Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Kata Specifications in Karate by Kenji Tokitsu Sensei


not the book translated from


Kata Specifications in Karate I (first part) by Kenji Tokitsu Sensei

As you know, for a long time Karate was practiced and transmitted only in esoteric circles. Until the end of the 19th century, people always avoided being seen when they practiced Karate. They used to train at night, in the master's garden or in solitary places, such as a lonely beach or cemetery. It was not strange for karatekas to keep their practice secret even from the members
of their own family. A master had only a very few trainees. Some even refused to take on pupils,
with the result that their art disappeared when they did.

Since this is the way that Karate was practiced, it is clear that no thought was given to others. There was a total absence of concern for spectacular technical stances. A show or performance mainly strives for visual communication with an audience, but in this system, the presence of outsiders was strictly forbidden.

Techniques were practiced to make them effective, but the effectiveness sought was very different from the image created as a result of modern-day Karate. In many cases, the vision of contemporary karatekas has been deformed by prejudices heavily influenced by films, TV series and demonstration performances such as the ones seen on "Martial Arts Night".

All of this is done for the sake of connecting with outsiders, to render effectiveness visible to them, as is the rule of show business. But the consequence is that a false view is spread of the reality of combat and its skills.

The show has its strong points, but we have to know how to distinguish between performance and martial art. To my mind, the effectiveness of Karate, and of all martial arts, is based on elements that are scarcely, if at all visible. I will develop this point later.

To better understand Karate, we could explore certain questions about it during the period when it was defined solely as a martial art. If I do so, it is not merely to delve into the past, but because I feel that in order to develop a Karate that is suited to our way of life, we must base it on what went before so that it can be carried forward.

Ancient Karate was developed and transmitted within an esoteric system, whereas modern Karate is practiced and conveyed within an open system that seeks to show it off. In the course of this development - going from one system of transmission to its opposite -, wouldn't there have been a loss of technical know-how? And if there was, what exactly was lost and how important was it?

In the ancestral system, Karate training focused on repetition of the kata. Practitioners trained with very few kata - one, two, or maybe three. A karateka's skill was judged according to the degree of integration of a kata.  His knowledge of many kata was of no importance. If someone had said, "I know twenty kata", another would have thought to himself scornfully, "That's because
you don't know any of them well. As a karateka you have no value".

Karate experts had to put a great deal of energy into a single kata, showing through it the skills they had acquired. A kata was learned and repeated from many different angles. It was not thought of as a unique, authentic form.

A kata needed to include technical variants that enabled one to respond to the multiple situations of combat. Kata had the pragmatic, very complete role of teaching and honing truly valid skills. It was a true technical support.

For example the Jion kata included a number of Age-uke and Gyaku-tsuki passages. In the normal repetition of the kata, these passages were executed, like today, in the simplest fashion, linking them with the preceding and following movements. But these passages, like all the others, also had to be worked on independently as basic techniques.

In doing so, instead of practicing them as in the kata, moving forward in a straight line and without any break in rhythm, a karateka would execute them in different ways. For example, the Age-uke block would be practiced with subtle oblique shifts of the body in order to be able to respond to an
adversary's attack from different angles.

Clearly, there are many ways of changing the angle of the body. This is why, in the kata, these multiple shifts are expressly omitted and only the gestural skeleton is shown. It is as though only a central path were traced out, whereas in reality there are many possible paths: to the right, left, on an angle, turning, etc.

For true technical training, you obviously have to study all these possibilities because this is the only way for technique to become thoroughly operational - i.e., capable of varying according to the situation.

A kata was important for a trainee because it enabled him to learn these hidden technical variants. A single gesture contained within itself dozens of variations. To know a kata meant learning and mastering this complexity, and this is why a single kata was sufficient.

It was not by practicing in a single fixed way that the trainee found a kata interesting. As a student improved and progressed, the master would open his eyes to underlying techniques. He might say, "In the kata, the forms executed are at their most condensed and simplified. You must now execute each one of the passages in different ways. You have to find the subtlety with which to
alter the angle of your body. That's the essential thing for combat. But you don't need to experience it in executing the kata. The kata is a bone, which you flesh out with knowledge. Nourish your flesh well, without showing it to others."

This way of learning a kata was only possible within a system of personal transmission which, however, could involve more than one student. It became impossible in an institutionalized system which accords official status to only one form of execution.

In this regard, I like to quote T. NAKANO, one of my karateka friends: "Human beings are strange. Many tend to feel anxious, unsure and insecure when faced with a veritable treasure that will open the doors to freedom and innumerable possibilities. On the other hand, they feel safe and secure with poverty and mediocrity, simply because they have the garland of "official"
authority, which releases them from the need to think about other possibilities.

There is a little of this in the strength of the organisations. They represent an authority based on assigning value to a single form of each kata, to training models, to rules, to ranks. In the old system of Karate, none of these allures existed, simply because they were not necessary for martial arts. Today what is required by sports, but not by martial art, is what dominates in
the world of the latter. Isn't this a sad state of affairs?"

When someone says, "The kata are important, essential even for Karate", the statement is based on the ancestral system, whether the speaker knows it or not. In other times, the kata were regarded with respect according to their content. But as we have seen, the "ancestral" kata of today are not the same in practice as in teaching. A kata cannot have as many meanings in the modern system of Karate where each style or school refers to a fixed model regarded as the only legitimate one. To see this you only need to examine the kata that you practice.

Karate developed within a system of communication that was closed to the public. Today, dominated as we are by the show system, how can we fully access that knowledge? Surmounting such a problem is not easy. Just revise the kata that you know and try to apply their passages to see the totality of the kata.

Are you able to explain the meaning and purpose of each technical move in a satisfactory manner? Don't you perform the technical moves simply because that's how you've been taught? If you can't fully feel the meaning and purpose of a technique, I think that it will serve for very little as a combat technique.

In any case, when I felt stuck about twenty years ago, I asked myself all these questions. I felt overwhelmed by a sensation of emptiness and wondered,  "What have I been doing until now? How, in the modern system, can I access all the riches developed in a closed system?" With these questions in mind, I began my search into the history of Karate.

Kenji Tokitsu


Kata Specifications in Karate I (second part) by Kenji Tokitsu Sensei

The three categories of kata:

One of the problems in practicing the kata comes from the ambiguity of their meaning. In order to delve further into the subject, we should distinguish three types of kata, which are generally confused with each other, namely the rintô-gata (combat kata), hyôen-gata (demonstration or performance kata) and rentan-gata (energy or strength building kata).

The rintô-gata are the original kata. In other times they formed the contents of what was taught in esoteric transmission. The other two categories were developed to facilitate access to the original kata. That is, they were developed to enable the trainee to attain the skill necessary for executing the rintô-gata. Almost all the kata that we know today belong to these last two categories, while the rintô-gata have practically been forgotten, and form part of the ancestral modes of esoteric transmission.

You can say that you know the kata whose bunkai (analysis or application) is clear, but this is not the quality that determines the rintô-gata. Let me explain this further.

The Sanchin kata, for example, is a typical rentan-gata like the Naihanchi (Tekki) or Sesan (Hangetsu) kata. However, most kata include, in varying proportions, elements of hyôen-gata and rentan-gata. Under this classification, the rentan-gata, which are the energy kata in the broadest sense of the term, include a number of formalised Qi Gong exercises.

Combat techniques are characterised by their complex mobility. The hyôen-gata present the movements in simplified, partial form, accentuating the standard positions to make them more accessible, thus frequently giving them a ceremonial appearance. This appearance is accentuated in the kata that are executed in performances. They are the ones that we see most frequently in  Karate tournaments and matches.

In modern kata, the three categories are more or less mixed, and elements of rintô-gata are found only at the bottom of these kata.

It is usually said that a kata's bunkai is done or not, but most bunkais are series of techniques well coordinated with a view to the exercises. The most real forms of combat techniques are not shown except in the rintô-gata (combat kata), which are more flexible and dynamic that the kata of the other two categories, since they arise from an effective form of combat.

Even after a new revision, most of the movements of the rentan-gata and hyôen-gata are not truly satisfactory techniques from the point of view of the timing of velocity and body position in combat. "Satisfactory techniques" is an apt expression, because we can justify any technique if our partner agrees.

Just look at how many harmful techniques flourish with the kata under the pretext of application or bunkai. The possibility of bunkai is not sufficient proof to rate as a rintô-gata. A bunkai is nothing more than an intermediate exercise prior to engaging in real combat. One who knows the bunkai well is not necessarily able to fight effectively. Just look at how the kata are practiced today.

The bunkai of the sêpai kata, for example, is very clear and each move can constitute an interesting technical repertoire, but as you well know, you do not fight according to the kata. They are sequences of gestures that are useful for executing techniques, but not rintô-gata techniques.

Because this is a true reference for combat and each technique includes possibilities for change depending on the adversary's response. I think that the following examples will help us to understand the rintô-gata and to see how they are lacking in today's Karate.


Rintô-gata : the original kata

In the years following the war, the late Master Yasugi Kuroda of the Kaïshin-Ryû school fought against four Yakuza armed with short swords. It was an aggression and Master Kuroda prevailed armed only with a fan. After this experience he said, "There was no difference between the kata that I practice every day and the combat I engaged in. The actual fight was neither pleasant nor
interesting."

What Kuroda is talking about here is the rintô-gata. It wasn't a question of applying such and such a technique against such another one, but instead of something spontaneous like the teaching of its kata. Do you know this side of the kata in Karate? Personally, I do not. You can say perhaps that I, or some other master, is capable of combat executed like a kata, but then I would say we are not speaking of the same thing. To help us understand what combat is, especially with a knife or sword, let me give an example.

Master K. Kurosaki is the first karateka to have had a public match against a Thai boxer, thereby contributing to the creation of kick boxing in Japan. At the age of sixty, today he has a reputation of being a realistic fighter, which he unquestionably is, having engaged in a great number of matches with no rules. Here is what he says on combat against an armed adversary in his
video tape entitled "The Training of a Demon Fighter".

"If you are faced with an adversary armed with a knife, what should you do? The answer is easy. You should have a weapon that is longer than his. Otherwise, you'd better turn around and run. There are some people who are so ingenuous that they dare to demonstrate unarmed combat against an armed adversary, thinking that they can win as though they were the hero of a comic strip, never realising the danger entailed by the sharp blade of a knife. A blind man is not afraid of a serpent. This, at least, is what I have learned from experience."

With these two examples we can see the difference in level between the two masters. We can imagine the level of Master Y. Kuroda's art and also the existence of the technical support of sword art underlying the form of the kata in his school.

Some of these highly rigorous kata have been transmitted selectively. I can confirm this dimension of the kata after having studied the art of the sword according to this school.

But I do not encounter this dimension in the Karate kata of today. This is not, however, from lack of knowledge. If that were the case, I would count myself lucky, for the possibility would exist of learning it one day. But I do not believe in that possibility because karate has developed by giving
foremost status to the rentan-gata and hyôen-gata, which are much more accessible than the rintô-gata. The latter have been shoved to the bottom of the kata since the beginning of the twentieth century.

Let us recall again the fact that karate was an extremely selective pursuit. If it has become accessible to everyone, it is not because the doors have been opened but because major qualitative changes have been introduced in content and mode of transmission.

I think that a karateka in search of the greatest value within Karate should broaden the scope of his search to include the rintô-gata, the kata of extreme rigour which in themselves comprise the most complex method of Karate.

I repeat that it is because of the difficulty entailed by this rigour that the rentan-gata and the hyôen-gata were developed, thereby helping to popularize Karate.


How to gain access to the rintô-gata.

I can see only one way to judge whether a kata is rintô-gata, or to recreate a rintô-gata based on the reformed kata of today.

You have to study as many versions as possible of a given kata. This will enable you to make detailed comparisons of its overall technical structure.

For example the Gojûshiho kata, taught today in Shôtokan, in Shitô-Ryû and in Shorin-Ryû, has variants in each of these schools. I have compiled about ten Gojûshiho. You can enumerate the number of technical sequences comprising this kata. In a general comparison, you can break each of the sequences down into the position of the adversaries, the quality of their attacks and
strategy, while at the same time studying your own technical possibilities, the strategy that you use, the bodily and mental stance to be adopted, etc.

You can construct the combat situation based on all these assumptions and actually carry out the combat to experience this situation. The idea is to find all the possibilities and all the difficulties. A great number of the latter are going to appear. So you must devise a way for overcoming each one. You must work until all these problems are resolved in a satisfactory way for carrying out the combat in the most authentic way possible.

For each sequence, it is necessary to find the technical mode that will, at the same time, help to hone the technical skill you are using. The rintô-gata is known as a highly pragmatic method. If true effectiveness for combat is missing, a kata cannot be a rintô-gata. Otherwise, how could the karatekas of old, who had no time to waste, train as thoroughly as necessary, and why did they hide their art from everyone else? Because they had true wealth and found it in a single kata.

It is with this outlook that I am now engaged in my research on the rintô-gata.


Reconstructing the rintô-gata .

I'll take as an example for analysis the first sequence of the Gojûshiho kata. The technical objective here is to get close enough to the adversary to attack him with an ura uchi punch.
In these sequences there are two main requirements.

Advance rapidly without receiving an attack from the adversary. That is, advance rapidly keeping your guard up. You must not expose yourself to attack from your adversary. The moment you execute the ura uchi, you should not be vulnerable.

The gestural sequences of the kata should provide you with a means of properly acquiring these technical abilities. It must give you an efficient repertory of skills while at the same time teaching you a way of moving that will enable you to develop the qualities necessary for executing this technique. The movements must be realistic and instructive at the same time. It is only
under these conditions that you can internalise technique by respecting a kata.

If you examine kata you know from this perspective, you will find many detrimental movements. For example, you distance yourself from the timing of combat, you leave your face open to attack from the adversary, you stiffen your body and let your technique become rigid, instead of making them mobile. By respecting this kind of kata, you will never attain a "budô body", a body able
to execute efficient techniques, with good regulation of energy in the body's vital areas.

I have studied about ten variants of Gojûshiho. All of them have the same overall structure, but the technical details are different. Through this study, and with the help of oral transmissions, I have made a comparison and analysis to discover the technical objective of each sequence and the main requirements for executing it.

The variants of a kata correspond to different technical interpretations and also to the greater or lesser deformation of its form and strategic content over time. The value of a kata is quite different depending on the variant you are examining.

At any rate, we can say that if the Gojûshiho kata of a school enables you in this first sequence to develop and master the skill of advancing rapidly towards your adversary without exposing your vulnerable spots, then this kata is good. If not, the kata is not worth doing.

A kata is a practical tool. Its value depends on its capacity to meet the technical objective for which it was designed. Whatever the authenticity label of a kata, it must be considered faulty if it is impossible to discover the means by which it will train you and meet its original objectives.

Kenji Tokitsu

from my own translation efforts of L'Histoire Du Karate

Historie Du Karate - L’ecole shorin.ryu

from my translation of Kenji Tokitsu's work


III – The Shorin-ryu School


It’s by the intermediary of Chotoku Kiyan that the course of Tomari-te has been transmitted until our days. The three names Tomari-te, Naha-te and Shuri-te appeared towards the end of the 19th century for ‘well’ marking the differences between the forms of karate attached to those localities. Let us note that these three localities are only located a distance of several kilometers from each other, and these three are also  the social hierarchy of the ancient society.  Let us recall that Shuri was the capital of Okinawa where officers and nobles resided, Naha was a shopping village which included Kume, and Tomari was a village close to these two cities.  Although this classification wasn’t used until the end of the 19th century, how there exist very few ancient documents on karate, it forms part of a collective memory with the illusion that it goes back several centuries.

We could enumerate on several characteristic traits of the course called Tomari-te.  From the technical point of view, it close to Shuri-te. The adepts of Tomari-te were often renowned for the skill of their kicks; that was the case of C. Kyan. The techniques of Tomari-te comprised of added movements which were without effectiveness directed towards the point of view of combat and they existed from reciprocal influences between Tomari-te and local dances.  Let us note that C. Kiyan was a renowned dancer.

1 – The Itinerary of Chotoku Kiyan (1870 – 1945)

Chotoku Kiyan didn’t give a particular name to his school, however several masters of the Shorin-ryu school considered it like the reference of their school.  More ever, the transmission of most kata is passed by his intermediaries, it is why it is considered that he played an important role in the line of the Shorin-ryu school.  He is known on Okinawa under the name of Chian Mi Gua, the surname which signifies Kyan ad two small eyes.  The kata Tomari no Chinto is transmitted today under the name of Chian Mi Gua no Chinto, which is a mark of respect which he acquired with his surname.

C. Kiyan was born in 1870 in Shuri. His father, descendent of a noble family, was an officer of the last king of Kyukyu in which he had of him great confidence.  He had the responsibility to conserve the important documents and was versed in Japanese and Chinese literature.  In 1882, he went with is son to Tokyo in charge of a mission for the ancient king. C. Kiyan was weak and small, his father imposed on him daily exercises to reinforce his body, in winter and summer, he trained in the garden in karate and wrestling.  However, the  winter in Tokyo is painful for those who are habituated to the soft climate of Okinawa.  Shoshin Nagamine, one of the students of C. Kiyan, born in 1907 recounts:

When I was a police officer, our Police Chief often spoke to us of the life that carried the Kiyan’s, father and son to Tokyo, for he had lived in Tokyo himself during his infancy. He said: “When it was cold, the winter and that I was near the heating, my father criticized me and to encourage me, cited the example of Kiyan and his son. He said to me, “The same as the day as cold as today, the father and the son Kiyan were both outside and training so hard they were perspiring.   You also, you are the son of a family of the same blood as Kiyan, you must therefore be more courageous.” “

The father and the son Kiyan returned to Okinawa after four years of stay in Tokyo. A day the father of C. Kiyan said to him:

Listen well that I stay today, it is my testament. You are small, but your spirit is strong. Same small as you are, you must develop you capabilities in the art of combat by good training.  You must learn to access some techniques which are most appropriate for you from the kata.  If you get deeply into them you will always be able to leave those who are adversaries.    General Kabayama of the Satsuma during the war of Keicho (1609) is agood example.  He didn’t measure one meter 50 (cm.), but he was a hero of incomparable bravery and had the surname of “Demon General”.  After this war a popular expression appeared.  ‘The General Kabayama is a needle, who would be able to swallow a needle?”   [translators note, this ‘you’ is the personal one as from father to son, instead of the more global ‘you.]

There are some people who take themselves for great adepts, and become arrogant towards their groins (screwing their groins?),  some of them are a little strong.  It is this that  one must avoid throughout the process of getting deeper into karate.  If you wish to become a veritable adept, you must always keep present the spirit of the seven precepts given by the grand master Sokon Matsumura:

Dominate violence,
Withdraw the soldiers,
Protect the people,
Develop the qualities of each person,
Give tranquility to the people,
Create a harmony between groups, and finally
Contribute to enrich society,
This is the goal of the martial arts.

You must also examine seriously the veritable sense of this phrase of our predecessors:

“How can one commit an error while resisting discreet?  Those who are on top and those who are on the bottom, all must accomplish their work.”

These words let us foresee the atmosphere in which Chotoku Kiyan was raised.

A little time after his return to Okinawa, he went to knock on the door of master Sokon Matsumura who was already nearly 80 years (of age). The documents report that C. Kiyan had received instruction from S. Matsumura. But, in reason of age of the master, this teaching could not have been that one imagines today in presenting the course of karate. He probably received criticism and counsel on his karate and listened to S. Matsumura’s experiences or his fundamental thoughts on his art.  The sole fact from the encounter with the greatest master of his time was to stimulate the youthful will of C. Kiyan, and also to bring to him the essential indications that were his guide in his long itinerary on the way of karate.  Recommended by his father, he was admitted as a student by Anko Itosu who lived in Shuri, as they did.  C. Kiyan also went to receive training from Kokan Oyatomari, a known adept of the art of Tomari.  We don’t know that last master except from some vage recollections.  He was born about 1828 and a kata was transmitted under the name of “Oyatomari no Bassai”.  In all cases, it is thanks to the recommendation and help of his father who was himself a follower of karate that C. Kiyan receive training from several many masters, the most important ones of this period.

C. Kiyan, trained himself with diligence to surmount the inferiority that he conferred on himself because of his small size.  The intensity of his investment prolonged the education that he gave got  from his father.  He developed his practice to arrive at the way to dominate an adversary large and more powerful than himself.  He thus practiced while placing himself as if he had just behind him his back to a river, or the parapet of a bridge and he worked to develop his personal techniques. In these techniques he does not move back, but that does not say that that he always enters into a collision with his adversary.  By a continual effort, he developed his methods of moving and of the legs (use) and little by little gained the reputation of a frightening adept of combat called kake-dameshi, combat which would leave from a challenge.  His surname ‘Chan mi gua” became celebrated among the adepts of karate.

            An ironic poem of the period said:
            In the old system, he was a trusted noble from Ryukyu,
            Today he draws a carriage, hiding his face under his hat,
            What all this is misery, isn’t it?

Kyan was himself a victim of unemployment; indeed he effectively worked to draw a carriage to transport agricultural products and he knew economic difficulties for a long time.  It was during this period, the most difficult of his life, that he encountered master Chantanyara, stableman of the family of former Ryukyu kings.  S. Nagamine told an antidote, that he heard from Ankichi Arakaki, the oldest pupil of the school of Kiyan, who had heard it directly from C. Kiyan.

Master Chantanyara was since childhood, with exceptional agility and had very strong legs and hips. It is said he jumped from one side of a bridge and immediately got back up on the other side like a bird would do while flying. But when I received his teaching age had weakened him and he walked with a cine.  But one day at dusk, we were three students, he explained to us the technique and began to climb.  All of a sudden, he shook his cane with power, then he pointed to me and said:  ‘What would you do against this guard?”  I was pushed back by the power of his glance, his body has an immovable stability, and he maintained a distance with rigorous justice and his cane didn’t present any fault (opening). I couldn’t do anything, I lost by breath and I was fallen in place with cold perspiration. Until this day, I was somewhat presumptuous and I thought that my art was already nearly sufficient.  The master then gave me a lesson.  That of him who has forged his art unto the point of a mysterious power which is other than simple physical force. He veritably gave off a formidable energy.  I recalled my fathers precepts and I am training more.

C. Kiyan had constituted his karate on several personal kata. The kata Chantanyara no kushanku, favorite kata of Chantanyara that he transmitted to him, and the kata Chanmigua no Chinto et Oyatomari no bassai are the kata preferred.   Contrary to those schools that have known a large expansion to the center of Japan, the school of Kiyan remains discretely in the island of Okinawa, and these kata have undergone few formal modifications.  They conserve then most faithfully the form practiced at the end of the 19th century, the period of C. Kiyan.

Until an advanced age C. Kiyan remained renowned for his capabilities in combat; they said that he never lost and they recount many anecdotes of his combats.  The capability of C. Kiyan was constructed by his proper efforts. He told his students that 70% of the level of an adepts depends on his effort, and only 30% on his gifts. I cite these words which condense his attitude:

“Take the example of the fist; If you train all the day on the makiwara, you can easily break the planks and the tiles. But if you stop your exercises on the makiwara, your fist reverts to that of an ordinary person.  In karate if you continue your training, you must progress, but if you take a respite, you regress from before.  It is the effort without respite and not the morphology of a person who find themselves at the junction between a large success and a failure.”

C. Kiyan had personalized certain basic techniques.  One habitually gives a punch (tsuki) with the  fist formed horizontally, and strikes principally with the first joint of the medius, but he struck while maintaining a vertical fist (tate-ken) in privileging a strike with the first joint of the index. It isn’t a traditional mode, but it is a personal manner that he had elaborated for himself.

Here is the last give that he had given to his student S. Nagamine:

“I had constructed my dojo in 1942, and we had made the inauguration of this dojo ..  I was especially touched by the presence of master Kiyan, who was already the age of 73 years.. he had executed to celebrate the inauguration of my dojo his favorite kata, Bassai, and a kata of the stick. I could not hold back my tears and felt the heat of recognition in my chest.  All the audience had been struck by the precision of his gestures and the power of his will.  I had never felt the grandeur of my master until that day.  It was the last time that I had seen the Master in a public demonstration.”

2 – The teachings of Chotoku Kiyan

This text of C. Kiyan shows the practical attitude that makes the particularities of this adepts karate.  His indications are simple, but his pragmatic spirit is extremely instructive for today’s karateka.

Instructions for training and teaching, by C. Kiyan (1930)

1 – It is appropriate to teach in the following order:  explain first what is karate, what is the attitude of training, then learn the forms and the movement.  Then learn the way of striking with the fist and the elbow, the way of kicking, the parries corresponding with the techniques of seizing and immobilization, and finally the kata.  It is well after one has well learned a kata that one should be initiated into combat.

2 – When one trained traditionally in combat, without any protection, this was not without accidents.  It will be necessary to use from now on (in the future) certain protections, like those of kendo, and to wear rubber gloves.  We will then be able to avoid accidents.

3 – For training, aside from the makiwara and the protections that I have earlier mentioned, we don’t have a need of another object, nor some partners, nor much of a place. It is one of the advantages of karate.

All things considered, during the daily training it is necessary to strengthen the body, to exercise the blows of the fist and the feet, to learn how to skillfully mobilize the members, and to shift oneself with ease, all while understanding well the principles of training.  While training ourselves in this manner a long time we will arrive at acquiring the subtle principles of application and how to act suitable in any situation that presents itself to us.  However if one trains oneself with the techniques of the body, and neglects to quiet (dampen down) the spirit, that which is fundamental to the art will be unusable.

It is necessary to become clairvoyant in life and seek to develop modesty, the calm spirit, promptitude and bravery, at the same time that one trains the techniques of the body.

1.      The martial arts aspires to prevent violence, to alleviate disorder and to protect oneself. It’s why those who take the martial arts must always have a modest attitude and reserve to comport oneself correctly with a spirit of loyalty and devotion.

2.      It is essential in the martial arts, to act at the necessary time while totally investing your spirit, your force and your body. Those which their force makes haughty unto arrogant are harmful to the society,  detested by others and will do themselves misfortune.

It’s necessary to hold this in account. A proverb says: “A fist strike will remain a treasure in the sleeve.”  It is necessary to avoid its use without discrimination.

3.      Contribute to the physical education, train oneself to the martial arts, quiet the spirit; such are the aims of karate.

4.      One must keep the [one’s] posture while remaining motionless and to submerge the “ki” to the bottom of the stomach while taking care that it does not rise again. However, one must also avoid at any price from freezing [in place].

5.      When one practices a kata, it is necessary to execute it with as much willpower and with the feelings of the moment where one would face with his enemy.

6.      Speed is necessary in all the gestures and displacements [body shifts - movements].

All the displacements [body shifts - movements] owe their carry out while placing the force in the toes.

7.      When one practices a kata, it is necessary to know the direction, not to be mistaken about on the goal (target) of the techniques, and distinguish the jodan (high), the chudan (middle) and the gedan (low). Training without comprehension [of the direction of the kata] is useless.
8.      It is well needed to train with the makiwara, and reinforce the impact of the strike.  Whatever its speed, the strike will be ineffective without force in its impact.

More ever, whatever the force of the strike, it will be ineffective if it  is missing agility and speed in the techniques of the members [arms and legs] and in displacement [body shifting].  It is not necessary that missing neither force of the strikes, nor agility; they are like the two wheels of a carriage, with only one missing they are unbalanced.
9.      It is always needed to endeavor to integrate the spirit, the body and the eyes.

Instructions for combat, by C. Kiyan


1.      Before acting, it is necessary to discern the capabilities of the opponent.  If he is powerful, he will inevitably rely on his strength and will have the tendency to attack. Then I would make an effort to parry so that he uses more and more force, and I will launch my attack at the time where he reveals a vacuum [an opening].

It is a technique by which one borrows the force of the opponent.

2.      If the opponent isn’t powerful, he will be on the defensive and multiply the movements and the shifts while often moving back.  In this case one should not launch an attack of a sudden strike. It is then necessary to use blows of the fist and the feet to bring him to back up and attack all from a strike.  Then when I take the initiative of the attack I must take guard of unexpected responses (counters).

3.      I should not attack by over-estimating my force and my speed. They who are nimble will be able to have a fast counter before I can move by divining the movements of my hand and my feet.

4.      It will be necessary to hide from the technique that one will use, while concealing his own will (intentions).  Whatever the capability of the adversary, one should neither advance or move back more than three steps.

5.      At the moment of combat,  attention should be paid to the defense of the center line, since the eyes until start from the legs [This last phrase(depuis les yeux jusqu’au depart des jambs) doesn’t seem to translate well]. One must always guard oneself agains receiving fist strikes to the eyes, from kicks to the testicles and  not letting oneself be grabbed. In general, one must not use too much force in defense.  If one uses too much force in parries,  each gesture will be slowed down by it, which risks losing an opportune moment.

6.      When one crosses the arms of the adversary, it should be done in a strong and flexible way, at the same time, but the spirit must be strong, in order to be able to react adequately to the reaction of the adversary.

7.      The fist attack must be especially fast.  When it is parried, and diverted from the place that was aimed for, it must carry on its way to strike anywhere. And, the same, if the attack does not have a strong impact, the opponent  will become flustered. And then it is necessary to continue to give all the possible blows from the fist and the foot without stopping a moment, spontaneously and increasing.

8.      It isn’t forcefully necessary to parry with the hand kicks from the opponent. On can avoid them with your legs and strike at the same time with fist strikes.

And the same if the adversary falls, one should not want to attack too easily,
because sometimes one can receive an unexpected attack.

9.      When the opponent seizes our leg, there isn’t a danger if one presses the leg to the earth very strongly. But, one must pay attention not to fall when the ground is bad.

10.  While facing towards the opponent, it is necessary to pay attention not to fall into his strategy.  Some use the foot while striking with their hands, or while making the semblance of seizing the hand, some others utilize the fists while making ready to attack with the foot.  One must never relax.

11.  When one fights against several opponents, one should never fight body to body [at close range], especially one should fight at a distance.

If the attack is to my right, I will move myself to the left;  As soon as I attack to the front, I attack to my opponent at the rear.  It is the best way.

These instructions are fundamental for combat. But they only present a fragment [of possible tactics].
Summoning all, the variety of martial arts is subtle and without boundries, it is impossible to describe them all. Each one will be acquired by ardent training and by long research.







Histoire Du Karate-Do - L’ecole Shito-ryu

My translation from Kenji Tokitsu's work.

 II – The Shito-ryu school

The Shito-ryu school was founded by Kenwa Mabuni, friend of Chojun Miyagi.

1 – Kenwa Mabuni  (1889 – 1952), founder of Shito-ryu

Kenwa Mabuna was born the 14th of November 1889 in Shuri to an ancient family of officers of the king of Ryukyu.  Following a change of regime, his father had taken the profession of a pastry cook. Infant, Kenwa Mabuni, was of very fragile health and sought the means to become stronger.  He was initiated to karage at the approximate age of 10 years by a servant of his house, Matayoshi.

The celebrated master Anko Itosu also lived in Shuri. At 13 years, Kenwa Mabuni, was introduced by one of his friends, and became his student; he remained faithful to him for the rest of his life. According to the custom of the time, he ahd to obtain, to be admitted, the recommendation of a trustworthy person who would vouch for him.  He persevered in his training under the direction of A. Itosu, without ever missing a single day, not even a day of typhoon, according to his son Kenei Mabuni.

In 1902 he entered the Okinawa high school where karate was not a subject of study. IN 1905,  following from a strike at the high schools, in which he took an important part, he had to change from his school and entered a maritime school. He then terminated his studies after 3 years, at the age of 19.

He began to work as a free lance teacher at the primary school in Naha. I was in this period that he struck up a friendship with Chojun Miyagi, who then presented him to his own master k. Higaonna. The recommendation of Miyagi provided him with the precious opportunity to learn Naha-te directly. But, at the end of two years (of training), he had to leave for military service. On is return, in 1912, on the counsel of Miyagi, he entered the Okinawan school of police. In 1914, he became an inspector of police, he was 25 years old and remained in the police during ten years.

His function with the police facilitated his travels in  the island of Okinawa, and his encounters with masters of the art of combat.  He thus collected many kata of karate. He studied. He studied, morever, classic arts of the island called Ryu-kyu kobujutsu. Thus he learned Bo-jutsu (the art of the stick) from Master Aragaki and from Master  Soeishi and the sai-jutsu (the art of the sai) from Master Tawada.  Learning these arts in this epoch (time period) was difficult where esotericism (?) was the rule.  Remark here rather than later, when K. Mabuni founded his Shito-ryu school the richness of this register will become at times an advantage and a burden for those who practice this school.

The two masters A. Itosu and K. Higaonna died the same year, in 1915: Kenwa Mabuni was then twenty six years.  He was very young to continue (alone?) in the way of Karate.  He consulted Miyagi who was only a year older than him and they decided to constitute (ensemble) a group for the  research and practice of karate.  This group grew and in 1918 the majority of known karate experts formed part of it. We found there, after C. Miyagi and K. Mabuni, the principal figures of the history of modern karate; K. Yabu, C. Hanashiro, C. Chibana, A. Tokuda, S. Gusukuma, C. Oshiro, S. Tokumura, S. Ishikawa and G. Funakoshi.

But this group didn’t have the use of a dojo and the members did not go very far in practical collaboration.  It is only in 1924 that K. Mabuni constructed a dojo in his garden. The new group whoch worked with him was directed by the masters; C. Miyagi, J. Kyoda, C. Motobu, C. Hanshiro, C. Oshiro, C. Chinaba and K. Go (Chinese).

Kenei Mabuni, son of Kenwa Mabuni rembers this from this period:
Before the construction of the dojo, my father trained with his students in the garden, at night, under the light of an electric lightbulb.  The most of the students were with nude torso’s, I had rarely seen students dressed in judo or kendo kimonos… During my infancy, my home was always frequented by some karate-kas, and I had grown up watching their training.  Sometimes the visitors gave me some cakes when I showed them the katas that I had learnt… In October 1924 my father had constructed a dojo which he had returned since a long time. He installed all sorts of instruments destined to reinforce the body for karate. It was an ideal dojo.”

When in 1926, jigoro kano, a very grand figure of Japanese budo of the period, visited Okinawa and demanded from the prefect a presentation of karate, it was this group that took the initiative of the demonstrations. The explication of Shuri-te was made by Mabuni, that of Nata-te by Miyagi.  The Okinawan karate-ka of this period saw them of equal importance, vital for the ulterior development of karate.

At the issue of this presentation, J. Kano said to K. Mabuni and to C. Miyagi:
I think that the from the point of view of physical and moral education the Okinawan art of combat must be developed to a large scale in the future.  When it (karate)  has made a certain degree of diffusion on Hondo (principle island of Japan) it would naturally have a chance to be integrated into the Butokukai.   I would like you to hold in account this question and that you consider your art from the global point of view of Japan.”

It was from this discussion with J. Kano that K. Mabuni decided to leave Okinawa. In 1928 he left alone for Tokyo and returned the visit to J. Kano.  G. Funakoshi was already installed in Tokyo for several years accompanied him.  J. Kano, member of a commission of the International Olympic Committee, had left the same year to assist the Olympic Games in Amsterdam.

K. Mabuni established himself in Osaka in 1929 with his family, he was 40 years old. He called his school Mabuni-ryu, and when Mabuni founded the Goju-ryu school in 1935, he joined him and called his school Goju-ryu. But their formations were different. C. Miyagi is the pure successor of K. Higaonna. K. Mabuni was the heritage of the last and also of A. Itosu. It is why in 1938, in his first book entitled “Karate-do Nyumon (the initation to karate-do)”, he named his school Shito-ryu, after the name of his two masters. In Japanese the name of Itosu was written with two ideograms ‘Ito’ and ‘su’, and that of higaonna with the three ideograms ‘Higa’, ‘on’ and ‘na’.  In Japanese the same ideogram couldbe pronounced in several manners: ‘Ito’ could be prounced ‘shi’, and ‘higa’ could be pronounced ‘to’.  Then the combination of the first ideograms of the name of his two masters formed the word “Shito”. Shito-ryu signifies then, “the school issued from the two masters, Itosu and Higaonna.”.

 K. Mabuni, before becoming a student of A. Itosu had been initiated into karate by Matayoshi, one of the servants of his family and had been taught by him the classical kata Naifanchi.  This kata differed from the kata Naifanchi of today that was reformed by A. Itosu.  Later Mabuni had shown to Itosu the kata Naifanchi, that he had studied from Matayoshi, he said to him: ‘It is the ancient Naifanchi. That which I have shown you is the kata which I have renovated (reformed).”

Matayoshi had learned this kata from a Chinese named Channan who lived in a hut at the side of the cemetery of Tomari.  But today this kata is not managed (taught?); in effect K. mabuni, became the student of A. Itosu and faithfully transmitted the  kata which had been renovated (reformed). This, from a historical point of view, is very damaging, for we don’t have a means to compare the ancient form to the renovated form.  Seen from today, the innovations of Itsou were not all positive, since he often replaced subtle and effective attack gestures with parry gestures more simply assimilated, or by symbolic gestures.  Today, these passages present some ambiguities and some difficulties in application.  Morever, in spite of their recent origin,  differences in form exist between contemporary schools in their manner of executing these kata. Indeed the application of a technique of combat is concrete and precise, same as when one opens multiple possibilities, but the ambiguity installs itself if the reference is the more symbolic techniques.  In his karate, A. Itosu had intentionally wanted to avoid attaching too much importance to combat efficiency because he wished to create a discipline for physical education. Being that he managed at a very high level of efficiency, his state of spirit undoubtedly towards the end of his life detached from research where effectiveness largely dominated and was directed towards more educational preoccupations.  It is a trajectory that I have constantly found in the study of the life of Budo masters who have arrived at advanced age.  On the contrary, Higaonna and Miyagi had founded their schools  when they were very young and at a very precocious phase of their trajectory. It is there the essential difference between the realized innovations of A. Itosu and of theirs, for they wished to institute a combat art and thought the educative value was included in the formation of combat and in the research of its efficiency.

 The art of combat isn’t sometimes transmitted more faithfully when the transmission corresponds to the period of maturity of the master rather that it overtook the master of his art.  The counterpart could be the brutality of methods from apprenticeship that he passed to the generation that follows to polish.

In 1939, K. Mabuni  registered his school at the Butokukai under the name of Shito-ryu, and presented himself to the examination of Master in budo.  He obtained the title of Renshi, master of third category in budo. A the same session, G. Funakoshi obtained the same title.

2 – The kata of Shito-ryu

The Shito-ryu school is today thath which counts the highest number of kata.   To the dozen kata of Goju-ryu, there are 37 additional kata.:

The kata of the Shoto-ryu school are classified in the following manner:

  1. The kata coming from the teachings of Kanryu Higaonna and Chojun Miyagi (Naha-te). There are12: Sanchin, the two Gekisai, Saifa, Seenchin, Shisochin, Sesan, Sepai, Sanseru, Kururunfa, Suparinpei, Tensho.
  2. The kata coming from the teaching of Anko Itosu (Shuri-te). There are 23: Naifanchi : shodan, nidan, sandan
Pinan: shodan, nidan, sandan, yodan and godan
Jitte, Jion, Jiin, Rohai: 1,2 and 3, Kosokun-dai, Kosokun-sho, Shiho-Kosokun, Passai-dai, Passai-sho, Chinto, Chintei, Wanshu, Gojushiho.
  1. Several other  kata, there are 10:
Niseshi, Unshu, Sochin, Wankan, Matsumora-Rohai, Matsumura-Passai, Ishimine-passai, Tomari-Passai, Nipaipo, Shinpa.
  1. The four kata composed by Kenwa Mabuni:  Aoyagi, Juroku, Myojo, Matsukaze

In this way Kenwa Mabuni transmitted 49 kata total in the school Shito-ryu.  No other school taught such a large number of kata.  Certain masters of the contemporary Shito-ryu school count more than 60 kata in the register of their practice, for some other kata were introduced more than which Kenwa Mabuni had transmitted. This number is surprising, if one gets closer to the method of Kanbun Uechi, who, in nearly the same time period, founded the school Uechi-ryu with only three kata: Sanchin, Sesan and Sanseryu.

No other school teaches such a great number of kata: it is the register of technical knowledge constituted by the personal research of Kenwa Mabuni.  His work is much more remarkable in that he received these kata from different origins in a period where the dominate attitude of adepts was to appreciate only their own kata.  In this period of Okinawa, most adepts considered the knowledge of the number of kata wasn’t as important or comparable with the research in the profundity of the kata.  Certain masters openly scorned ostensibly those who desired to know in a limited time several kata.  It was necessary, for K. Mabuni, not only the advantage that conferred to him his situation of a local police officer, but especially with a passion for his research.

During the years 1930, the karate schools were not also compartmentalized as today and several masters, for example G. Funakoshi, H. otsuka, Y. Konishi, had consulted K. Mabuni to have some details on the kata that they were next to teach.

Today if we compare the Pinan kata or the Heian from four schools: Shotokan, Shorin-ryu, Shito-ryu and Wado-ryu, the kata of the last three are closer between them than are those of the first.  However, h. Otsuka, founder of Wado-ryu, was the student of G. Funakoshi, but he revised the kata that he had taken from his master after those of K. Mabuni.  G. Funakoshi, equally made certain revisions with K. Mabuni, for both of them were students of A. Itosu.  There are the schools of Shorin-ryu which have continued to teachings of the master with the greatest fidelity. The same source of knowledge had then been personalized by the experience and the qualities of each master to constitue the register of kata of the different schools. If the kata of the Shotokan school are particular, it is principally because the transformation effected within Shotokan from the 1940’s.

3 – The characterstics of the practice of Shito-ryu

The multiplicity of kata.

There are more than 40 to 50 kata in the contemporary Shito-ryu school:  certain ones tell of more than 60. Is this an advantage or disadvantage?

Is it certainly an advantage because of the possibility of making a comparison of form and of the significance that has to the interior of the gesturers of karate kata which constitutes a particular grammar of body signs.  For a work of research, it is useful and at the same time indispensable to have a sufficient symbolic repertoire of sequences to decode, to for a comparison,  the hidden sense of the kata.  This repertoire facilitates then the critical examination of kata that one practices, and reflection on the mode of transmission of the kata.

However, an elevated number of kata doesn’t signify obligatory superiority for the practice of the art.  A whole of 12 kata, like in the Goju-ryu school, is largely sufficient to perpetuate a school.  Mastery of 12 kata and their profoundness is very difficult and few reach that point. In all the schools of karate, each adept concentrates in general, following a cycle which can go from a few months to several years, their efforts on a certain kata that they can choose to go into particularly deeper study.  Until the beginning of the century (1900) few masters knew more than 3 or 4 kata, each kata giving them profound work and new ideas. Today, how can an ordinary adept could know ten times the kata and, in the same time, research their quality.  It is undeniable that there exists a risk of losing onself in the quantity and of stopping at a superficial level.

Well that K. Mabuni, had joined a moment the Goju-ryu school founded by his colleague Miyagi,  when we observe today the manner of practice, the difference is very clear between the two schools, Goju-ryu and Shito-ryu.  An qualified expert in karate could not miss noticing the differences in execution of a kata in their common repertoire.  In my opinion, the gestures of Shito-ryu are more elegant, more flowing, but it misses something essential compared to Goju-ryu; it’s like a cheese not refined of aspect, perhaps more proper, but also missing the creamy part. [translator note: perhaps the cheese reference is essential to the French audience?]  At the time of the exercise of a kata, the followers of the Goju-ryu school, seek to acquire a viscosity or elasticity with each technical movement.  They call it “muchimi” the subtlety of the delicate movements, which is the source of technique efficiency.  Becoming capable in expressing the “mumichi” in each gesture is the principle objective of the training for the adepts of the Goju-ryu school. The training made in this goal isn’t compatible for those with the practice of a large number of kata. The fundamental difference between the kata of these two schools consists in the practical notion of “mumichi”.

These particularities of Shito-ryu could be explained by the difficulty of integrating two tendancies also divergent as those of Hiagonna and those of Itosu. A first reason brings up the thought that in amalgamating the best of the two masters, the mest of their period, it is possible to come up with a larger mastery. This would be true if the difference between the two masters consisted in the repertory of techniques,  but it relates to the conception of the body.  And, the same if on understands the two conceptions of the body, it isn’t easy to make cohabitation in a same body the two manners of feeling and of acting.  It is also difficult, for a person, to have spontaneously two different manners.

Therefore, in Shito-ryu, it is the method issued from Itosu which predominates. The two heritages are present, but the kata common with Goju-ryu are executed in the manner following Itosu; therefore, the quality of Naha-te  is not real as such (would be?).  it’s what often occurs when one tests from mixing karate with the Chinese art of combat, while proceeding by juxtaposition. By example, when when the karate-ka practices Taiji Quan (Tai Chi Chaun) there is a risk there of being simply the movements of slowed down karate.  And when the follower of Taiji Quan practices karate, it is often difficult to realize the sensation of kime.   The complimentary cannot be effective and succeed to an enrichment at this level that if one gives rise to the movements and then a direction (sense?), it is said the conception of the body, and there is a convergence at this level.  The art of combat could not be developed to leave a mosaic of movements, the human body, alive, expressing its resistnace.  Thus, the Shito-ryu school is found its unity in the predominance of the association with Itosu. Significance is made that one of the disciples
of Mabuni, R. Sakagami has named his school Itosu-ryu,  which still it practices the total ensemble of the Shito-ryu heritage including the dozen kata of Goju-ryu.

The Technique


The technique of the Shito-ryu school is marked by its subtlety.  Compartive to the others, it could miss sometimes, the expression of power, but it compensates for it with speed and subtle techniques. The adepts of this excellent school are often in the techniques that call on the mobility of the base, the displacement of the body, and the techniques of deviation of the attacks.  At the time of university meetings, the currents of Shito-ryu and Wado-ryu  often  obtain the best results. The habitual technique of Shito-ryu is often qualified as superificial by the adepts of Shotokan who cherish the efficiency by the lower positions.

4 – The importance of K. Mabuni to modern karate

One of the most important contributions of k. Mabuni would be the enlargement of karate.  He knew to gather together the knowledge and techniques scattered and guarded more or less secret of his age.  He had an attitude very open on the future.  Thus, he had with his students studied the utility, for combat and training, the protection of kendo (Japanese Sword) and that of sports coming from Europe, then that G. Funakoshi was himself acutely opposed to his students during the same period they had studied the utility of protections (body armor?) for combat.

The writings of K. Mabuni on karate are very precise than those of his contemporaries and he assembled and transmitted the most elaborate knowledge on karate of this period. In these works, the relative technical parts  had an elaboration of methods of combat while approaching the subtle aspects of them.

            Forgetting All,
            I row,
            Towards the islet of the martial arts,
            It’s that which is my ultimate joy.

He died the 23rd of May 1952, at the age of 63 years. His eldest son , Kenei Mabuni, was who succeeded him to the direction of the principle school of Shito-ryu.  This was written in his work : “Le Karate-do, Shito-ryu”:

Being his eldest son, it is me, Kenei Mabuni, who succeeded him in the direction of the central school of Shito-ryu….
 Born the 13th of February 1918 at Shuri in Okinawa the eldest son of  Kenwa Mabuni, I have learnt during my infancy the different sorts of karate.  A large number of karate-ka frequented the hoiuse and I learned karate naturally.  It was my father who taught me karate and jujutsu and it  was master Konishi who taught me kendo.  I was able to hear from master Seiko Fujiata that of ninjutsu and I had also studied the other classic martial arts.  I was actually the advisor of the Federation of Karate-do in Japan and am in the commission of the Federation of the town of Osaka. I have taught in different dojo of university karate-do and between others at “Yoshu-kan dojo”.  In 1962, responding to an invitation, I went to teach in Mexico and since I have taught in Central and Latin America, in different countries in Asia and in Europe.”

In the course of his life, Kenei Mabuni could augment the register of kata that he had received from his father in meeting the following karate masters:
            Chojun Miyagi (1888-19530, the founder of Goju-ryu
            Ginchin Funakoshi (196801957), Shotokan
            Choki Motobu (1870-1942), Motobu-ryu
            Kanbun Uechi 91877-1948), Uechi-ryu
            Seiko Fujita 9born in 1899(, Konga-ryu Ninjutsu, 14th secessor
            Hironori Otsuka (1892-1982), Wado-ryu
            Yasuhiro Konishi 91893019830, Shinto-Jinen-ryu

Like the Goju-ryu school, the Shito-ryu school is developing principally in the region of Kansai, in south-west Japan.