Monday, November 10, 2008

Karate Kata

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'A kata may be regarded as an integration of offensive and defensive techniques, but it is more than that. One should try to understand the spirit of the master karateka who created the kata, for it has a life of its own and requires five or six years to be mastered.'
- Hironori Ohtsuka, Wado-Ryu founder

Kata - 'Formal movements'; in the context of Japanese martial arts, an 'imaginary fight'.
Bunkai - Principles and application of kata.

Kata list
As I teach a formulation of Heiwado, which is based partly on Wado-Ryu, I have placed below a list of kata that have been traditionally practiced in Wado ryu at some point. These kata tend to use the Okinawan names. I include the alternate Japanese / Shotokan name for each kata in parentheses, besides the Okinawan name. After the Wado ryu kata, I list other kata that I am aware of. Keep in mind, however, that these lists are intended to be informative to those interested in kata history, rather than suggestive of what should be required to learn. Also, my information isn't complete / perfect, due to a lack of written records in early 'te' history, and ongoing debate.

Wado ryu kata
Pinan (Heian) series: Shodan, Nidan, Sandan, Yodan, and Godan
'Peaceful Mind' Numbers 1-5. Said to be created by Anko Itosu in 1905 or 1906, basing them on Kushanku, and a forgotten kata called Channan. There is some debate as to whether Kushanku was instead formulated from the Pinan series, however. Ohtsuka-meijin studied the Pinan series under both Funakoshi- and Mabuni-sensei. Ohtsuka later made modifications to these kata under the direction of Mabuni, and also used influences from Shindo Yoshin ryu jujutsu.

Kushanku (Kanku Dai)
‘Gazing heavenward’, ‘viewing the sky’, or ‘contemplating the sky’. Said to be the most advanced of all Okinawan kata. Ohtsuka-sensei studied Kushanku under Funakoshi- and Mabuni-sensei.

Chinto (Gankaku)
'Fighting to the East' / 'Crane on a Rock'. Formulated in Tomari from the teachings of a Chinese sailor of the same name, this kata was based mostly on White Crane Kung-Fu and later adopted into shuri-te. Ohtsuka-sensei studied variations of this kata under masters Funakoshi and Mabuni.

Seishan (Hangetsu)
'13 Hands'/'Crescent Moon'. It is based on movements brought from Fukien to Okinawa circa 1700. Ohtsuka-sensei also knew and taught the shuri-te version of Seishan.

Naifanchi / Naihanchi (Tekki Shodan)
'Holding your ground', 'The Iron Horse', or 'Battlefield'. Named after naihanchi dachi, which the kata centers around. This kata was transmitted by Matsumura-sensei throughout Shuri and Tomari sometime before 1825. Master Ohtsuka learned Naifanchi from Motobu-sensei.

‘Extract from a fortress’ or ‘remove an obstruction’. An Tomari-te kata that uses dynamic stances and hip rotation. The Shotokan, Shito, and Wado ryu versions of Bassai are directly based upon Master Itosu's Bassai. Ohtsuka learned Bassai from Funakoshi.

Wanshu (Empi)
‘Dumping Form’. A Tomari-te kata based on movements brought to Okinawa in 1683 by Wanshu, which is the Okinawan adapted name of the Wang Ji. Wanshu was a practitioner of the Shaolin tradition of Fujian White Crane. Ohtsuka-sensei learned Wanshu from Master Funakoshi.

'Temple Sounds' / 'In the Jion-ji Shaolin Temple'. A Tomari-te kata, it is named after Jion-Je, a Buddhist temple. Ohtsuka studied this kata under Funakoshi and Mabuni.

Jutte (Jitte - alternate spelling)
'Ten Hands'. It is said that anyone who masters this Tomari-te kata has the strength of 5 men. Ohtsuka studied this kata under Funakoshi and Mabuni.

Rohai (Meikyo)
‘Vision of a crane’ or ‘vision of a heron’. Originally a Tomari-te kata, a version of it was taught by Itosu-sensei, who formulated three versions of it (Rohai Shodan, Rohai Nidan, Rohai Sandan). Itosu Rohai was taught by Master Mabuni to Ohtsuka. The Rohai practiced in Wado is known as Rohai Shodan, in Shotokan. The Shotokan version, Meikyo, translates ‘clear mirror’ or ‘mirror of the soul’.

Suparimpei (Pechurrin - Chinese name)
'108 Steps' (represents the 108 evil spirits of man). Developed from a Chinese form used in systems including Dragon Boxing and Tiger Boxing. Practiced in Wado.

Niseishi (Nijushiho)
Transmitted by Ankichi Aragaki, variations of this Shuri-te kata exist in Shotokan, Shito, and Wado.

Unsu (Unshu - alternate spelling)
'Defense of a Cloud' or 'Cloud Hand'. This Tomari-te kata is practiced in Shotokan, Shito, and Wado.

Kihon Kumite Kata (Basic Sparring Forms):
These kata are two-person drills.

Ipponme / Nihonme / Sanbonme / Yohonme / Gohonme
Rokuhonme / Shichihonme / Hachibonme / Kyuhonme / Juhonme

List of other kata (terribly incomplete!)
Kihon Kata Shodan / Nidan / Sandan
Basic Forms 1, 2, and 3 as practiced in various Heiwado dojo.

Sei Shi
'24 Steps'. A Shorin-ryu kata performed in 3 directions - the points of a triangle.

Variations exist in Goju-ryu and Shito-ryu. It was influenced by White Crane Kung-Fu.

A Shito-ryu kata that primarily uses open hand techniques. It also has a Goju variation. Annan has great versatility and speed in its techniques.

Gojushiho Sho, Gojushiho Dai
'Lesser 54 steps' and 'Greater 54 steps'. Both are Shotokan kata.

Variations exist in Shotokan, Shito and Wado.

A Shito kata with a Chinese flair.

Bunkai, or application of technique, assists in understanding the movements once they have been learned. Kaisetsu, or learning the principles behind the movements, may then be drilled, so as to assist in learning how to adapt and apply kata. As such, there should not be any one prescribed method for teaching bunkai. As such, drilling the following bunkai is not meant to be 'the only way', but instead meant to help gain a basic understanding of “kaisetsu”.

Kihon Kata Shodan
Basic awareness, stances, defenses, attack angles, economy of motion, & focus. High Blocks 2 & 3 may be used as strikes.

Kihon Kata Nidan
This kata builds on the previous one by drilling kick-punch combinations.

Kihon Kata Sandan
It teaches power generation through hip twisting and body torque as well as momentum.

Pinan Shodan
This kata helps movements become stable, efficient, and intimidating. The first technique, 'c block', sets up for a redirection. Even the sword hand blocks can become attacks.

Pinan Nidan
This kata instructs further on timing, distance management, and counter-attacking quickly.

Pinan Sandan
This kata teaches a continuous guard. It also helps become body shifting, consistency of stances, and redirection of attack. The middle & low blocks in the beginning may be termed 'continuous block', which may be interpreted in many ways. The turn after the spearhand strike, and follow-up with the outward tetsui, is twisting out of the opponent's grappling of your arm, and countering.

The use of the elbows in naihanchi dachi may be either strikes or strong blocks. This may be interpreted in many ways in close quarters. The last moves of the kata may be seen as elbowing to both the back and front, breaking rear grapples with an elbow to each opponent's abdomen and a hook to the face, or a powerful hook or elbow to an opponent in front.

Pinan Yodan
Stepping into a back stance as you double block disrupts the opponent's movement, as you simultaneously block and counter. Blocking behind you immediately after the initial blocks cuts a sneak attack short. The low block, front snap kick, and elbow combination will block, stumble, and knock out an opponent. The sequence after the second elbow assists in learning how to follow through with attacks, and helps practice economy of motion.

The cross-block that begins the second half of the kata counters a grab attempt. Pulling the hand back as you kick may be interpreted as trapping the opponent's arm under yours, and pulling him/her into a kick to the groin.

Pinan Godan
The high cross block sets up for an arm lock, tetsui, and finishing punch. The jump ends with a strike to a fallen opponent. The palm strikes followed by pulling motions represent attacking the groin and causing severe trauma to it.

The Pinan kata help understand Kushanku, as there are many similarities. The slow motions are used for breathing and focus, but may often be used as blocks and/or attacks. Practice consistency in stances, torque, and momentum in this kata.

In the second half, the sequence that ends with a punch to the ground represents blocking a kick, throwing the opponent, and knocking him/her out. The next sequence blocks and throws an opponent, then jumps over him/her to kick another, and follows through with a finishing strike. The last sequence is a takedown with a knockout blow.

Naihanchi develops lower body strength. It also teaches one to settle all one's strength in the abdomen/center and draw from it. The methods employed in Naihanchi are best applied and interpreted in a narrow space.

Bassai builds a stronger, more efficient defense. The first two middle blocks may be seen as a kick counter and takedown; the backfists near the end may also be used this way by performing scooping blocks to set up for the attacks. The crescent kick redirects an attack, so as to set up for the elbow strike. After the elbow is 3 sets of double strikes to counter a rear grapple attempt.

Wanshu, like Bassai, is technical and efficient, but is of a more aggressive nature. It is also a study in timing and follow-through. Stepping into side stance as you set up for a low block may be seen as body shifting to dodge an attack, as you move in to punch the opponent. The jump represents stomping on a downed opponent while preparing to block an attack from another.

Jion is very direct, yet powerful, stable, and technical. Its use of stances will greatly assist your footwork. Remember, the physical side of fighting is done from the ground up.

The first technique may be considered as a striking block, and its uses are numerous. Compare this to Pinan Sandan. The low block and middle block in back stance sequence sets up for a pulling block and punch counter.

Seipai uses a small structure to reinforce mobility. Due to the Crane influence, Seipai is a study in entering and parrying. The first combination blocks and pulls a low attack, then knocks the attacker down. The rolling motion of the arms after the turn, low block, middle block, and mawashi uke combination represents a damaging arm lock. In a variation of Seipai, juji uke is performed just before the sweep. The last two strikes of the kata knock the opponent down, then out.

Gojushiho Sho
This kata is a study in close quarters techniques. The first sequence is a double wrist block, and counter attack. The sequences after the elbow strike represent a kick counter, nukite, and grapple counter. The last sequence represents blocking an attack to the midsection, blocking a grapple attempt, then counter attacking to the collar bones.

Annan contains many practical, efficient counter attack methods. It is also useful in practicing breathing and focus. Raising the knee and striking with the finger may represent blocking a kick, then hitting the vital point below the ear. Stepping into horse stance, extending the hands, and clinching them into fists will jam the opponent, and grab him/her to gain control for the side kick. The 'ox jaw' wrist blocks near the end block a middle punch, then knock the shoulder out of joint.

Shu Shi no Kon / Shuji no Kon
The bo (staff) is known for its versatility, speed, power, and adaptability, and ease of use. Shu Shi no Kan is a great example of this, as well as an excellent training aid. Once learned and understood staff skills may be applied to makeshift weapons.

The usage of both ends of the staff allows a great degree of control. This also enables may long range (yet deceptively fast) block-and-counter techniques. The use of centrifugal force also adds to the power. We must remember, however, to treat the staff as an extension of our existing karate techniques - and practice accordingly.

Seishan is direct yet graceful. The primary stances used are seishan dachi, tate seishan, and shikodachi. The footwork and a number of the techniques utilize forward whipping movement for speed and impact. The open handed blocks near the beginning may counter grappling as well as strikes. These blocks may also be seen as double spear hands. Also, in the second half of the kata, what appears to be a shortened high block may be used as a wrist block, and the jammed front snap kick becomes a knee kick.

Aside from the dojo precepts, kata is traditionally Karate-do's primary tool for personal development. It is the textbook of Karate-do that is to be learned, understood, and applied. It is the tool by which Karate-do demonstrates fighting principles, but also creates unity in one's body, mind, and soul.

What may seem unnatural motions become second nature with training and practice. Kata assists in drilling good habits, and replacing bad ones. Once the techniques have been absorbed, patterns, principles, and body mechanics may be understood. The 'art' of 'martial art' is understanding these underlying ideas, that guide techniques and give them meaning. A technique is not just a strike or block, but also the factors necessary for those to work (timing, movement, and so forth). By practicing kata, and drilling 'bunkai', you will learn to apply principles with no extra 'clutter'.

The fighting principles, when well applied, will work in many situations. Awareness and defensive principles help avoid, assess, or diffuse encounters. The search for unity means we should use lethal force as a last resort. The key is to move last, but hit first. In this way, there is no first strike in karate, but we meet force with a passive counter. Look for new ways to interpret kata - many secrets may be found...or created.

Mentally, kata teaches focus, and attention to all angles. One must cut through disclarity of mind to understand kata, and with this a growing process takes place. You will find bunkai where you did not before, as you imagine the problems the kata creators faced. This problem solving that kata teaches is invaluable. It balances the mind and grounds it to a reality that is still unpredictable, yet enriched by clearer understanding.

Physically, kata enforces proper use of body structure. It also strengthens the muscles through natural body weight exercises. Practiced vigorously, kata improves cardiovascular efficiency. Kata is therapeutic and empowering.

Spiritually, kata provides a path of self awareness. In practicing or even creating new kata, one builds resolve. In aiming for mastery, one builds patience. In either, one has to continually search in and outside of themselves, that one may learn how to apply the truths contained within kata.

The book 'Kata: The Folk Dances of Shotokan' details much, much more information than I could summarize into this article without doing a severe disservice to the overall value the book provides. Please read it for free online - Kata: The Folk Dances of Shotokan

Also be sure to read - Applied Karate by Iain Abernathy
The book has a lot of amazingly useful information about how to take a four stage approach to kata, that will help you to start developing more useful, street practical "bunkai" or application.
The Way of Least Resistance: Searching for the “ancestral” naihanchi: Part 1.
An excellent article on the history of this family of karate kata, as well as technical details and bunkai / applications. Very in-depth study that is worthwhile for serious karate-ka!

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