Articles

The Classical Way vs The Modern Way

Which way do you do it? 

If you practice the art of Shotokan Karate, 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 English translation of the Karate-Do Kyohan, was published in 1973. This translation was done by, Tsutomu Ohshima sensei, who received his rank at that time, Go Dan, from Master Funakoshi in 1957. His short biography on the inside of the back cover also notes that he is the Founder of the first karate organization in the United States of America, the Southern California Karate Association. At the time he was also the head of, Shotokan Karate of America, France Shotokan, and the Swiss Karate Federation.

Master Funakoshi was working on an updated version of Karate-Do Kyohan at the time of his death, but it was never finished. So the English version is merely a translation of the previous Japanese printing. In his Forward to this translation that he wrote in 1972 Oshima sensei points this out, saying that the reader will notice variations between the more classical way of doing certain kata movements and the more modern way that these individual movements are performed today. In each instance he explains these variations to us with the use of footnotes where appropriate.

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. But, I have never really spent much time reading through the long, move by move narrative on the other pages that accompany the various photos. After all a picture is worth a thousand words - right? 

Recently I once again picked up the book and this time I decided to truly read the whole book, word for word, from start to finish. And this time I made some very interesting discoveries. So I decided to compare two katas in Karate-Do Kyohan, Bassai Dai, and Jitte, with the same two katas published in the well know series of books, entitled Best Karate, by Master Masatoshi Nakayama.

The results surprised me, so I have two questions for you.

First question. When you practice Bassai Dai, where do you put the two kiai?

Now my first sensei was JKA trained by Master Hirokazu Kanazawa, and as such I have always followed Master Nakayama's methodology. I put the first kiai on the downward kick, a right gedan kekomi, and the second kiai on the last move of the kata, a shuto uke.

But, according to Master Funakoshi's text, this is only partially correct. Karate-Do Kyohan also places the first kiai on the kick, a right downward  gedan kekomi. However, the second kiai is not shown on the last move of the kata. Instead the second kiai is shown as taking place on the third yama zuki, while in zenkutsu dachi.

Somehow that feels right to me. Also, it would be in keeping with other katas, where a kiai often follows the last movement in a triple set of movements. Such as on the last of the three jodan age ukes, and the last of the three chudan oi zuki in, Heian Shodan.

Second question. When you practice the kata Jitte, where do you put the two kiai? 

If you follow the modern way, portrayed in Master Nakayama's book, he shows that the first kiai occurs on the third jodan yoko uchi barai, while landing in kiba dachi. The second kiai is shown as taking place on the last move of the kata, a right jodan age uke, in zenkutsu dachi.

If you follow the classical way portrayed in Master Funakoshi's text the first kiai occurs on the third jodan yoko uchi barai, while landing in kiba dachi. However, the second kiai is not shown on the last move in the kata, but instead near the end of the kata where we find a series of three rapid, jodan age uke. Here Master Funakoshi shows us the second kiai taking place on the the third jodan age uke, when you immediately turn counter clockwise. 

And this too somehow now feels right to me.

Is one way better than the other.

No.

They are simply different.

So if you have never done it I urge you to read Karate-Do Kyohan, word for word, and from cover to cover. In doing so you will find other examples of variations in kata between the classical way and the modern way. And in finding them, you too may discover for yourself some valid reasons for going back, and trying these katas the classical way.

Remember: "Your today only exists because of the yesterdays that you never knew, so always honour the past".