Friday, August 18, 2017

Kata Creep, the Movement of Kata through Time


When I was taught my kata originally, no one made a point about the starting and ending point of the kata should be the same spot.


A few years later I read this in the books by Funakoshi Ginchin, that this was the desired way to do the Shotokan kata.


But then when I studied with an instructor teaching Shotokan, this was nothing I recall was discussed.


A separate but related idea that I began to work on, was I came to appreciate stances and the manner of stepping even more as time passed. For one thing I became fascinated with the potential applications from the manner of stepping and the stances employed.


Then one night I decided to look at how close the kata I did with my Isshinryu were to that standard. What I found was the kata did start and stop on the same point for me for the most part.


But while the manner of stepping and stances became a focus of my teaching, performing kata to start and stop on the same point, was not something I worried about.


Among which I did not recognize any variation of the stances for kata. A Seisan Stance was to be the same Seisan Stance every time. Likewise the use of the crescent step was the only method of forward movement I taught. My reason was I cannot recall ever being told anything else was the way to step when I learned.


Now roll a few decades forward.


My adult classes were small, and frankly I was often less than I could have been as an instructor, too often using kata practice for my own practice.


Becoming disabled taught me many things. No longer able to perform most of the class, I instead was watching what was happening much more. And seeing much more too.


One evening my senior students, Mike and Young, were working on Wansu kata. They had very good technique, extremely good execution. They showed they understood what the movements were for in their practice.


But this time watching I saw something else. As they did the kata, they were gradually moving forward. Ending well in advance of where they started.


I understood what they were doing, so I had an idea. I issued a challenge.


At the back of the class we has a mat on the flool from the wrestling program.

It had a large circle impressed on it, and there were two parallel lines in the middle to allow the wrestlers to start their matches from.


Those two parallel lines were to be my challenge, the starting and ending point which I would perform Wansu kata from.


So I did my kata, and started and stopped in the same place, when I did it.


Then I challenged them to do the same.


They did their Wansu kata. In fact several times each. And each time they did it they moved forward, ending well in advance of where they started.


Only then did I explain the difference. What they were doing with each kick is putting their foot down well in advance of where they started that kick. So each techniques was moving them forward.


When I did the kata, as I concluded each kick, I put my foot directly down as it I had done one crescent step forward. That was the difference enabling me to keep my kata footprint smaller. And which I felt was more consistent with the application potential I wanted with the form.


Now their kata performances were fine, powerful and sharp. They were just doing something else from what I was doing.


I believe this explains were some kata creep, or movement of kata performance, comes over time.


Even slight variances of the original goal,  ends up changing the kata.  Not so it does not have value,  just a different value than what was originally intended.

Other thoughts on Wansu kata;

A different look at Chinto kata

One of the more interesting things about

Kata Chinto

Is that there are three basic  Okinawan variations of the kata.

I am being a little simplistic here,

I realize many different schools have variations on these themes.


First is what I refer to as the Itosu lineage.

Where the kata is performed on a straight line back and forth.

An example is

Nakazato Shūgorō 仲里 周五郎 - Chinto kata

Second are the variations of Chinto kata which descended

From the vision of Kyan Chotoku.

The kata is performed on a line of 45 degrees

An example is

The kata CHINTO (Tomari, Kyan version) performed at in front of Joen Nakazato sensei  (Shorinji-ryu), by one of his most senior students.

The third variation is that of the Tomari Lineage.

This is relatively rare.

The kata is performed on a horizontal line from the starting point.

An example is

Tomari Chinto  of the Gohakukai

The interesting thing to me is that though,

there are 3 different directions in which Chinto is performed,

The changes of the form line retained

much the same technique execution in the same order.

Each kata still recognizably Chinto.

So while they may have had different ideas

perhaps in how the techniques of Chinto, could be used,

They did not want to change the movements either.


And there are many derivative variations.

Those which became Shito Ryu and Shotokan came from what I refer to as the Itosu line. Likewise the Chinto preserved in the line of Hohen Soken follows that pattern.

Then the Kyan lineage spawned those of Matsubayshi Ryu, Shorinji-ryu and Isshinryu to name a few.

The Tomari lineage can be found in the Gohakukai.


Thursday, August 17, 2017

This morning thinking outside the box

This morning I spent some time thinking outside the box.


Being disabled I spend a lot of time working on what I can make work. This is very important to me.


I decided to do some kata outside this time using my double sticks.

I have seen their use in Okinawan kobudo referred to with different names. Tichu, Tikko and Jiffa. They may mean different things, of perhaps just different spellings of the same concept, a small hand held stick that may have had its origins in Okinawan Hairpins.


For myself, they are just sticks with some twine in them for a better grip.


My friend Mario McKenna put it this way.


Tikko is a versatile weapon that really needs no independent kata of it's own like Maezato no Tikko that we use in Ryukyu Kobudo. So, using another form like Sesan will undoubtedly work.

The way I learned it from Minowa sensei, you're essentially delivering a vertical fist strike with the Tikko acting as a force multiplier. The only caveat is that the strike is vertical and doesn't use the two primary knuckles for impacting. Because you're using the Tikko, the fist impacts flat onto the target (a big "no no" in Karatedo) . The other point is that the thumb rests on top of the handle of the Tikko to stabilize it.

So I performed a version of Seisan Kata I have worked up for myself.

Then I had an inspiration, and used the two hand held sticks

With my first row of my Yang Tai Chi form.

Somewhat similar to the sword version, yet a version for the double sticks.

This worked out well, so I ran it several times.

I liked the feel of the flow from this paring.


Then I shifted to a version of Naifanchi kata, for the two sticks.

And that also worked well.


Now I just need some poor soul to step and and attack me,

So I can prove what I am doing is works.



I am not trying to duplicate anything else, just use what I know.




Forms referenced using a similar implement

Tokushin No Tichu – Tokumura Kensho

Maezato No Tikko

Jiffa Kata Hairpin 1 and 2


When in the Desert

I always maintained

that if I found myself living the middle of a desert,

I would not stop teaching karate,

I would just teach the rocks.


Now, that I am uncomfortably close to that desert,

I find I was right

I am teaching rocks karate.


Of course the rocks are in my head,

Not that is a difference.





Wednesday, August 16, 2017

The Art of Becoming Invisible

I got an early start this morning, it was still dark when I went outside to work on my Tai Chi. The darkness inspired me so I then did what Kusanku is possible for me, Then I ended with Tomari Rohai. Far from correct performances, but I do what I can do.
The temperature had not cooled, they still expect it over 100 later today. But uncharacteristically the humidity has dropped quite low and that makes the air feel cooler.
Then I got ready and went out for my morning walk.
“I have become a desert creature.” I remember that line from one of Frank Herbert Dune books. And perhaps the same might be said of me,
For this morning I observed something move and then took a photo.
It does appear something Herbert might have described in Dune.
For it was a rabbit, almost invisible, in its background.
Which in a way ties into those tale about Kusanku kata,
from one point of view.

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

When a memory occurs what you may remember is a gift.

Just had a flashback of an old memory. One of those things which I only saw one time.


I was visiting a friend, with a very varied background.

This morning I awoke and he was working out in his back yard.


First he was working on his rolling techniques in his back yard pool. Using the water to slow his rolls down allowing him to work on his technique. Over and over he rolled, each time working on getting the technique he was using more efficient.


I was certainly nothing had seen elsewhere, and went a ways toward explaining where some of his technique originated.


I was just in the house waking up and watching out the kitchen window.


Later I got a cup of coffee and went out to watch him.


What he was doing was also something I have never seen anyone do.


This time he was out of the pool practicing a kobudo kata. Now his studies were very different from mine, but this was something I have never seen anyone else do.


He was doing a kata for sai and kama.  The left hand held a sai and the right hand held a kama.   As his form progressed it became more interesting. Each hand was performing separate movements, the sai movements true to the sai, the kama movements true to the kama. They were distinctly separate but the form integrated both perfectly.


Then he observed I had come outside and he ceased the form.


It was a one shot observation.


Many knew him from his tournament competition.  Which meant they had no idea what he was teaching.  Something extremely different from their arts.


What I realized watching him that morning, was I had no idea of the scope of his art.  No tournament, class visits, personal experience were what his art was.  The reality was much greater.


I have had other experiences with friends in other arts, and the more I saw there too, the more I realized the less  I really knew.


So as a rule of thumb, assumptions based on observations, books, video tapes, etc. were likely not the true reality of those artists.


A bit of un-learning we all can use productively.

Friday, August 11, 2017

Hinging on the Winds of History

I have seen the number  of 90.000.000 million people are practicing some form of karate around the world today. Now that number may not be correct, but it makes a point about how widespread karate has become.



What  is more amazing when you go back to 1900, just a short while ago, the number man have been a few hundred, I have seen no numbers to suggest any number is correct, just conjecture on my part.



But 1900 ad, the practice of karate was a privilege that might be extended only to members of the right class of people on Okinawa, Shown at festivals, that would be about it.  It was not thought as something appropriate to teach to the young in schools.


Then there are four pivot points that we can point too, when things changed that made a difference.

(Ok, there are more that 4 things, but let’s keep this simple to start)


1.  Itosu wrote his letter to the Okinawan school board, and they paid attention to his proposal.


As Okinawa was under Japanese control since 1870, the Japanese certainly were controlling what education there was in Okinawa. It is not hard to imagine they might have not paid any attention to Itosu’s ideas and so the concept went no where. Karate was not introduced at the teachers college, and karate programs were not supported to be developed in the schools.


That would have meant many of that generation would not have been exposed to karate and in time gone on to become instructors.


2. When Prince Hirohito toured Okinawa, perhaps he was not interested in seeing a karate demonstration. And when one was proposed  for Japan, he also might not have been so inclined. In turn Professor Kano might not have been interested, preferring what his own practice of judo offered.


A result of these events not having taken place, the opening door for Funakoshi, Mabuni, Miyagi, Motobu and all the rest that followed might not have happened. Japan was a country on a mission. They were conquering all of their world, their University students being trained to become Administrators, Officers and the like. There is every reason to believe they would have not had an interest in a quaint Okinawan practice.


So no preliminary foothold in Japan.



3. Then the winds of war intervened. The outcome might have been the same, but though different choices, the invasion of Okinawa could have been bypassed. The was might have gone in a different direction. A decision to bypass Okinawa as too costly to the main invasion of Japan could have been made.


The vast destruction might have not taken place on Okinawa. The karate seniors might have survived the War.


They could have not agreed to the changes those who were interested.

Then they might have seen no reason for uniformity, organizations, adopting training uniforms as opposed to tradition. Seeing no need to keeping track of students progress via rank.


Their art might have been retained only for those of the right Okinawan rank, never to be shared with others. That had been their traditional model.


4. And the decision might have been made not to station troops on Okinawa. Then going so far as granting Okinawa independence from everyone in 1972, not returning them to Japan.


Leaving the Okinawans in complete charge of this minor cultural heritage.


Of course it did not happen this way, but it is not unreasonable to consider it might have been.


And karate remaining Okinawan.