on the spot
- As Shotokan stylists we
have always been taught that each Shotokan kata,
regardless of it's complexity, must start and finish on
the same spot.
- The question I put to you
is, "was it always this way" ?
- Over the years, I have come
to believe that "getting back home" as it is
commonly referred to was never the intent, or even
considered a requirement, when many of these katas were
first formulated by their original creator.
- All of the katas that are
taught today that form the back bone of the modern
Shotokan system have their original foundation in Chinese
forms. If you take Chinese kempo for example, which
undoubtably would have been studied and practiced in some
form by the early Okinawan masters who travelled to
China, none of the kempo forms I have ever seen, start
and end on the exactly same spot.
- The simple fact of the
matter is that in all likelyhood once the Chinese forms
were introduced into Okinawa, they were "adapted"
or "modified" in some way by the Okinawan
karate masters. In turn these Okinawan forms, the very
ones taught to and practiced by Gichin Funakoshi Sensei,
were then once again "adapted" or "modified"
in some way by him when he began introducing karate to
the Japanese people. Given karate's Chinese roots it is
very logical therefore to think that the requirement of
starting and finishing on exactly the same spot came
about as a "modification" at some point in time
as karate developed over the years, and is therefore a
failry modern trait as opposed to an historical one.
- ( *Author's note. )
- Now having said all that it
is a matter of record that I have taken a fair bit of
flack from certain quarters for my point of view. So it
was with great surprise and delight that I recently read
an article by Seamus O'Dowd which was based on an
interview he had in October of 2001 with Shihan Hirokazu
Kanazawa, shortly after the European Championships in
Copenhagen, Denmark. The article appeared in issue #71 of
Shotokan Karate Magazine in May of 2002.
- In the
article Shihan Kanazawa states : "It is also true
that stepping forward and back three times will assist in
returning the performer to the same place as they started
the kata. But original kata mostly did not finish where
they started. This is a modern concept."
- ( *My original article
- Try it for yourself.
- Do any kata you like.
- If as you perform the kata,
your primary goal is "getting back home", then
you will soon find that your thoughts will cause you to
stray from simply "doing the kata" to looking
for opportunities where you can "cheat" or
"modify" the kata in order to accomplish your
goal of "getting back home".
- If on the other hand, you
simply "do the kata" as you feel it with total
regard only for proper stances, techniques, timing, and
kime, and with no pre-concieved plan of "getting
back home" then not only will you concentrate more
fully on the task at hand, and therefore do a better
quality kata, but you will also discover that when it is
all said and done you still never did finish exactly
where you started.
- In front, behind, or to the
side, or even very close - but never exactly where you
- The interesting thing is
that there is nothing wrong with that. As I said earlier,
I don't feel that "getting back home" was ever
a pre-condition in the creation of any of the forms that
ultimately became the roots of Shotokan karate.
- Yes I know what you are
going to say - that you did indeed get home - perhaps,
but consider this, was the kata you just performed taught
to you by someone who themselves practices, and teaches
the kata in such away that it already has a "built
in way" of assuring that you can get back home.
- If so, then yes, it is
obviously possible to finish where you started.
- To truly answer the
question - do I "cheat" - you must go to the
very first move of your kata and slowly perform the kata
while at the same time giving some thought to envisioning
why you are doing what you are doing. It is throught this
"concentrated internal visualization" that you
may come to find that the embusen, (pattern) techniques,
stances, and kime start to take on a whole new meaning to
the point where it no longer becomes important how close
you get to "home".
- In the end the "feeling"
must become more important than the "finish".
Kata is not so much about trying to "see" an
attacker punch at you while you defend with an
appropriate block, as much as it is about learning to
control your balance, timing, power, speed and kime.
- It is for this reason that
I am convinced that each kata was uniquely designed and
created to to follow a pattern that the katas creator
felt would make the best use of the choosen series of
hand and foot techniques, so that when they are combined
together they work to complement the natural movement of
the practitioners body right up until the pattern reaches
it's desired conclusion. Further, I beleive that the
masters who came up with the concept and embusen (pattern)
for the early version of each kata, did so based
initially on "instictive thought" or an "instictive
- Only after this creative
process was complete and the direction, blocks and
strikes were set forth, and only after his "gut
feeling" was expressed, do I feel that "logic"
tended to enter the picture, at which time it then
invariably add to, or altered, what up until then was
primarily the creators instinctive, emotional and
- It is precisely because of
my belief in this process of evolution, that I am certain
that each katas unique series of movements was created
with a deeper meaning than that of simply "getting
- In the end, however, katas
are no different than anything else, given enough time
change was enevitable. With so many Masters handing down
their katas to so many different students, who in turn
invariably put their own individual stamp on the kata and
then passed it on again, and then finally with the katas
then being transported to a new country, Japan, a new
look with new requirements was bound to be born.
- Let's face it, it is
precisely because of this constant trend towards "modification"
that many of the katas handed down to the modern Shotokan
system have lost much of their original content. Whether
for secrecy, safety, or some other reason which we shall
never know, there is no question that most if not all of
the katas practiced today within the Shotokan system have
in some way eliminated or "modified" some of
the more deadly techniques that were originally contained
and taught within each kata. The result of removing
certain movements and replacing them with ones more
suited to the times would certainly have changed the flow
of the kata and perhaps it was at this point that the
idea or concept of "getting back home" may have
been built into the kata at the same time.
- How interesting it would be
to see the kata done as it was originally created, to see
in the kata the harmony of the mind, body, and spirit
that was truly intended by each katas creator.
- Take "Tekki
instance, in todays version the augemented jodan punch is
preceded by an uchi uke, yet in an earlier version Gichin Funakoshi Sensei is pictured preceding the same
augemented jodan punch with a simultaneous two handed
technique, a chudan uchi uke and a gedan barai identical
to the hand movement found in "Tekki
- The question then becomes
if the move use to be done that way, why is it no longer
taught that way. The answer just might lie in the fact
that as the katas were introdued to Japan they became
"modified" once again to suite the Japanese
people, who at that time were not particularly enamoured
with anything Okinawan. While it would have been
impossible for Gichin Funakoshi Sensei to overhaul the whole kata just
to please Japanese society, it would have been possible,
however, for him to make enough "modifications"
to give the kata just enough of a Japanese flavour to
make it acceptable to the population at large.
- It is here in Japan that I
have come to believe that the "circle theory"
and by that I mean the practice of starting and finishing
on the same spot, came into being, and that through the
influence of such organizations as the JKA (Japan Karate
Association) this "new requirement" spread to
the rest of the world. Who could imagine back then that
after the Japanese had had their say the rest of the
world would want to express it's point of view as well.
- In the end as westerners,
what we see and practice today is no doubt a far less
aggressive form of karate than would have originally
practiced by Gichin Funakoshi Sensei. Still it is obvious that each
modern version has retained enough of it's "original
soul" to allow karate students today to benefit
greatly from practicing the powerful movments and
techniques that give substance and form to all of the
katas found within the modern Shotokan system of karate.
- Because hindsight is 20/20
and because knowledge tends to come with experience and
age, I feel it is of the utmost importance that all
senior students studying the art of Shotokan realize that
the higher up they rise in the black belt ranks, the more
crutial it is for them to go back and explore the first
and most basic katas that they were ever taught, and to
look for new and deeper meaning in the movments and
techniques contained in these "beginner" katas.
This, however, is much more difficult than it sounds for
in order to accomplish this goal you must once again,
after all your years of experience, see these katas with
the clear "mind of a beginner" while retaining
the skill and knowledge of an expert.
- If you can do this then you
will be rewarded, and you will see Shotokan's most basic
katas in a new and previously unimagined light.
simplest things are often the most complex, yet their
is usually unraveled when viewed by an open mind.
- Part the
clouds - see the way.
objective of karate-do is to contribute to the evolution
- of the
human spirit through physical and mental training."