gyaku-zuki, repeat to the east with nihon zuki.

Techniques in Kanku-sho that relate to other kata (not Kanku-dai)

1) Manji-uke, shift into kiba-dachi, morote-zuki, has some correlation with Jion's sequence - the same but kagi-zuki instead of morote-zuki.

2) The spin-jump into kokutsu-dachi, shuto-uke also appears in Empi, and also after a shifting move forward. As the kata have very different origins one can assume this characteristic Shotokanisation came from the same person, most likely the dynamic Yoshitaka Funakoshi.

3) The jo-uke can be seen in Bassai-sho, another Itosu creation, though it does not have the follow-up otoshi move seen in Kanku-sho. It does appear twice with otoshi in the kata Meikyo, though the otoshi thrust is done in zenkutsu rather than kokutsu-dachi.

4) The kake-dori is similar, though not quite the same, as Bassai-dai and sho's kaeshi-dori. Kanku-sho's kake-dori is followed up with a mae-geri, whereas the Bassai grasp is followed up with a gedan yoko-geri.

5) The haishu-uke and then jump into mikazuki-geri, ushiro-geri, ryote-fuse, has a strong counterpart in Unsu. In Unsu, however, the haishu-uke is to the front, giving a full 360 degree technique. The spin is also 360 degrees in Kanku-sho, but the haishu is to the rear, so it is possibly slightly easier.

6) I have not really included techniques that are also seen in the Heians or Tekkis, but these would include morote uchi-uke (nidan, sandan, yondan, godan), a run of three oi-zukis (shodan), mae-geri into uraken (yondan), manji-uke (godan), morote-zuki (Tekki shodan), shuto-uke (shodan, nidan, yondan), and yoko-keage, empi-uchi (yondan).

Techniques that are unique to Kanku-sho (within the best of my knowledge)

1) Morote uchi-uke appears in a number of the Heian kata, but coupled with the backwards slide, it becomes a characteristic technique of Kanku-sho.

2) The follow-up tsukis and sharp pull-backs (hineri-kaeshi) don't appear in another Shotokan kata, as far as I know.

3) The kasui-ken, though related to manji-uke, appears only in Kanku-sho.

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Interim update

A slight lack in the flow of my posts due to work and illness. Unfortunately the illness caused me to miss two karate sessions, one of those being the first kata test night where N did Empi and M did Gankaku. Sensei has kindly changed places with me, so she will be doing Hangetsu on 25th Apr and I will now be doing Kanku-sho on 2 May, along with K doing Ji'in.

Sunday, April 15, 2012


As mentioned in the new rules post, I have been given the task of learning about Jiin in order to be able to fact-check K's kata research during his kata test. So here's what I've discovered...

The kata's origins are mysterious - which isn't unusual, but there is even a dearth of mythical origin material. I had to really dig around in my books to find some bits and pieces. It is well-known that Jiin (sometimes Ji'in) is grouped with Jion and Jitte (sometimes Jutte), not only because they all begin with the Chinese greeting of friendship (the right 'fighting' fist covered by the open left hand, sometimes called the Ming (明) or sun-moon greeting), but also because they include a lot of the same or similar techniques. Indeed some believe the three kata to be derivatives of one single forgotten kata.

In a 1914 Okinawan newspaper article, Gichin Funakoshi, recalling his teacher Azato's words, claimed that Jiin was taught to the Tomari-te teacher Gikei Yamazato (1835-1905) by a shipwrecked or stranded Chinese martial artist from Annan. This man also apparently taught the kata Chinto (Gankaku), Chinte and Jitte to various Okinawan karate experts.

The Shito Ryu and Itosu Kai sensei, Ryusho Sakagami (1915-1993) believed that the three 'J kata' were Itosu's reformulation of older Tomari kata, since lost. Itosu was the creator of Bassai-sho and Kanku-sho, and some karate practitioners see Jiin as a kind of Jion-sho (Funakoshi, in 1925, said that some of the kata were derivative, resulting from changes made to other kata, so that may have been a traditional practice - unlike today where forms are very much set, with deviation frowned upon).

The name itself, Jiin, is also subject to confusion. If the kanji 寺院 are used then the meaning would be something like 'Buddhist temple' or 'temple grounds'. If the kanji 慈陰 are used then the meaning would be something like 'hidden, or secret, mercy'.

In his 1925 book, Rentan Goshin Karate Jutsu, Funakoshi mentions Ji'in and like many of the kata at that time, its name is given in katakana (ン) rather than kanji, suggesting only the sound of the name was known (interestingly, an online translation gives a definition of these katakana as 'heartwarming', 'deeply moving' or 'strongly emotive'). Later, Funakoshi tried to rename the kata to Shokyo (pine shadow), but unlike many of his other new 'Japanified' names, it didn't stick. It is not one of Funakoshi's core fifteen kata, though he does mention it as one of the forms being taught at the Shotokan as of 1943.

In the end, I think it is safe to say that Jiin is a kata with a strong Chinese ancestry, probably filtered through a Tomari-te lens, and introduced into the modern age via Ankoh Itosu and his students.

One last point of interest: the Shotokan version of the kata does not include the final four moves found in other styles (eg. Shorin Ryu, Shito Ryu). These consist of an age-uke followed by an oi-zuki, then repeated in the opposite direction. Whether this is a deliberate omission or a mistake in the teaching of the kata at some point, is unknown, but whatever - it has become the Shotokan Jiin.

Friday, April 13, 2012

Dojo kun

A couple of incidents that have happened at karate clubs I've been to in the past...

When I took my 1st dan test (in 1989) there was a 4th kyu student who was going for his 3rd kyu (brown belt). He failed the test, and when he heard the result he stormed out of the dojo, got dressed and left the building.

At another club, a few years ago, the sensei came up with a kicking exercise. One of the students, a 1st dan, turned his back and walked off. The sensei asked why he was leaving the exercise and the student answered, "just because!" It was left at that, though he later said that he had a bad knee.

It's been years and years since I went to a club that recited the dojo kun but I thought about it again after recalling these incidents recently, particularly the precept "to foster the spirit of effort".

It's fashionable these days to deride the idea that karate can improve the character of the karateka, but my own experience is contrary to that. In my early karate years, we were taught that you always tried your best in karate, even if you knew you were terrible at something, or you were told to do something you hated. The feeling in the dojo was to put 110% effort into everything. You face these things head-on and accept the challenge. You try, you foster the spirit of effort. We were always reminded of this aspect of training by reciting the dojo kun in every lesson. Training this way caused this attitude to spill over into other areas of my life, a tangible effect of karate improving my wider attitude and outlook.

The 4th kyu who failed his brown belt, apart from the awful disrespect he showed the visiting 5th dan who oversaw the test, failed himself by not facing the challenge of getting back up, dusting himself off, and redoubling his efforts to try again next time. That is what karate is about. He may have failed his grading, but if you have the right attitude to 'failure' you can often get more from it than from success.

The 1st dan's attitude went against the idea of the dojo kun. It wasn't karate. It would at least be better to bow out and say you had an injury, (another precept: karate begins and ends with courtesy) and better still to do the exercise to the best of your ability - even if that meant changing the kick, or asking if you could do a hand strike instead. And a 1st dan should know that and set such a good example to the lower grades present.

Of course no one can make you do these things, and no one should. Karate is for yourself, and to strive to always do your best can reap great rewards - it's worth doing. This is one of the best lessons that karate teaches, and the dojo kun can help to keep such lessons in the forefront of your mind as you train.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012


I was on holiday last week so tonight's training was the first for a little while (I missed three sessions). My fitness held up well throughout kihon combinations, then we did partner work (gohon kumite), then a little kata - though I was acting as sempai so didn't actually do much myself (just kihon kata (I prefer the name Taikyoku), Heian shodan and Bassai-dai.

We were reminded tonight that the kata tests start next week when N will be doing Empi and M will be doing Gankaku. I am doing Kanku-sho the following week. I need to get my skates on - I haven't done the kata much recently and didn't practice it at all tonight. There are still areas of the kata I haven't really looked at in much depth.

Monday, April 9, 2012

Sensei Harada on Kanku-sho

This is from an interview with Shotokai Sensei Mitsusuke Harada, who trained with Gichin and Yoshitaka Funakoshi in the 1940s and Egami in the 1950s. Asked about his initial impressions of karate he says there were two main things - training at the Shotokan, and the kata Kanku-sho.

"I first saw the kata Kanku-sho at a local display and it was the jumping kick that impressed me. But unfortunately, at the Shotokan dojo, I had no opportunity to study it. When I joined Waseda University in 1948, in the first year I didn’t know all the kata but by the second year we had practised all of the designated Shotokan katas. But we never did Kanku-sho. So, I asked some seniors about this kata and although I did not know the name at the time, I remembered the jumping kick, which I described to the seniors. They then told me it was 'Kanku-sho'. But unfortunately I didn’t have any opportunity at that time to learn it. Then, in 1967, when I returned to Japan from Great Britain, I had the chance to learn Kanku-sho with the university (Waseda) group."

As a footnote to my blog entry on the history of the kata, it is interesting. Harada says he did not have the opportunity to learn the kata, but it was obviously around (we don't know who was doing the local display but the fact it had the 'jumping kick' does suggest it was the Shotokan version). Furthermore, he says that he did not learn it as part of the full 'designated Shotokan katas', though Gichin Funakoshi wrote that Kanku-sho was being taught at the Shotokan as of 1943 (coincidentally the year Harada began his training).

In Conversations with Karate Masters by Dr. Clive Layton (Ronin, 1988), Harada believes that Kanku-sho was one of the kata Yoshitaka brought back from Okinawa after his father sent him there in the 1930s. It's difficult to say how accurate this is, and I suspect it is not totally accurate, as basically his list of these kata consists of all but the 'core fifteen' (plus Taikyoku shodan).

Sunday, April 8, 2012

Kata: perception and experience

At a training session a couple of weeks ago sensei asked some of the black belts to critique her Hangetsu kata. One of my fellow yudansha suggested that the first set of moves did not come across as strong enough, perhaps lacking the dynamic tension that usually accompanies the techniques. Sensei took the point but said that she was engaging the tension and felt it, and this brings up an aspect of kata that I feel quite strongly about - the experience of doing a kata for yourself against the perception of an outsider who can mostly only view the kata as a performance.

My belief is that kata is not a performance for others, which is why I'm not interested in competition karate (and I'm not saying there is no skill in competition kata - of course there is). I'm not fanatical about ending on exactly the same spot on which I started the kata, and I don't consider my kata a failure if I put in an extra shuffle into an attacking technique, or if I occasionally target a nukite at the throat rather than the solar plexus.

What matters is how it feels to me as I fight along the embusen. I use the word 'fight' here quite deliberately. When I do a kata, it is a fight. I am delivering fighting techniques in order to practice them in movement, but I also take on a serious martial attitude and try to put 100% into every technique. I 'see' the enemy, I imagine the move against an invisible force. The fight is internal.

I said that I don't necessarily do every technique perfectly, but I do attempt to. That is also part of the fight - overcoming my physical failings to try and execute the moves with precision as best as I can. Technical perfection is not the be-all and end-all of kata, but you shouldn't use that as an excuse for bad technique. You know when you've missed the mark, or when you've 'phoned it in', and when you do, the only loser is yourself.

In relation to that, this is not a defence against criticism or constructive comments, which are helpful - and a good teacher or fellow student can always point out areas of improvment. If I felt that a mae geri I did within a kata felt particularly strong, but someone later pointed out that my heel was off the ground, I would note that and next time try to combine the strong front kick with better stability - the fight goes on. Similarly, if sensei felt she was putting in good dynamic tension, but her sempai suggested it could be better, that will make her question her technique and focus on it next time.

Still, we've all seen those YouTube comments where the writer criticises the performance (and it becomes a performance as soon as it is for the benefit of a viewer, even if unintended) because a fist is an inch too high, or the move appears to lack kime, and I think the majority of those comments show a lack of understanding of what kata is really about. They are interested only in show, and kata is not show.

Many of these comments are from students of one style criticising another style that they don't understand, or are totally ignorant about. Just look at the comments under almost any Shotokai kata ...

"... it's like a poor japanese imitation of tai chi, except tai chi would whup your ass... go learn a real style"
"umm but wheres the impact?"
"His limbs are a bit flimsy, more hard work on overall basics, speed and Kimi, and it will be there."
"Is this a joke?..."
"... no kime! this is a power kata not a dance?"
"looks like shotokan ... but with no effort, my 9 year old does it like that"

All these commenters are showing, in my opinion, is their ignorance of another style and, probably, a bit of self-delusion about their own ability too!

Another aspect is the physical limitations of the person doing the kata. A person who can only kick knee-high is doing no less of a kata than someone who shows off by doing all their yoko-geri a foot above their own head level. No two people have the same physical ability, no two people do a kata the same way.

I am always pleased when I finish a kata and felt my techniques were nearly faultless, when every punch snapped and my kicks felt as though they could take someone's head off; when I jumped and spun and landed like a cat, and when my kime caused a glance or two. Rare, but nice. I have also had a kata recorded on video that felt as though it was a real battle, where I lived every technique, and then viewed it later to see it looked about as vibrant as a wet fish (that's another thing about video, of course, it automatically strips off a layer or two of vibrancy no matter how good the kata).

There's always room for improvement, but kata aren't for collecting on video to impress - what matters is the sweat and intention and what it adds to me as a karateka, how it improves me, not how it entertains or impresses others.

It's nice to see a showy kata, but it's a diversion. Kata is all about making yourself better.

There are two different things going on here.

Monday, March 26, 2012


Some stats ... here are the stances that are used in Kanku-sho:

kokutsu dachi (back stance)
zenkutsu dachi (front stance)
kosa dachi (cross-legged stance)
renoji dachi (L-stance)
kiba dachi (horse riding stance)
ryote fuse (both hands down)

The zenkutsu dachi that tsukami uke is done in is shorter than usual, and in fact Kanazawa gives it the name moto dachi (foundation stance). The extra low back stance, done after the jump into ryote fuse, Kanazawa calls kasei kokutsu dachi (strong low back stance).

There are 15 front stances, 13 back stances, 3 cross-legged stances, 2 L-stances, and 1 hands-down stance (a very long and low front stance, you could say).

Taiji Kase, kasui ken

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Tonight's training

I don't really have a lot to say about tonight's training - except I'm exhausted, which is usually the case and is always a good sign! We did two kata that have been somewhat neglected by us recently, Kanku-dai and Jion.

It was interesting to do them in the light of having concentrated on Kanku-sho and Ji'in so much recently. I don't think I made any mistakes, but I did have to concentrate quite hard to avoid going into an incorrect sequence. I did make a silly mistake in Tekki Shodan - ridiculous as it's my kettle-boiling kata (ie. the kata I usually do in the kitchen while waiting for the kettle to boil!) so I think I know it quite well and it's a firm favourite.

I practiced the second jump in Kanku-sho a bit again tonight. I think I did about one good one - I was pretty tired by that point though. I know how I want it to be in my head, but the reality has yet to mirror that vision!

Monday, March 19, 2012


From my karate library (which consists of 74 books - I just counted) I have only three which show Kanku-sho. Two of these are by the same author, Hirokazu Kanazawa, and the other is volume 9 of Masatoshi Nakayama's Best Karate series. I have a real affection for the older JKA manuals and videos, but at the same time it was Kanazawa (who used to be JKA, of course) who first impressed me as an individual. At our club we tend to go to Kanazawa for reference when needed.

Best Karate vol. 9 was published in 1985 (by Kodansha International), and is a departure from previous manuals in the series in that the photographs are not cut-outs, but complete with backgrounds. It's much nicer, I think, than the cut-outs - though those are perfectly adequate, if a little wonky at times! Mikio Yahara demonstrates Kanku-sho in this book, with the other kata contained in that volume being Bassai-sho and Chinte.

The older Kanazawa book is one I owned a long time ago, got rid of in a book-purge, and then re-purchased a few years ago because I missed it - it is Shotokan Karate International Kata vol 2 (published in 1982). The other is Sensei Kanazawa's more recent tome, Karate The Complete Kata (Kodansha International, 2009). This is a wonderful book, largely thanks to having the entire syllabus under one cover, but also because of the useful descriptions accompanying each technique. The only downside is that the photos are tiny, which is where the earlier manual comes into its own with much larger and clearer photographs.

All three include a few basic bunkai at the end of each section, some of it not so good ... for instance, in Best Karate, Yahara demonstrates both the manji-kamae and the kasui-ken as being blocks against two simultaneous attackers. There's also some Hong-Kong-Phooey jumping over a staff. It's all fine for a bit of fun. These are made up for with some fine points of the kata demonstrated by Sensei Nakayama.

In both his books Kanazawa just shows the same two very simple applications (one technique and one sequence), only in the second one he's 27 years older (but still looking pretty sharp!). He has one of his sempai photographed for the actual kata in the 2009 publication (I couldn't find a name).

There are few minor but notable differences between Kanazawa and the 1980s JKA. Kanazawa includes an osae-uke in the main sequence, whereas Nakayama keeps the open hand out high, purely as a counter-movement to the uraken. In the morote-zuki (kiba dachi), Kanazawa has introduced a middle-level forearm block (ude-uke) in preparation of the side double-punch; Yahara shows just a wind-up for the strike. Kanazawa is more elegant and has standardised what probably otherwise has a lot of variation, though Nakayama could be said to be more pragmatic and direct. The haishu-uke is shown as a jodan technique by Kanazawa whereas the JKA instruct it should be to shoulder level - still technically jodan, but not as high.

If you're after Shotokan manuals for kata, these are certainly among the very best available, and you can see both Kanazawa and Yahara demonstrate Kanku-sho with the aid of YouTube.

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Soete Kake dori

More focus on kata at last night's training where we were able to self-practise again and I worked on the main sequence, as before, but this time adding the jo-uke and the jump into shuto-uke. I'm improving on this middle section of the kata now ... it's just the beginning that needs work! Got to tackle those opening moves at some point.

The 'main sequence' starts with the technique that Kanazawa refers to as soete kake dori, literally 'added-hand suspended capture', but translating more properly as augmented hooking grasp. Nakayama gives it the name tsukami uke, or grasping block. Here are Sensei Kanazawa and Sensei Yahara demonstrating the technique from different angles...

It is similar to the move in Bassai-dai/sho sometimes called kaeshi dori (reverse grasp). In his book Kata - the Folk Dances of Shotokan, Rob Redmond says that the Kanku-sho grasp is not the same as the "scooping hand technique called the Tiger Mouth in Bassai Dai", explaining that in Bassai-dai the hand and wrist do not make contact throughout the motion (though some practitioners do teach the fingers lightly touching on the wrist, eg. Enoeda, Kanazawa). Here is Gichin Funakoshi doing Bassai-dai ...

There are a variety of feasible applications for tsukami uke, many of which do not really utilise the augmenting hand, but the one I will be demonstrating in my bunkai section is a wrist trap, known in Shaolin Chin-Na as xiao chan si (small hank of thread). Here is a picture from a 1936 Shanghai police training manual showing the first stage - compare it with the image of Kanazawa above.

The next part of the sequence sees the defender turning their right palm on top of the aggressor's wrist and pulling down. In Kanku-sho the pull also brings your opponent on to a mae geri.

To finish the sequence I use the osae uke to push the opponent's grasped wrist away and then strike to jodan shomen with uraken which my partner will block and counter with a mid-level punch. In the kata here I'd do uchi-uke, but with no time for the full technique (bringing it back and blocking out) I am bringing my fist from the uraken position down onto my attacker's forearm (a striking block, uraken-uke), then finishing up with nihon zuki.

Friday, March 16, 2012

My view on jumps

Shotokan has a number of jumps that appear within its kata. The first the student will come across is in Heian Godan, where you turn, jump, and land in a gedan juji-uke and kosa dachi. It can be quite a challenge, especially to land in position without overbalancing.

The first application I was told for this was that you were jumping over a sword, or a staff, and the juji uke was to then disarm the weapon. At the time, as a 16-year old in the mid 1980s, I accepted this explanation, but it's fairly blatantly ridiculous now (though there's no harm, every now and then, in doing a kata and pretending you're in a Kung Fu film, jumping over swords etc. - have some fun!). These days it's generally accepted that a turning jump indicates a throw (there are other hidden throws in kata with no jump, of course - the first appearing in Heian Shodan).

So why keep the jump? Surely it's silly to keep it in, and has only been put there to look good in competitions. While I think it's important to know the real meaning of the turn and jump in a Shotokan kata, I also think jumping serves a purpose beyond providing an opportunity for the more talented karateka to show off - it develops coordination, balance and athleticism, all good stuff in addition to the practical fighting aspect. It's also a great physical challenge, one - no matter what your personal physical ability - you can always strive to keep working at and improve.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

More training

At karate tonight, after some combinations to warm us up, we split up again to work on our kata - this time each being given a section to work on and then show at the end. Mine was the 'main sequence', that is soete kake-dori, mae geri, osae uki, uchi uke, nihon zuki, and then going into the manji uke and morote zuki in kiba. It was good to practice it a few times and I was able to focus it up a little, especially the kiba section.

I also partnered up with K again for his Ji'in bunkai, for which we have all 3 sections now, including a nice close-up exchange for the final moves of the kata. (Final moves, that is, for the Shotokan version - for some reason we don't include the last four moves of the kata as done in Shito Ryu and Shorin Ryu. Why? Edited out deliberately, forgotten, or not transmitted properly?).

I then trained on my own for a bit, on the mats, and practiced the jump into mikazuki geri and ryote fuse - down on to the ground. This was very useful as it is not something I have the room for at home, and I must have done it a good 20 times or so. I'd say just under half were satisfactory - and by satisfactory I mean a good connection of the mikazuki onto the hand (a slap!) and a balanced landing in exactly the right direction. So, progress, but it still needs work.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

History of Kanku-sho

Note: This article has since been updated and rewritten and is available here.

It is widely accepted that Kanku-sho (originally Kushanku-sho) was created by Anko Itosu, inspired by and complementing Kushanku (Kanku-dai). As to when he did this, it is not known. Did he implement a big revision of the kata, including the creation of the Pinan series, all in one go, or did his deep study of karate see him develop Kusanku-sho and Bassai-sho, for instance, much earlier - or even later? The Pinan (Shotokan's Heian kata) were introduced into the Okinawan school system in the early 1900s, but the period of their actual development is not known.

Sensei Kanazawa mentions that Kanku-sho was preserved by Choshin Chibana, one of Itosu's top students and the main founder of modern Shorin Ryu (Kobayashi). I'm not sure this can be strictly true. For one thing, the kata appears in other lineages that come from Itosu that don't include Chibana. There is also a story that Chibana did not learn Kusanku (dai) until after the Second World War, it being taught to him by his student Katsuya Miyahira (who also learned karate from another of Itosu's disciples, Anbun Tokuda). Although by no means impossible, if true, it would seem odd that he knew Kushanku-sho but not Kushanku-dai.

As for the other lineages, Kushanku-sho appears in Shito Ryu, as taught in Japan by Kenwa Mabuni and on Okinawa by Shinpan Gusukuma, both students of Itosu. It also appears on the syllabus for Shigeru Nakamura's Okinawan Kempo - Nakamura had several teachers, among them students of Itosu as well as Itosu himself.

So Chibana cannot have been the sole preserver of Kushanku-sho. That leads to an interesting question, however, namely how did the kata come into Shotokan - did Gichin Funakoshi, arguably Itosu's most famous student, know it as well?

The evidence suggests that he did, though to what extent is another matter. It does seem as though he knew a larger number of kata in his early teaching career than he later practised in old age when he was more focused on the idea of the 'core fifteen' kata that would become the backbone of Shotokan (which did not include Kanku-sho). The Shotokai claim that Funakoshi learnt over 100 kata in his youth is almost certainly hyperbole, and it is well-known that Funakoshi himself taught that you must know the kata you learn with some depth, and must not hurry to learn them in numbers just for the sake of it.

Funakoshi mentions Kusanku-sho in his second book, Rentan Goshin Karate Jutsu, as early as 1925. Two of his students, Mizuho Mutsu and Nisaburo Miki, show the kata in their 1930 publication, Kempo Gaisetsu (though they had just visited Okinawa, so I can't say if it came from Funakoshi or not). In Karate-do Nyumon (1943) Funakoshi includes Kanku-sho in the list of 27 kata then studied at the Shotokan, which tallies with the information that he taught around 30 kata at Keio, the home of the first university dojo (1924).

There is the possibility that it was Sensei Funakoshi's son, Yoshitaka, that knew the kata rather than his father, although there is no reason to think he did not actually learn it from his father, despite his trips to Okinawa and his also learning from another Itosu student, Chojo Oshiro. We can be fairly certain Yoshitaka practised the kata because there is a photo of him doing the tobi ushiro geri from it (though it could also be from Unsu).

Whatever the truth, Kanku-sho came into Shotokan directly from the style's progenitors. It was not transmitted from Mabuni, as Gojushiho and Nijushiho were, and it did not come from Chibana. It was not a JKA addition as, apart from Funakoshi's credentials with the kata, it also appears in Shotokai (Harada*) and Chidokan (Sasaki) - though it is not in Wado Ryu (Otsuka).

Of course the most interesting part of the kata's history lies buried with Anko Itosu, but we can perhaps get a glimpse of his thinking by studying the kata and comparing it with Kanku-dai. I won't entirely close the chapter on the history of Kanku-sho here, as there may be more to learn ...

In the meantime, here is a picture of Choshin Chibana performing the opening move of Passai in the late 1930s.

* I have since learnt that Harada did not know Kanku-sho until 1967. See blog post here.

Saturday, March 10, 2012


Karate training last night was given over to kata and, slightly different from usual, we split off into pairs to work on various things.

Firstly I went with K, whose kata is Ji'in, and who I am partnering for his bunkai. We went through Ji'in a few times and I firmed up the moves a little better than I previously had them. Then we chose the three sections K will be demonstrating for bunkai. K came up with a good sequence for two of the combinations but is going to go away and think a little more on the remaining one as nothing good came up right away. I like Ji'in. It's not one of the 'fifteen' and I believe the JKA have dropped it from their syllabus, but I'm glad to have it in my repertoire.

Next I partnered sensei for her kata - Hangetsu. As I had done this kata for my 1st dan test (back in 1989) I watched it and gave a few notes - only a few minor things (I haven't done it much myself recently). Then we tried out her bunkai.

My Kanku-sho was next. It was better than last time but I still didn't 'feel it'. The first three moves are deceptively hard and I think it can affect the rest of the kata if you don't start well. My bunkai sequences are: i) the main sequence of soete kaki-dori, mae geri, osae uke, uraken, uchi uke, and nihon zuki (not sure yet whether to include the turn and kasui-ken); ii) the morote jo-uke and jo-zukami tsuki otoshi; and iii) the haishu uke, mikazuki geri and tobi ushiro geri.

That last one I did with the haishu blocking and grabbing a punch that comes from behind, as I turn into the mikazuki geri I turn my assailant's wrist and when the mikazuki geri connects it is against the locked arm - a bit of an arm breaker. I then continue with the momentum round into an ushiro geri - not jumping, though I may attempt that with practice. This is keeping it fairly simple rather than coming up with a fancy explanation for the jump.

The jo-uke sequence was also fairly successful with the front arm being a taisho block to the assailant's elbow joint and the back hand grabbing the wrist simultaneously (against a punch). The next move then twists their arm and pushes them down. The jump and turn into shuto uke becomes a turn and throw (no jump) - it works quite well. I know this is traditionally said to be against a bo or jo, but I'm not to keen on the idea of catching a wooden staff (or metal baseball bat) that is being used to attack me!

As for the main sequence, I tried out the obvious bunkai but it didn't feel very satisfactory, so like K with Ji'in, I'm going to go and away and think about that some more, but I probably won't stray too far from it.

For the rest of the session we did more kata - all the Heians, Bassai-dai and Gankaku. I feel quite confident with these kata and I enjoyed doing them, they felt strong. My yoko-geri were particularly pleasing - my hips have been a little inflexible recently but they felt back in form, for that evening anyway!

It's about time this blog had a picture, so here's a nice one of Sensei Kanazawa doing the Kasui-ken (fire and water fist) from Kanku-sho.

Friday, March 9, 2012

Kanku-sho - the name

Note: This article has since been updated and rewritten and is available here.

A good starting point for the understanding of any kata is to examine its name. With Shotokan that can mean looking at the name changes introduced by Sensei Funakoshi in the 1930s and also to research the kata's original - or at least Okinawan - name as well.

There is a slightly different angle as far as Kanku-sho goes because it is named after its 'parent kata', Kanku (originally Kushanku), so the kata itself does not necessarily have a direct influence on the name. That does, however, lead to another area of study altogether, namely the kata's association, if any, with its parent - but that will be for another time.

Despite all that, let's look at the name. Here are the kanji for Kanku-sho: 観空小

is for kan meaning view, look or appearance.
is for ku meaning sky, empty or void. You will probably recognise this as the kanji also for kara in karate - empty hand.
is for shou meaning little or small.

Put together Kanku-sho means 'viewing the sky' or 'viewing emptiness' - small version. In relation to Kanku, Funakoshi, in Karate-do Kyohan, said:

"I have given it [the] name Kan-ku, sky-gazing, since at the beginning of the kata, there is a movement of your hands coming together with you looking up at the sky through them."

It has also been mentioned that 'looking at the sky' is akin to 'looking into the void' with the double meaning similar to that which Funakoshi intended with the change from Chinese Hand to Empty Hand.

From Karate-do Nyumon:

"Just as an empty valley can carry a resounding voice, so must the person who follows the way of karate make himself void or empty by ridding himself of all self-centredness and greed. Make yourself empty within, but upright without. This is the real meaning of 'empty' in karate."

This ties in with the zen concept of mushin (no mind), or Bankei's 'unborn mind', and is the state a student should enter into during mokuso and, in fact, training in general.

So does the meaning have any bearing on Kanku-sho? Obviously the deeper meaning does - that applies to all practice of karate. As for the physical aspect, it has been suggested that the haishu-uke, just before the jumping crescent and back kick, is the sho equivalent of Kanku-dai's opening move - you slowly extend your arm to block with the back of your hand to jodan level - thus 'looking at the sky'.

It does fit, though not as poetically as Kanku-dai, but has that technique been recruited to fit the concept after the fact, or was it created in order to serve it (the jodan haishu uke is not present in the original form of Kushanku-sho, it is a Shotokan development). Remember that Funakoshi changed the kata names to make them easier, or more palatable, for the Japanese (even Okinawans didn't necessarily have consensus on the meanings of the their kata names), and his new names reflected the character of the kata in order to make more sense as they were introduced to a wider public.

Furthermore Kanku was originally called Kushanku (or Koshokun), named for a Chinese official who visited Okinawa in 1756, and had nothing to do with looking at the sky. Kanku-sho is merely inherited from Kushanku-sho, so is doubly removed in that its name is only there to connect it to its parent kata, so it had to be updated along with Kanku (aka Kanku-dai).

In conclusion, the name doesn't tell us a lot about the kata itself other than it is connected to an earlier kata and the jodan haishu uke may have been included in the Shotokan version with the name in mind - or not. The interesting thing will be to see how and why this is a 'small' version of its big brother.

Thursday, March 8, 2012

New rules

At karate last night we were given an update on our kata 'tests'. They will now be spread over three training sessions, with the first on the 18th April. Mine is to be on 25th April. A few items have been added: other members of the club will score us on various aspects, giving marks out of 10, meaning there will now be a 'winner'. We have also each chosen a partner with which to demonstrate our bunkai; I will be partnering Sensei for Hangetsu and also K for Ji'in. Sensei will be my partner for Kanku-sho. One more thing, we have each been given someone else's kata that we must research (history) in order to gauge their knowledge. I must admit I was hoping for Empi or Hangetsu, both very interesting kata, but I was given Ji'in instead. Actually, this is good, as it forces me out of my well-known favourites, though Ji'in is a bit of a mysterious one. All the same, I'm looking forward to seeing what I can find out about it. I might develop my learning of the kata a little more too - it's rather tenuous at the moment! But mainly, I have to start putting some proper attention on Kanku-sho. I did it once at training last night and it didn't feel very good - it's a difficult kata.

Wednesday, March 7, 2012


The focus of my karate training is kata. I have not been one to accumulate as many as I can - I prefer to add them to my repertoire only when I feel I'm ready for a new one, which is rarely! At my first club we only learnt the kata that was required for our next grading, so each became a well practised form with little distraction.

Up until about 2 years ago (25 years of karate, with a couple of gaps in training) I knew only the Heians (1-5), Tekki Shodan, Bassai-dai, Kanku-dai, Jion, Empi, and Hangetsu (which I did for my 1st dan test). When I was awarded my 2nd dan I decided to add two more kata and taught myself Tekki Nidan and Gankaku. I had intended to keep to just these for the moment, but through weekly club training I had Bassai-sho, Wankan and Ji'in added, though I didn't delve in too deeply, I must admit.

A few months ago it was suggested that each of the black belts at our club should choose an advanced kata and study it in more depth. At first I couldn't decide between Empi (one of my favourites) and Gankaku (which is the kata I felt I was currently studying). Both of these were made off-limits when a fellow student chose Gankaku before me (we all had to have a different kata) and it was thought I should learn something new rather an old favourite (Empi). Some of the other black belts vaguely knew Kanku-sho, and I had tagged along with it on occasion, so I decided to dive in more fully and Kanku-sho became my choice.

So this blog is here to act as a kind of notebook to aid my study of the kata. I will look at the kata's history and origins as well as its application and technical details. We have to present our kata on April 18th 2012, performing it slowly and technically once through, and at normal speed twice, as well as demonstrate three extracts in application and talk about the kata (origins, meaning and character of the form).

Furthermore, this blog will reflect my own philosophy of karate, which is somewhat on the budo side of things. I am interested in pragmatism too, but it is not my sole focus - I'm into self-development rather than feeling the need to be able to fight on the street! I would be happy to welcome comments if anyone happens across this blog and has something to say, but any comments that are prejudicial (against karate as a martial art, or Shotokan as a style) will be deleted at my discretion. My view is that there is no art, style or outlook that is better than another, it is all about the individual and what they want from their art.

One last thing - not every entry will necessarily be about Kanku-sho specifically and I may, from time to time, write about other karate related topics.

Update: Having decided to continue the blog beyond my Kanku-sho research, I have changed the name to Karate Kagami, You can see my Kanku-sho research codified into an article here.