Ryukyu Kata

The Following Kata are part of the Ryukyu Te Training program.

  • Nihanchi; Shodan, Nidan, Sandan
  • Tomari Seisan
  • Tensho
  • Sanchin
  • Passai
  • Kusanku
  • Niseishi

 

FORMS IN OKINAWA KARATE

Katas are fighting choreographies carried on from father to son for generation. Hence, majority of practitioners today do not like to practice katas and tend to prefer free fights (sparing), because it seems that kata practice is not much applicable in real situations. However, in order to get master certificate in any karate style, you have to learn bunch of katas.

Old tradition was one kata, one style. Many historical sources state that in past only few masters knew more than one or two katas. Why today average practitioners know over 10 different katas?

Before 1900, karate was secret. Training was individual and the tradition was to pass it down only to family members or dedicated students who got a chance to practice with the master. Back in that time, life was very cruel and karate was taken extremely seriously. In certain situations, it could mean life or death. Traditional okinawan karate was for self-defense only.

Famous master Gichin Funakoshi in his writings says that one kata is enough for self-defense. Kata usually contain few throws, few joint locks and bunch of punches, strikes and kicks, which are enough for effective use in real confrontation. Each kata is separate fighting tradition and therefore practicing several different kata means knowing more techniques, which anyway may or may not raise the effectiveness for self-defense. This is one reason why one used to master only one or two kata.

Teachers rarely accepted new students. You had to have very good recommendation and an iron will to keep up with ruthless training. Master would teach you only one fighting tradition one kata. To become proficient in only one kata was very hard, but trying to learn several fighting traditions was almost impossible. Those who knew several katas, were usually high ranking okinawan officials, who had enough time to dedicate themselves to research of various fighting traditions and who had enough financial funds and possibilities to travel to China. Only few had this opportunity and most famous ones are Kanryo Higashionna, Bushi Mutsumura and Seisho Aragaki.

After 1900, a group of instructors feared that old karate traditions will be forgot and lost forever and decided to promote karate on Okinawa. Their goal was to include karate into regular school program and military practice. However, old karate was not suitable for children or for group training, so master Itosu modified karate, expelling all dangerous techniques and focusing on kata practice without revealing most of practical applications (bunkai). Karate was transformed from devastating self-defense method to mystical recreational activity. It was birth of modern karate.

Master Itosu was author of this new kind of karate and his ideas were supported by many: Gichin Funakoshi (Shotokan), Kenwa Mabuni (Shito ryu), Chojun Miyagi (Goju ryu), etc. They were traveling around Ryukyu Islands demonstrating karate and at the same time, they attempted to learn as much new katas as they could from the old karate masters. This way they tried to save tradition from being forgotten. Since than, modern styles have many katas included in their curriculum. For example, shotokan preserve 26 katas and shito style even over 50.

Today, karate schools are focused on wining competitions, recreation and charging fees. Self-defense is not of primal importance. Instructors are promoting Hollywood type of karate, demonstrating several dozens of good-looking techniques per training. This flashy approach guarantees many new students, but this is not effective training for self-defense. Unfortunately, training like this produce black belts that knows 20 katas, but few real self-defense techniques.

The word kata means form, style or pattern. Oral tradition says, Karate is kata and confirms that every kata is actually a stand-alone fighting system. This being the advanced forms that existed on Okinawa prior 1900.

Traditional karate training is focused on practicing of a single advanced kata for several months or years. Each kata has its own kihon, basic techniques that should be practiced. After that, one must try to execute and understand sequences found in kata. All movements have practical applications, which should be practiced with partner and reflecting realistic self-defense situations. Always bear in mind that each kata is authentic fighting system.

Famous Choki Motobu, in his book Okinawa kempo, names different okinawan karate styles as kushanku style, pasai style, naifanchi style, etc.  Therefore, shito ryu, shotokan, goju ryu cannot be considered as fighting styles, but rather heritages or traditions.

If every kata is fighting style for itself, then it is obviously ridiculous to learn 26 kata, because it is unnecessary accumulation of techniques. It is the same as when person would carry 26 guns. Only one gun is enough if you know how to use it.

We can conclude that techniques that look similar, in different katas, probably do not have same meaning because we are talking here about different fighting traditions. For example, it would be silly to think that shuto uchi in kata Pasai have same usage as shuto uchi in kata Kushanku. On the other side, it is possible that techniques appear different, but that they have similar applications. This is because all forms deals with habitual acts of violence and there are many ways to climb up the mountain.