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One kata for one hour

A blending of two distinct styles.

I suspect that when it comes to picking a single kata to practice for an hour, not every Shotokan karate-ka would pick, Hangetsu.

But I like this kata. For one thing, of all the Shotokan katas, Hangetsu is most closely associated with Goju-Ryu. This connection resides primarily in the performance of the hand and foot movements, prior to the rear facing turn. As is typical of Goju-Ryu these movements are all done slowly, with deep abdominal breathing, and with tension throughout.

The movements after the rear facing turn however, are then performed much more quickly in keeping with our Shotokan style. This combination of two opposing styles of karate has created for us a kata that is not only unique, but one that is far more complex than it first appears. Like any other kata in the Shotokan syllabus, many years of training are required in order to appreciate all that Hangetsu has to offer.

Now it is not uncommon for Shotokan students studying Hangetsu to occasionally seek additional information on the intricacies of this kata. Aside from the online videos that exist today, many students are also likely to refer to one of two popular karate publications. One being book number seven in the Best Karate series by Masatoshi Nakayama sensei, published in 1981. The other is Karate-Do Kyohan by Master Gichin Funakoshi, published in 1973.

While the embusen of Hangetsu is the same in both books, some of the stances, and hand techniques, are different. I am referring specifically to movements in the latter part of the kata where a series of three pivoting transitions take place.

1. In Book Seven:

The first transition starts from a rear facing hangetsu-dachi after having completed two chudan zukis. Pivoting on the right foot do a large semi-circular motion with your left foot, and your left hand, so as to finish facing forward in kokutsu dachi, and with a left chudan uraken uchi. Stepping across with the right foot, do a left chudan mae geri, land in hangetsu dachi, and immediately do a left gedan zuki, then a right chudan zuki, and a left jodan age uke.

In Karate-Do Kyohan:

The first transition also starts from a rear facing hangetsu-dachi after having completed two chudan zukis. Pivoting on the right foot do a large semi-circular motion with your left foot, and your left hand, so as to finish facing forward in a kiba dachi, and with a left chudan uraken uchi. Stepping across with the right foot, do a left chudan mae geri, land in kiba dachi, and immediately thrust a left chudan zuki forward, then keeping your feet in place, turn into the left and face forward in a narrow left zenkutsu dachi, and immediately do a right chudan zuki, and a left jodan age uke.

2. In Book Seven:

The second transition starts from the front facing hangetsu dachi after having completed the left jodan age uke. Pivoting on the left foot do a large semi-circular motion with your right foot, and your right hand, so as to finish facing to the rear in kokutsu dachi, and with a right chudan uraken uchi. Stepping across with the left foot, do a right chudan mae geri, land in a hangetsu dachi, and immediately do a right gedan zuki, then left chudan zuki, and a right jodan age uke.

In Karate-Do Kyohan:

The second transition starts from the front facing zenkutsu dachi after having completed the left jodan age uke. Pivoting on your left foot, do a large semi-circular motion with your right foot, and your right hand, so as to finish facing to the rear in kiba dachi, with a right chudan uraken uchi. Stepping across with the left foot, do a right chudan mae geri, land in kiba dachi, and immediately thrust a right chudan tsuki forward, and then keeping your feet in place, turn to the right, and face to the rear in a narrow right zenkutsu dachi, and immediately do a left chudan tsuki, and a right jodan age uke.

3. In Book Seven:

The third transition starts from the rear facing hangetsu dachi after having completed the right jodan age uke. Pivoting on the right foot, do a large semi-circular motion with your left foot, and your left hand, so as to finish facing forward in kokutsu dachi, with a left chudan uraken uchi. Open your hand, extend your arm, and kick your hand with a right chudan mikazuki-geri, then immediately bring your right foot back and land in hangetsu dachi, and do a right gedan zuki, with kiai.

In Karate-Do Kyohan:

The third transition starts from the rear facing zenkutsu dachi after having completed the right jodan age uke. Pivoting on the right foot do a large semi-circular motion with your left foot, and your left hand, so as to finish facing forward in kiba dachi, with a left chudan uraken uchi. Open your hand, extend your arm, and now kick your hand with a right chudan mikazuki-geri, then immediately bring your right foot back, land in zenkutsu dachi, and do a right gedan zuki to the front, with kiai.

Is one way of doing these transitions better than the other?

No. The footwork in Karate-Do Kyohan is simply a more dated format, and it clearly illustrates the kata as performed in Master Funakoshi's time. Book seven on the other hand illustrates the much more fluid, and more modern approach to the kata, taken by Masatoshi Nakayama sensei, and the JKA.

Remember: “Change is the beginning of something new, so embrace it, and see where it leads you.