Friday, May 18, 2018

On the teaching of Kata Sho

When I was a new black belt I began teaching through the Scranton Boys Club (I taught young men, and also young women. The first program to bring young women into the Boy’s Club at that time.) I taught Isshinryu exactly as I learned it, and those students learned it well.


But as the years passed I began to wonder if there  was a stronger way to prepare the young. Then when I had to move for a new position, and had occasion to begin again at the Greater Derry Boy’s and Girl’s Club, I put many things I had also learned into practice.


Simply put, I wanted to slow the pace of learning, yet keep the classes engaging to allow the students to better develop. I had no reason to rush the process, my only concern was to produce better Isshinryu.



Over the proceeding 6 years I had learned many things, learned and personally worked on them. I had great faith in the power of kata, and that was where I began.


I had learned several systems approaches to beginning kata. I no longer remember where I saw it, but was more impressed with Fukyugata Ichi

 as a beginning kata. I had conducted some experiments sharing it with my previous students, and the first thing I realized was to change the name (kids would change the name into a terrible pun the F*** You kata) and I could not allow that.


So it became Kata Sho to me. Then I adjusted the technique and stances into Isshinryu technique and stances.


[ As an aside, what I was doing was using Kata Sho and Kata Anaku (also Isshinryuized, as subsidiary precursors for eventual Seisan kata instruction. Allowing the time to create stronger student technique before beginning Seisan.]


But what began as a beginning kata became much more to me over time.


First, because of it’s shorter length student’s would understand the concept of kata more readily. Simply because they could do one. That made teaching subsequent kata easier.


Then I found another use. It became a binding group kata for everyone. By using it as a group kata, it allowed everyone to work more closely together. Binding the newer students to the same performance of the older students. Making a stronger group identity possible.


Next I began to find more possibilities.


As a group kata, the first performance at class beginning was often less dynamic that when done as the final class group exercise. They were of course more into the kata grove by class end.


So to show everyone their efforts could produce more on their own effort.

I first just had them do Sho, at their beginning performance. Then I had the group do it again with 25% more power. Then another time at   50% more power. Now I had them do the kata again, with the absolute maximum power they could put into every technique. Then again down to 50% power, then again down to 25% power, finally finishing a their regular performance.


Then I would explain that they were the ones that did it. They always had that power, just did not choose to use it. A very powerful lesson to build on.


Another use was to take a beginner who barely knew the kata. On their own they would freeze when others watched them and be unable to complete it.

But when placed between two black belts, or brown belts, they would stay with them even to black belt speed and power of execution. They knew it better than they realized. Everyone learned they could do the kata as a black belt, and it was them that was holding back. This was a lesson everyone learned.


Other variations. Took the students it three row, shoulder touching shoulder. 2nd and 3rd row students chest against the students before them back. Simply a very tight formation. Then I had them do so with the teeniest possible techniques, their smallest possible motions. The smallest steps. And to stay together. The first time they fall over as a unit, until they understand they really have to stay together to do it. Another group binding exercise, not for martial purpose, rather understanding they have to use their senses to hear, and trust each other. Sense training of Sight, Hearing and Touch.


There was always time in classes over the years to use it in different ways.


One thing that happens is students get to used to doing any kata always facing the same direction. If you have them face a different way, their performance often suffers. They got used to the same visual cues from repeated performance. So I hit on a different use.



I had two students perform Sho both of them facing opposite directions. The kata didn’t change but they had to deal with their partner working the opposite direction. And they were to keep their kata timing the same.


Then I built on that. The two students now beginning with their right shoulder facing their partner’s right shoulder had to bow, step open and do the opposing kata as a close order drill, in fact the first time they passed each other, their low blocks would be don’t as strikes to each others arms (shades of Kokite). On the return pass they had to avoid locking arms with their rising blocks. A very precise performance the goal.


Something I had learned from Tristan Sutrisno was a black belt exercise in multiple striking, each strike becoming a 5 count strike, each strike flowing into another strike. I would use this drill the same way as a supplementary black belt exercise. But I would also apply as an advancing kyu exercise. In this case each punch in Sho would become a 3 count strike, repeated in place os each punch in the form.


Students would eventually learn an advanced timing version of the form. Instead of technique then technique. They would begin to down block then step and punch, or where 3 punches were in a row, the 2nd and 3rd strike done on a one count. Beginning of the possibility that kata could be done different ways with different results.


This is not everything I saw or used.


I think by now you get the idea that I could use that very simple kata for many different learning experiences. All of them supporting drills. Not all of them at one time. Secondary support for the students primary training and other kata.


Then after dan, there were other advanced uses for Kata Sho. It became a test bed to use for so many different things. Everyone knew the kata so well, it could be used for studies in breathing, studies in what definition of a technique could be, studies in advanced multiple striking ( the 5 count) and so much more.


This would be different in work on application studies the form presented.



Of course this does not define everything I did. Just uses for one minor form.

There are no such things as a minor form. There are the infinite potential of all karate.





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