exploringkarate

I've been a keen karate student for 16 years, Shukokai and Shotokan, but there still seems to be no shortage of things to learn and explore. I'm hoping this blog will allow me to share my experiences and hear other martial artists thoughts.

Archive for Anko Itosu

Searching for Shukokai (2) – Mabuni and the best of two towns?

I was chatting to Sensei David and another Sensei, also called David (so no possibility for confusion there then :-)), after training last night and we touched on Shukokai’s relationship to the Shotokan style. Now I’m not entirely sure why but for some reason my early assumption was that Shotokan was a parent style to Shukokai.

In one of my early posts, Following the footsteps of masters, I mentioned the geneological tables in Robin L. Reilly’s ‘Complete Shotokan Karate’ that showed that Shukokai is more of a sibling to Shotokan. The founder of Shukokai Chojiro Tani was taught by Kenwa Mabuni and Miyagi Chojun. Miyagi Chojun was taught by Kanryo Higaonna (and he followed Higaonna’s path in spending some time studying fighting styles in China) and Kenwa Mabuni by Higaonna and Anko Itosu.

Certainly before I started to learn about the history of Karate I saw it more as a Japanese martial art. Learning more about Okinawa’s  geographical and historical relationships with Japan and China has given me a better understanding of Karate’s evolution and it’s influences.

When I read about the personal histories of Higaonna, Mabuni, Chojun and Tani I find it interesting to see how their studies exposed them to the different styles of Chinese and Okinawan martial arts. We’re told Higaonna was a master of the Naha-Te style of Karate and Itosu the Shuri-Te style. Reilly provides the following characteristics of the two styles.

Naha-te

  • combined Chinese hard and soft techniques
  • used rational, dynamic movements
  • emphasised breathing, flexibility and strength

Shuri-te

  • an exoteric system
  • emphasised speed
  • combined techniques with rational (practical) movements

In ‘The Essence of Karate’ Gichin Funakoshi writes about the styles using their later names Shorei-ryu (Naha-te) & Shorin-ryu (Shuri-te) and discusses what he sees as their strengths (which I’ve written about in ‘Funakoshi’s Essence of Karate No.2′). Which brings me in a round about kind of way to the title of this post (Naha-te and Shuri-te were named after the Okinawan towns from which they originated). That, in a very crude sense, Shukokai is actually more of a step sibling to Shotokan as it enjoys the influence of both the Naha-te style, through Mabuni’s and Miyagi’s studies with Higaonna, and Shuri-te, through Itosu’s teaching of Mabuni.

In my search for what the Shukokai style is all about it’s interesting to be learning more about key figures in it’s development. I know the history behind the martial arts we study, and the insights it can provide, is valued to differing degrees by it’s students and I’m not making any kind of judgement on whether one way or another is best. Personally I am interested to find out more about the masters who have shaped Karate and in particular the Shukokai style to get a deeper idea of what the style I study is all about.

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Practical Karate 101?

A few weeks ago I was feeling a little like I was awash with great information that was exciting because it opening up new opportunities to train but I felt I was struggling to make it all slot together. Lately it’s felt like some of those pieces are starting to fit together a little.

For my next grading I need to put together a combination and padwork routine. I’m seeing it as a great opportunity to practise some of the practical karate ideas I’ve been finding out about.

I really want to start to get my head around the thought processes of thinking about the information in the kata and exploring different possibilities and practical applications. I was planning to start with the kata of the Pinan/Heian series but looking through a book I saw an application for Kihon, or Taikyoku Shodan, kata and there didn’t seem a better place to start than the very first kata. The simplicity of the kata gives me a better opportunity to work through the process.

Last night I was listening to one of Iain Abernethy’s podcasts about how a kata records a complete system and he was talking about the idea of principles being the key thing to grasp rather than simply those techniques detailed in the kata.

The idea of underlying principles has been something new for me to consider and I think I’m just starting to understand. If I think about our first Shukokai kata, Shiotsuki No.1, which is like a shortened version of Kihon kata I think I can start to see what some of the underlying principles would be:-

  • Evasion – after looking to the left the next move is to step forward with the right leg and then turn into gedan barai to the left. This step forward shifts my body away from the line of attack.
  • Blocking as offense as well as defense – the down block is a strong block but with the hand striking like a tetsui uchi if targeted well it will have a real impact on the opponent.
  • Putting everything into the counterstrike – the kata could just use a reverse punch but by using a stepping strike the karateka adds their body weight to the counter.
  • Defensive mobility – there are two 180 degree turns to again block with a gedan barai. For me this seems to fit with Anko Itosu’s first precept ‘Karate is not merely practiced for your own benefit; it can be used to protect one’s family or master. It is not intended to be used against a single assailant but instead as a way of avoiding injury by using the hands and feet should one by any chance be confronted by a villain or ruffian.’ Having to respond quickly to an attack from the back seems like a real possibility so starting to understand how to shift my body makes sense.

All of that feels like it makes sense to me but I’d welcome any of your thoughts. Am I on the right track or do I need a few more pointers?

Funakoshi’s Essence of Karate No.2

Funakoshi mentions two styles of Karate in the first chapter, Shorin-ryu & Shorei-ryu. He describes how Shorei-ryu sought to be supple in body and strong in mind with Shorin-ryu strong in body and supple in mind.

In Chapter 2 he looks again at these two styles. He felt the Shorei style with fine technical skills and agility was superior fighting at a distance while Shorin was stronger close in particularly taking hold of an opponent.

Robin L. Reilly’s Complete Shotokan Karate also mentions the terms  Naha-te, Shuri-te & Tomari-te and it appears the terms Shorei-ryu and Shorin-ryu came from these. It looks like the founders of todays modern karate styles were influenced by masters of both Shorin and Shorei. For example Anko Itosu, who taught Funakoshi, is refered to as a master of Shorin-ryu/Shuri-te and Kanryo Higaonna, teacher of Chojun Miyagi and Kenwa Mabuni, Shorei-ryu/Naha-te.

That said having studied both Shukokai and Shotokan it certainly feels like each style is influenced to this day by one of these old styles. Shukokai does feel more agile and supple through it’s slightly higher stances like Shorei-ryu while Shotokan feels more muscular like Shorin-ryu. As Funakoshi states, Karate should have a combination of both of these styles, and I certainly feel I’m a better karateka for experiencing the approaches of both styles.

It seems to make sense to me that to be a more complete student of karate I’d want to be able to combine flexibility, agility and precise techniques with strength of body and a capability to control and manipulate an opponent.

 

 

Following the footsteps of masters

I came across the Sir Isaac Newton quote ‘If I have seen further it is only by standing on the shoulders of giants.’ and it got me thinking about the masters of Karate who shaped the karate I study.

Robin L. Reilly’s Complete Shotokan Karate has some geneological tables for the main karate styles so you start to see who different masters studied under. Having identified Shigeru Kimura as a key figure in Shukokai I’ve found he was taught by Chōjirō Tani who in turn was taught by Miyagi Chōjun & Kenwa Mabuni.

For Shotokan I was a member of the KUGB for whom Keinosuke Enoeda acted as Chief Instructor, he was taught by Masatoshi Nakayama who was taught by Gichin & his son Yoshitaka Funakoshi. Gichin Funakoshi was taught by Yasutsune Azato & Anko Itosu. As a curious student straight away that gives me a great many masters to look into further and I’ve already picked up a number of Gichin Funakoshi’s books.

Newton’s quote isn’t really appropriate to my case as I will never attain the level of skill these masters developed but I find the opportunities to try and learn from them just one of the exciting aspects of Karate.