A Dan grade essay submitted by: Ben Ervine, Kent.
This essay was written by a student who originally held Nidan (2nd Dan JKA) in my dojo, and after some years migrated to the Kyokushin style. His outlook is therefore not blinded or biased towards Shotokan-Ryu in any way, and he has been able to look objectively at the task given to him.
In this essay I have been asked to demonstrate my eligibility for Gima-Ha Sandan by explaining the meaning of three kata names and their distinctive techniques.
For this I have selected three of my compulsory katas ( Shitei gata), namely; Nijushiho, Hangetsu and Meikyo.
Overview of Kata:
Fundamentally, there are three elements that build Karate:
- Kihon (Basics), the practice of specific techniques performed in a repetitive fashion to hone and “seek perfection” of a specific move or sequence of moves in isolation.
- Kumite (Fighting) is the application of practiced techniques in a real life situation and although we are taught to “refrain from violent behaviour” if the situation should ever arise a Karateka should be able to adequately defend themselves.
- Kata (Form), at least to me, bridges the other two elements of Karate. This is neither linear movements of repetitive technique nor is it freestyle movement, however, it is the hybrid of both and allows you to develop technique in a pre-set pattern whilst also teaching bunkai (application). It also teaches how to advance on an appointment or evade an attack. Kata, in traditional Japan, is not restricted to just martial practices but other art forms such as kabuki (Japanese theatre) and chado (Japanese tea ceremonies).
- Like most Asian martial arts the origins of Kata can be traced back to ancient China. It is believed that Kung Fu masters at the time struggled to illustrate techniques through either spoken word or painting and therefore composed set patterns to aid teaching.
In the late 14th Century the Ming Dynasty sent a number of families from Fujian to settle in RyuKyu (Modern day Okinawa) and this import of foreign knowledge was a key component in the exchange of culture.
This knowledge of Kung Fu was amalgamated with the pre-existing RyuKyuan hand-to-hand combat which then went on to form the basis of Karate as we know it today.
Kata was the only format in which Sensei’s transferred their knowledge of martial arts to their Kohai up until as late as the 1930s.
The translation of Nijushiho means twenty-four steps. The origins of this Kata aren’t clear but some scholars would suggest that it lies with Seisho Arakaki (a 19th century master) who subsequently also invented Unsu and Sochin, the kata was passed down from Sensei to Sensei until it was taught to Yoshitaka (Gichin Funakoshi’s son) and was introduced to the Shotokan syllabus. Funakoshi later translated the Okinawan name of Niseishi to Nijushiho to aid integration into mainland Japan.
Equally scholars suspect that Arakaki may have taken influence from the Dragon Style Kung Fu, which would explain the frequency of whipping techniques such as the movement from the initial hiji-ate to the awase-zuki or the move from the final turn into awase-zuki from the mai-gendan-burai and the swoosh of the tekubi-makiotoshi-uke and teisho-awase-zuki. But in my opinion none demonstrate its potential roots better than the combination of Haito-soto-Mawashi-uchi / Koho-Haito moving into Haishu-age-uchi. This move is meant to be so prominent that it is exclaimed with a kiai.
Nijushiho also demonstrates its Chinese roots, in my opinion, by the constant expression of Yin and Yang. Throughout the kata you are constantly transferring from fast to slow movements or hard to soft techniques chikara-no-kyo-jaku. This helps develop the body as it is constantly opposing itself and gives the kata a balance and rounded feel. The typical ‘Dragon-style’ movements are also complimented by the more linear moves such as shuto-kake-uke and yoko-geri-kekomi.
Hangestu translates to half-moon in English and is constructed around the stance Hangestu-dachi whereby your feet will transfer through a crescent motion. It is believed that this kata derives from the older Okinawan kata Seisan where its origins lay within the Naha-te school. It’s founder (Kanryo Higaonna) was directly influenced by his instructor of Kung Fu, Ryo Ryo Ko. It is not known exactly what style of Kung Fu Ryo Ryo Ko taught but as the main style in the Fujian Province at the time was White Crane (Bai He), it is commonly believed to be this style. Naha-te was later renamed by Higaonna’s student Chojun Miyagi. The style now known as Goju-ryu.
Goju itself means hard / soft which I believe is apt for this kata due to the distinct separation slower or softer moves of the initial uchi-uke / gyaku-zuki’s (see fig.1 below) through to the faster harder moves from the turn into keisho-kosa-uke. Then returning full circle to a slow teisho-awase-uke.
Hangestu is essential for advance grade to assist with the teaching of three elements; hara (spirit), kokyu ho (breathing technique) and kime (focus).
With the, initial, slower moves a karateka is afforded the time to concentrate on each technique allowing them to consider both the kokyu ho synonymous with this kata as well as finding the focus and the final execution of each technique. These two elements combined create your hara.
Now the foundation is built, this kata then allows the karateka to demonstrate these elements in a more realistic fashion. As previously stated, this kata is typically taught to advanced grades as we transcend from pure physical techniques through to demonstrating a deeper understanding of karate such as breathing and focussing. You also see an advancement in techniques practiced with such moves as morote-ippon-ken. Such moves, if performed by lower grades, could risk personal injury.
In English, Meikyo translates to bright or polished mirror and is named as such by Funakoshi. Originally the kata was known as Rohai (Vision of a crane), and its lineage descends from Tomari-te.
Tomari-te arose in the 17th century and was heavily influenced by Chinese diplomats and others that were skilled in Quan Fa. Coincidentally there are four fundamental principle of Quan Fa: 1) Fou (float), 2) Chen (sink), 3) T’un (Swallow), 4) T’u (Spit). Each pair offers an opposite (or mirror image) of the other, up / down, and in / out.
There is a plethora of references to mirrors within this kata. The first two techniques demonstrate the first two principles with the downward pressure of the ryokan-ryokoshi-kamae and the lifting / floating upward motion of the ryosho-kakiwake-uke. (See fig 2.)
The latter is a poignant move as it is often used, metaphorically, as one looking in the mirror in self-reflection. The importance of this to critique and improve oneself in their technique, this may well explain why so many of the moves within this form are typically seen as lower grade waza. It is only when you strip things back to its most rudimental elements that you can clearly see areas of improvement. I was told on many occasions by Sidoli Sensei that the hardest katas to perform perfectly were the lower grade ones as there is nowhere to hide your techniques.
I feel the other two principles are best demonstrated by the ryosho-bo-uke and the bo-ushikomi whereby the block can be used to absorb the strike of the bo and then the thrust of the ushikomi. You also witness mirror imaging with the movements left and right as well as towards the front and rear. There is also a consistent theme of double hand movements as well as a regular combination of a block followed by a strike (opposing techniques) such as the gedan-barai and oi-zuki.