Modern or Classical?

Which is your way?

If you have practiced the art of Shotokan Karate for any length of time, there is a very good chance that you own a copy of the very comprehensive work by Master Gichin Funakoshi entitled, "Karate-Do Kyohan - The Master Text".

The first printing of this book in appeared English in 1973. It was translated by, Tsutomu Ohshima sensei, who at the time held the rank of Go Dan. He was the Founder of the first karate organization in the United States of America, the Southern California Karate Association. He was also concurrently the head of Shotokan Karate of America, France Shotokan, and the Swiss Karate Federation.

Now over the years I have read, and re-read the first 41 pages of Karate-Do Kyohan on many occasions. And I have also spent a good deal of time studying the photos of the various katas. However, I never really took the time to read the long, move by move narrative found underneath each photograph. After all, a picture is worth a thousand words, right?

Recently I once again picked up the book. As I flipped through the various pages it dawned on me that I had never once read the whole book. Word for word, from start to finish. So I decided to do just that, and I made some interesting discoveries. It soon became clear to me that some aspects of the classical way of doing kata as portrayed in this book, were quite different from the more modern JKA way that I am familiar with. In particular when it comes to three katas, Bassai Dai, Jitte and Hangetsu.

The explanation for any differences some may say is a simple matter of time, and progress. The original version of Karate-Do Kyohan was in the process of being revised by Master Funakoshi, but he never finished the revision before his death in 1957. So the 1973 English translation of the unrevised book remains for us his view on classical Shotokan, and kata in particular.

Today, what we might call the more modern version of Shotokan comes to us via the Japan Karate Association (JKA), established under the leadership of Masatoshi Nakayama sensei. His most comprehensive publication on Shotokan karate is the very popular series of eleven books that he introduced in the late 1980's. Seven of which deal with the subject of kata.

So here is a question for you.

When you practice the kata Bassai Dai, where do you put both of the kiais?

I was taught the JKA way. My original sensei, Sam McGee, was a Sandan at the time. He received his rank from Hirokazu Kanazawa sensei in the late 1960's or early 1970's. So I put the first kiai in Bassai Dai on the downward right leg yoko geri, and the second kiai on the last move of the kata, the shuto. But, this is not exactly the case in Karate-Do Kyohan. Yes, in Karate-Do Kyohan the first kiai is also on the downward right yoko geri. But, the second kiai according to Master Funakoshi does not belong on the last move of the kata. Instead he states that the last kiai belongs on the third yama zuki, while in zenkutsu dachi.

Somehow that feels better to me. Also, this would be in keeping with other katas where a kiai often follows the last movement in a triple set of movements. For example, the last of the three age uke, or the last of the three chudan oi zuki, found in Heian Shodan.

When you practice the kata Jitte, where do you put both of the two kiais?

Again if like me you follow the more modern JKA way, you will find in Nakayama sensei's series of books that the first kiai is shown on the third yama gamae, or mountain posture while in kiba dachi. While the second kiai is shown as occurring on the last move of the kata. Yet once again this is not exactly the case in Karate-Do Kyohan, there both kiais are placed elsewhere.

According to Master Funakoshi the first kiai should occur on the third chudan yoko uchi, while in kiba dachi. Then near the end of this kata, and prior to the very last move, there are three individual jodan age ukes that take place one right after the other, left, right, left. It is when you turn counter clockwise, and do the last of these three age uke in zenkutsu dachi, that Master Funakoshi states that the second kiai should occur. Not on the last move of the kata.

And again this just somehow feels right to me for the same reason I stated earlier.

So which doctrine do you follow, the classical of Funakoshi sensei, or the modern way of Nakayama sensei?

Is one way better than the other?


They are simply different.

So if you have never done it I urge you to do two things.

First, read Karate-Do Kyohan word for word, and from cover to cover.

Second, do both katas, and try them each way when it comes to the placement of the kiai.

And in doing so discover for yourself a new face on a familiar kata.

As for the kata Hangetsu, I refer you to a separate more detailed article I have written entitled, One kata for one hour.

Remember: "There are no wrong answers, only different ones, like it or not."