Goju-Ryu Karate-Do Kyohan
The Significance of Kata
by Yamaguchi Gogen "The Cat"
Editor's note: This article is the
second in a three part series excerpted from Yamaguschi's
classic karate text, "Goju Ryu Karate Do Kyohan:
The History and Fundamentals of Goju-Ryu Karate,"
now in reprint. The first article was "The
History and Fundamentals of Goju-Ryu Karate,"
and the third article is "Practice
Before You Start Kata
Today, karate-do has become widespread not only in
Japan but also all over the world and competitions
are held in many places. Most
of them are title matches by a game of kumite. For
that reason, the purpose of practice is to win the
competition; therefore, most of the players emphasize
practicing kumite. They do not practice kata as much
as is needed. I think this is because karate has spread
internationally by turning to competition, like other
sports, instead of the unification of each karate
ryu-ha. I feel that this is very unfortunate.
While learning karate from the late Miyagi Chojun
Shihan when I was a student, it was Okinawan karate
itself. Therefore, all the practices were basics and
kata training; the practice of kata was very strict.
I had to express the fruit of effort by basics training
in kata. After that, I reformed many techniques that
are used in kata for kumite and when I started to
practice jiyu kumite, I could confirm that the Goju-ryu
kata are very theoretical for the actual fight.
is the attitude of self-defense that you perform with
a presumed attack in mind as well as your defense
on a fixed embu-line (the line of movement of the
kata), to protect yourself from a hypothetical enemy
with your body that is trained well by strict practice.
Which means you structure the attack from the hypothetical
enemy with a meaningful and effective counterattack
systematically. You perform individually with the
interpretation based defense and on that theory. Moreover,
the purpose of Goju-ryu kata is not only the practice
of techniques but also the training of the body (or
gathering your internal thoughts), as a result, you
can say that kata is the "expression of yourself
when you learn karate-do."
You can learn kata wherever and whenever you want.
Anyone, old or young, men or women can learn at their
own pace. Especially girls and boys. Not only can
children learn the real meaning of self-defense, which
is the original purpose of kata, but it can also be
one of the methods to train their body. Still, the
structure of the acts of kata has the elements of
symmetry and balance so that the value of it (aesthetic
expression of body form) can be obtained.
Kata is composed of these elements:
The manner of Rei (bow)
The direction of embu-line (pattern of movement)
The combinations of techniques
The uses of attack, defense and postures
The strength and the speed of techniques
Kiai (shout) and Kihaku (projecting the spirit)
Gathering one's thoughts
The strength and speed as whole kata
Introduction, development, turn and conclusion
How to breathe (Ikibuki)
The time of embu (kata performance)
The Origin Of Kata
karate-do was called te (meaning "hand")
in Okinawa, there was neither an organization nor
a ryu-ha (an organized style passed down over time)
at that time. The practice of te had been accomplished
secretly in Naha and Shuri (districts which divide
Okinawa in two). The practice was very strict. It
was not like the practice you do in a team at the
dojo, which most people do now. The practice was done
headed by a teacher with a few students, or one-on-one
training. The place was sometimes in a room floored
with tatami mats (traditional rectangular Japanese
straw floor mats), sometimes in a field or on the
beach. Training was always done in a natural environment
while hiding from others and in secret. For that reason,
there were no textbooks to hand down dealing with
kata. It was instructed by the ancients, body to body
so that the origins of many kata are unknown.
there are 60 types of kata from Naha and Shuri; however,
because the origins of Naha-te and Shuri-te are different,
the names and the way they are done show a big difference.
The person who systematically structured kata for
Naha-te is Higaonna Kanryo Shihan (master teacher),
who was the shihan of Mr. Miyagi Chojun. For Shuri-te,
it was Matsumura Soshu Shihan. As I explained in,
"The History of Karate-do," Higaonna Kanryo
Shihan went to Fukuken-sho in China and learned Chinese
kempo. He put Naha-te and Chinese kempo together and
created the basic form of Sanchin and Tensho. Ikibuki
was invented by Miyagi Chojun Shihan, who inherited
the style from Higaonna Kanryo Shihan. When the breathing
method was taken into kata, the kata were improved.
After that, the kata Gekisai numbers 1 and 2 were
created to spread the kata of Goju-ryu.
Chinese names are used for Goju-ryu kata because
both Higaonna and Miyagi Chojun Shihan learned Chinese
kempo in China. Presently, the names of kata are written
in katakana (one of three Japanese syllabaries), however,
in this book, Sanchin and Tensho are written in kanji
An embu-line is the fixed direction and angles of
the body when you perform kata or when you attack,
defend, and turn the body. There are eight basic directions:
front and back, left and right, oblique of front,
back, left, and right. For performing kata, embu-line
has to be structured in these eight directions in
a fixed order and you have to perform the prescribed
technique from a prescribed standing position on this
line. Each kata has a different embu-line.
The Method Of Practice And Points To Pay Attention
When you perform kata, the most important thing is
your mental attitude. Kata is not a play. You have
to perform it seriously. It is easy to remember the
order of kata, but the essence is not only to have
performed the kata, but how you acted. For that reason,
you have to practice the basics, such as the standing
position, how to defend, how to thrust, and how to
kick every day.
When you remember the order of kata, you have to
practice the used techniques in kata individually
and repeatedly, then you can connect the techniques
you practice. When you are able to do this basic practice,
you have to think of the technique as kata and not
the individual techniques. You have to pay attention
to how long it takes, strength, and speed, so that
you can move and turn the body without waste.
The embu-line is fixed. You start from the starting
point and come back to the starting point. One way
to practice is to put a mark on the starting point
when you act. When dan [black-belt level] grades perform,
individuality appears in kata, but it is better not
to develop an extreme habit.
is no end to the practice of kata. Even though a person
who has a high dan performs, the acts are never perfect.
The practice is unlimited because kata is for improving
yourself mentally and physically. Yet the performance
has to be improved in different ways with each step
as a beginner, whether you have kyu [colored belt
level] or dan (black belt level), although you are
performing the same kata. Knowing a difficult kata
does not mean you have a high dan. In some foreign
countries, sometimes they evaluate a person by the
number of kata they know. I believe that it is not
the number of kata you know, but the substance of
the kata you have acquired.
The important things are:
How to bow
The placement of the eyes
Kiai (shout), kihaku (projection of spirit)
When you perform kata without an opponent, you feel
like there is no meaning in the technique so that
the fist of seiken-tsuki (basic straight punch) or
the tightness of the standing position can be loosened.
You should not think that you are doing the attack
or the defense by yourself; you always have to think
that you are defending against an attacker.
And of course last, the secret of improving kata
is to repeat the practice since just the theory will
Gorei of Kata -- From Rei to Hajime
Usually you do kata by the gorei [commands] of a
person who has a higher kyu or dan than you. There
are two ways to gorei: One is to gorei in the beginning
and the end. The other is to gorei each technique,
by numbers. Especially, the latter is used for practice
of Fukyu-gata (it will be explained later). It is
used when you practice with many people, such as beginners.
However, in principle, the practices of techniques
are done without gorei. All the practice of kata is
done by starting the gorei of "rei" (bow),
"mokuso" (close your eyes to clear your
mind), the name of the kata, "yoi," (prepare
commend) and "hajime" (begin the kata) by
a leader. If there is no leader, you try to gorei
in your mind by yourself.
Rei, Standing at Attention
Stand in musubi-dachi (heels together, open toe stance)
and put your hands down with the fingers straight.
The thumbs have to be bent from the second joints
inside. This is the posture of kiotsuke (attention).
You have to release the power of the body. You bend
the upper part of the body by the gorei (command)
of "rei" (bow) by a leader. The eyes have
to be staring at the floor two meters in front of
"Mokuso" is for calming your mind and gathering
your thoughts before you perform. You stand straight
and close your eyes lightly. Mokuso is different each
time. The leader will call gorei and the name of the
kata when he judges the performer's mind is calm.
(Usually it takes three breaths, or about ten seconds,
to be calm.)
When the leader calls "yoi," (prepare)
you have to cross both hands in front of your body
while you breathe in; and then, while you are breathing
out, bring both fists to your sides as if you are
tightening your belt, then tighten both armpits like
you are pushing at the floor with your fists and put
power in your whole body. You open both heels to the
outside and when you breath out, bring them to heiko-dachi
(parallel stance). This posture has another name,
jinno-dachi. It is the posture before you get in ready
posture (kamae). All the muscles of your body have
to be tensed. The placement of your eyes is a little
bit higher than the height of the eyes.
The reason you cross both hands in front of your
body is to cover the groin area from a sudden attack;
at the same time, you show the opponent that you will
not attack suddenly. As in the etiquette of the samurai
in which they take off a katana (sword) from the waist
and change it to the right hand showing that no cowardly
act, such as slashing the opponent without notice,
will occur. From that meaning, the inside of the hand
that is crossed has to be your dominant arm.
The points to pay attention to when you are in yoi
Do not put the power on the shoulders.
Pull in your chin and put power in the abdominal
muscles; however, do not be stooped.
Straighten your back but do not stick out the
Us Know Your Comments & Opinions On This Article
Part 1: The
History and Fundamentals of Goju-Ryu Karate
Part 3: Practice
This excerpt from Yamaguchi's book, "Goju Ryu
Karate Do Kyohan," was submitted by Masters Publications.
This is the fourth book in the Limited Edition series
translated from Japanese into English and published
by Masters Publication; the first was "To-Te
Jitsu" by Funakoshi Gichin, followed by "Okinawan
Kempo" by Motobu Choki and "Wado Ryu Karate"
by Otsuka Hiroki.
For more information contact:
Mastersline/Rising Sun Video Productions
310-477-7604 fx 310-383-3135
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