Finishing 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 continues. )
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 started.
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 reaction".
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 spiritual creation.
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 back home".
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 Shodan" for 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 Sandan".
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.
The simplest things are often the most complex, yet their
complexity is usually unraveled when viewed by an open mind.
Part the clouds - see the way.
"The objective of karate-do is to contribute to the evolution
of the human spirit through physical and mental training."
Sensei Peter Lindsay