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.