Wednesday, May 16, 2018

Another Heian Shodan Exercise

Here's another Heian Shodan exercise, but this time perhaps more of a thought exercise rather than a physical one.

How many different jodan (upper level) defences are there in Heian Shodan?

If you ask a kyu grade they may give the answer "one: age-uke". This isn't wrong, but I hope a more advanced student would give a different answer - for instance, I count five.
  1. The very first move, the preparation for gedan-barai, can be used as a nagashi-uke before striking with the same arm, gedan tetsui-uchi.
  2. The high arc of the tetsui-uchi (the fourth move) can be a deflection against a jodan attack, leading to a strike or an arm lock.
  3. The open-handed preparation for age-uke, with the actual age-uke being a follow-up strike.
  4. Good old, basic age-uke.
  5. The preparation for the shuto-uke, using the palm of the hand to deflect an attack.
There can be more than this, especially if you play around a bit with the level of other techniques, for instance raising the oi-zuki to jodan and imagining it as a single technique block-punch, or using the shuto-uke as a jodan defence.

Even as black belts we shouldn't think of a 'beginners' kata as only for beginners. Every kata can be viewed in a simple what-you-see-is-what-you-get form, but with more practice and knowledge, even the first forms you learnt can become 'advanced kata'.

Thursday, February 1, 2018

A Heian Shodan exercise

Here's a kata/combination exercise I sometimes do at our club. First of all, do Heian Shodan. Next, do it again, but this time, before every oi-zuki, put in a mae-geri with the step (eg. gedan-barai, mae-geri, oi-zuki). On the third run-through, as well as the mae-geri, add a gyaku-zuki after each age-uke. Do it again, with all the previous additions, but now turn each oi-zuki into sanbon-zuki. Finally, after each shuto-uke, add a kizami mawashi-geri. It's a great warm-up exercise, and good kihon combination practice.

Sunday, January 11, 2015

Thirty years

2015 sees a number of significant anniversaries for me, some good, a couple not so good. One of the good ones is that 11th January marks thirty years since I started karate. I did have a couple of breaks in that time, so I have not been training fully for 30 years, but it is somewhere around 26 or 27 or so.
Karate has been a very important part of my life. My last two years of school were not great, and starting karate brought back some of my self-confidence. Also at school, I was terrible at sport, but karate was something I did away from school and I allowed myself a fresh start. I took to it really well. The only person I was in competition with was myself, and that can be a huge incentive to try and excel, week by week.
My first sensei was Brian Whitehouse at his Shotokan Karate Club of East Grinstead, but when I went to live in the US for a year I took six lessons a week at the headquarters of the International Karate Association under the famous Takayuki Kubota. I returned to the UK and became the first black belt at Brian's club. A few years ago I wrote up my karate experience, just to help me remember it all - you can read it here if you wish (it's not a particularly exciting or outstanding story, I admit!).

Karate seems to be slightly unfashionable these days, largely, I think, due to the glamour of the new kid on the block, MMA (Mixed Martial Arts). But that discipline doesn't do it for me - it's too much about winning, about competition, and about who is strongest and best. It misses the budo aspects, the humility, the finesse. It misses the Art.
One aspect of Japanese martial arts that comes in for more criticism these days is the idea that practicing a fighting art can improve your character. For me, it really has. Karate has been my model for bettering myself in all walks of life and for not giving up on something I want to do. When I lose my way, I think of karate. The lessons I've learned while attempting to perfect a technique, or to keep going when my legs want to give out, find other applications. My comic strip, The Rainbow Orchid, would not exist without my karate training (not to mention the fact that it helps when I'm drawing fight scenes!). It's not a spiritual thing for me, it's a practical, real thing.

I love kata - the pre-arranged forms or patterns of karate, an imaginary fight in multiple directions, an encyclopaedia of self-preservation techniques. I feel I'm just beginning to understand how they work - a glimpse of a bigger picture. I'm constantly trying to perfect them, and am always very far away from doing so. But each time is a new challenge. I also love the fact that practicing kata connects me to the art's history, and with forms that masters have handed down through centuries, changing and evolving with each interpretation and generation. The history of karate generally is a big part of the attraction, too. I'm still doing karate (my current club's website is here) and I still love it. I can't kick quite as high as I used to, the jumps aren't quite as athletic, and the legs tire a bit more quickly than they once did, but it's still an enormous challenge. And I think I'm starting to get the hang of it a little - at last.

Here's a short video from the days when my limbs were a bit more elastic, even if my technique was a lot less formed - in the summer of 1985, as a 7th kyu orange belt in Brian's class at the Small Parish Hall (sadly just recently demolished).

Monday, January 5, 2015

Karate Kagami 空手鏡

I have renamed this blog from Kanku-sho Diary to Karate Kagami (Karate mirror). It started out as a place to record my research into the kata Kanku-sho (now codified into an article here), but now continues as a general repository for my own interests and research into karate.

Monday, March 3, 2014

Book review: 'Les Katas Supérieurs du Shotokan-Ryu' by Taiji Kase

I recently posted this review on ...

This is a big book - hardback, nicely produced, and thick at 350 pages. It's an expanded reprint of Sensei Kase's 1982 advanced kata volume.

Although a French publication, it also has much of the content reproduced in English as well (the sections: Characteristics of the Kase-Ha Shotokan-ryu Karate-do (by Pascal Lecourt); About Sensei Kase (by Sachiko Kase); Key points (to keep in mind when doing kata); Advice (for practising kata); Tempo (about timing in kata); Katas (an introduction on kata by Kase); Katas Heian Oyo and Tekki Oyo (introducing Kase's Oyo forms); and The Progression (what to expect after 5, 10, 15, 20, 30 and 40 years of training). Also in English and French are the short (single paragraph) introductions to each kata.

The descriptions of each move in each kata are in French only, with the technique's name in Japanese. These descriptions are very short so, on the one hand, you can probably translate the French with just a rudimentary understanding of the language, but on the other hand, there's not much supplementary information to the photos. For instance, the opening move of Empi: "Déplacer la jambe gauche, genou droit au sol, buste de profil. Gedan-barai / Kamae."

Each kata opens with a very nice full page photo of Kase doing a signature move from the kata, then a title page which includes the kanji for its name and a short introduction. The kata is shown step-by-step (by Kase himself), usually with nine main photos to a page - though many of the moves also have small side views - a nice feature, though they are very small. At the end of each kata there is a 'Détails des mouvements' - showing in a little more detail two or three of the kata's sequences. Next is a diagram of the direction each sequence in the kata takes - not the embusen exactly, but kind of. Each kata then ends with a couple of pages of applications (pretty basic, 'traditional karate' stuff, usually for just two, maybe three techniques) and finally the entire kata across two pages - smaller photos, but for easy reference while practising.

I've already touched on a couple of the book's less favourable aspects - the very brief text descriptions for each move, and the tiny side view photos. I would also say the photos are not super-quality - they're a little soft - but they are clear, with a nice simple background, slightly darker than Kase's karate gi so he stands out. I would only say that the softness means that on some occasions you cannot make out Kase's exact hand position, but overall it's good, and I'm being hyper-critical here. There is very little in the way of transitional positioning shown from move to move.

Although there is not a glossary at the back of the book, there is a section at the beginning ('Nomenclature - attitudes et postures') which explains many of the techniques - first stances, then techniques divided up by kata, each with the Japanese term (eg."ura tsuki") a brief description (in French, eg. "attaque avec l'arrière du poing") and an accompanying photo.

The kata included in this book are as follows: Kanku-dai, Bassai-dai, Empi, Hangetsu, Jion, Jite, Gankaku, Tekki nidan, Kanku-sho, Bassai-sho, Nijushiho, Ji'in, Tekki sandan, Chinte, Sochin, Meikyo, Gojushiho-dai, Gojushiho-sho, Unsu and Wankan. It does not include the Heians, or Tekki shodan. It does include Sensei Kase's own inventions - Heian Oyo and Tekki Oyo - long forms made up of moves from all the Heians and Tekkis. These are probably only of use if you study Kase-Ha Shotokan-Ryu, but they are interesting to see, nonetheless.

As with pretty much every kata book, this is great as a supplement to training with a sensei, but not so good to learn the kata in detail from scratch. It has bigger photos than Kanazawa's recent (2009) kata book (though that has better move-by-move descriptions) and it is a nice opportunity to have all the advanced Shotokan kata under one cover - including Wankan and Jiin, not included in Nakayama's Best Karate series (though Nakayama has more detail on transitional positions).

It's not the Shotokan kata book (for me that is Kanazawa's two volume 'Shotokan Karate International Kata' (1982)), but it is a very nice addition to the library and worth getting to have one of the Shotokan greats - sadly no longer with us - take you through the advanced kata. Kase is well known as being of slightly heavier physique, but he looks fantastic doing Shotokan, and videos of him testify to his speed and power in motion.

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Notes on the kata Kanku-sho

I have put together much of my research into Kanku-sho into a single article - Notes on the kata Kanku-sho.

image © Garen Ewing 2014

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).