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#372251 - 11/30/07 11:18 PM Comparative Analysis of Kusanku
kakushiite Offline

Registered: 02/06/03
Posts: 266
Loc: Ithaca, NY, USA
Fellow Karateka,

This is the first of comparative posts of kata available on Youtube. These are reference points that can be used to discuss movements in kata. Following are variations of the 4 versions of Kusanku that come from Anko Itosu (Dai and Sho), Chotoku Kyan and Hohan Soken. The top line for each shows the kata name and major lineage. The second line shows the sub-lineage and performer, if known.

Kusanku Dai - Itosu/Chibana
Miyahira - Chinen
Higa - ??

Kanku Dai - Itosu/Funakoshi
Nakayama - Nakaya

Kosokun Dai - Itosu/Mabuni
Mabuni Kenei/Iwata - Hasegawa

Kushanku (Dai) - Itosu/Funakoshi-Mabuni

Kusanku (Dai) - Itosu/Nakumura
Odo - Gonzales
Oyata - Amor

Kusanku Sho - Itosu/Chibana
Higa - Student

Kanku Sho - Itosu/Funakoshi
Nakayama - Mikami

Kosokun Sho - Itosu/Mabuni
Mabuni Kenei/Iwata - Hasegawa

Kusanku - Kyan/Shimabukuro Zenryo
Shimabukuro Zenpo

Kusanku - Kyan/Nakazato
?? (Nakazato observing)

Kusanku - Kyan/Nagamine
Makishi - (8:59 into the video)

Kusanku - Kyan/Shimabuku Tatsuo

Kusanku - Kyan/??/Toma Seiki
Toma Shian

Kusanku (Chatan Yara) - Kyan/??/Mabuni
Mabuni/Iwata - Yokoyama

Kusanku - Hohan Soken

I would be grateful if anyone could help expand upon the written historical record of this kata. Below are excerpts from Nagamine's The Essence of Okinawan Karate-Do.

Not until the late 17th and early 18th century did the art of karate take shape as te merged with the Chinese style of self-defense to form the present day kata of karate. Through oral tradition and hand-to-hand training, the secret performances of Chinese masters in the art of self-defense came to be known and their kata integrated with te. One of the most famous of these demonstrations was given by Kusanku, a Chinese expert in self-defense, in 1761. Kusanku performed with skillful use of his feet and hands, and out of this performance came the Kusanku kata... (p.21)

Kusanku was adapted and developed by Okinawan Karatemen after it was brought to Okinawa in 1761 by a Chinese Karateman named Kusanku. Kusanku, often pronounced kosokun in mainland Japan, is the most magnificent and advanced of all Matsubayashi-ryu karate. Most of the advanced techniques of offense and defense appear in the Kusanku, the longest and most difficult kata, requiring painstaking practice for more than a decade for mastery. It was the favorite kata of Kyan, who learned it from karateman Yara. (p. 230)


#372252 - 12/01/07 06:58 AM Re: Comparative Analysis of Kusanku [Re: kakushiite]
Victor Smith Offline
Professional Poster

Registered: 06/01/00
Posts: 3220
Loc: Derry, NH

Good cross section of Kusanku Kata performances.

You might check out the interview of Hohen Soken by Eric Estrada from years ago. Soken Sensei described how in earlier days, from the time top knots were work with hair pins, Kusanku was practiced with the hairpins in the hands, making the kata a weapons form.

Isshinryu's Shimabuku Tatsuo taught Kusanku as a Sai kata too. In a sense keeping a reflection of the hairpin variation alive, though his lineage on the kata came through Kyan, and of course incorporated his own vision.

BTW Shimabuku Tatsuo's founder once realized how the techniques of Kusanku could be used in low level light, or 'night fighting' and taught the kata "in part" from that perspective. He was not alone in using kata from a low level lighting perspective, the Kashiba Juku (offspring of Matsubayshi Ryu) training to this day uses night conflict as a training method for all of their kata, including Kusanku.

You must also consider in each of the traditions shown they may have had variant versions of the kata too, incorporating changes as time passed.

Whether Kusanku is the most advanced kata in a system depennds on point of view. Some consider Kusanku tops, others Gojushiho. Isshinryu's founder created SunNuSu which Isshinryu finds more encompasing effort.

So Kusanku's place is more dependent on group perspective I guess.
victor smith bushi no te isshinryu offering free instruction for 30 years

#372253 - 12/01/07 01:43 PM Re: Comparative Analysis of Kusanku [Re: Victor Smith]
underdog Offline

Registered: 09/18/04
Posts: 1270
Loc: Mansfield, MA U.S.A.
That was a lot of work! Thank you. I got a lot out of going through this post. Took a couple of days. Kusanku is one of my favorites. We call it by both Kanku Dai and Kusanku.
The older I get, the better I was!

#372254 - 12/02/07 11:23 AM Re: Comparative Analysis of Kusanku [Re: kakushiite]
Ronin1966 Offline
Professional Poster

Registered: 04/26/02
Posts: 3120
Loc: East Coast, United States
Hello Kakushite:

Your list for comparison/analysis purposes is excessively large... IMHO-fwiw.

Blowing out another's candle does not make yours any brighter

#372255 - 12/03/07 11:09 AM Re: Comparative Analysis of Kusanku [Re: kakushiite]
Ronin1966 Offline
Professional Poster

Registered: 04/26/02
Posts: 3120
Loc: East Coast, United States
Hello Kakushiite:

Any luck finding "written" materials to expand your information thus far?

Have you read Jehn Sells book "Unante"? I thought his ideas, details (ie hypothesis) were quite beneficial.

Blowing out another's candle does not make yours any brighter

#372256 - 12/11/07 11:37 AM Re: Comparative Analysis of Kusanku [Re: kakushiite]
Ironfoot Offline
Professional Poster

Registered: 06/10/04
Posts: 2682
Loc: St. Clair Shores, MI USA
Thanks, kankushite! This is the kind of stuff I come to this site for. Very enlightening.

#372257 - 12/11/07 02:56 PM Re: Comparative Analysis of Kusanku [Re: Ronin1966]
kakushiite Offline

Registered: 02/06/03
Posts: 266
Loc: Ithaca, NY, USA
Ronin 1966 wrote:

"I thought [John Sells] ideas, details (ie hypothesis) were quite beneficial."

I don't have his book. Would you care to make a post with whatever has written on Kusanku?

I think the more history we can put on line, the better. There's not a whole lot out there.



#372258 - 12/11/07 04:21 PM Re: Comparative Analysis of Kusanku [Re: kakushiite]
kakushiite Offline

Registered: 02/06/03
Posts: 266
Loc: Ithaca, NY, USA
One of the purposes of this post, was to enable a comparative analysis of kata movements.

I'd like to start with one I find very interesting: Shutos

There is so much variation here across systems it's hard to pick a place to begin. Lets start with stance.

In Itosu systems, Mabuni, Chibana and Funakoshi have the weight back. (Cat stance or back stance.) Nakamura and Toyama (not shown) have their weight forward in a short front stance. In Kyan systems, there is also a mix. Hohan Soken has his weight forward.

Body turns: This is also all over the place. The systems with the weight back tend towards much greater rotation, but it occurs in two opposite directions. Mabuni and Funakoshi rotate away from the Shuto, while Chibana rotates towards it, much like the Kyan-Nagamine and Kyan-Shimabukuro Zenryo lineages, but more subtle.

The systems using the front stance tend to have little noticable rotation, it's just a step and a shuto. It is difficult to tell for certain from these videos, but any rotation would be much more subtle than the noticable rotations described above.

Hand position: Again, all over the place. Mabuni's arm is almost straight at the end. Most others have much more of a bent arm. Chibana (at least the Nakazato version) has it up high. Shimabuku Tatsuo has it down low.

Why do I find this important. In the Shorin Ryu systems, shuto movements pop in many kata. Yet there is great variability, even within the Kyan family and the Itosu family. I think this is but one of many examples of the great diversity of technique that is found in the kata that is practiced today.

In many threads, there is ongoing argument about which system represents the "original". My belief is that only by studying the many systems that survive today, can we hope to get a clearer picture.

However, it is my experience that when you go to study the various systems, you will find out most techniques have a great deal of variability, so many may feel no better off after looking than before. Still, it is a useful exercise.

What I have found is that there is more uniformity in the Kyan systems than in the Itosu systems. I believe that may have three causes:

Itosu died almost 30 years earlier than Kyan, and that extra time allowed for greater "drift" by those practicing.

Second is the influence of multiple teachers. While many of Kyan's students trained with others other than Kyan, this was even more common with Itosu's students. We all know that Mabuni trained under many masters, and Funakoshi writes that his primary teacher was Azato, and that he trained under others as well.

Nakamura was relatively young when Itosu died, (~21) and trained under others as well. One might argue that Chibana trained only under Itosu, but it is important to note that after Itosu's death, he continued at least some training under Kentsu and Hanashiro, and although these were Itosu disciples, they were Matsumura disciples as well and there may have been some variation in their technique as a result.

Finally comes a lesson from Sensei Iha, the senior student of Miyahira, one of the 3 senior students of Chibana. He has taught that Itosu taught his students differently... on purpose. The theory is that by teaching them slightly different concepts, there would be competition in the future and that would be good for karate.

I speculate a variant of this theory. It is my contention (based on no evidence other than karate kata are practiced today with great variability) that this variation is not something new, but possibly quite old. Perhaps some of the old masters recognized that variations in movements enabled different uses, and there may have been some desire to preserve some of these capabilities by preserving the variation that provided the foundation for the useful application. With this speculation in mind, it is not at all surprising to me that Itosu might choose to preserve the many useful applications inherent in movement variation, by passing down different versions of movements to his students.

Please note above that I do recognize this is pure speculation and not only is there absolutely no historical information to support this speculation, there never can be a historical basis for this.

And this just gets to another key aspect of the comparative study of kata. What you see, in my first posting above, is what you get. It isn't complete as there are a few versions not found on youtube, but it is close.

IMO all our judgments have to come from the movements that survive today. There is simply a near-void regarding information about kata that survives from the students of Itosu, Chibana and Soken.

We have their systems. But we have little to tie their systems back to the kata. I have spoken to senior students in many of this systems noted above. It's almost universally the same, there's practically nothing.

I am not saying we don't have applications that survive today. But how much can we accurately tie back to say Kyan or Itosu, or Matsumura. How much could be documented as practiced even earlier. It's all pure speculation. All we know is that movements passed down were probably something like what is shown above. We cannot know for sure whether Itosu or Matsumura or Chatan Yara did it this or that way, and what we definitely cannot say is that any specific movement has a specific application that we know for certain comes directly from any of these old masters.

In the end it is up to us to look at applications we have learned from others, be content with them, or work to develop our own. IMO, what is being passed down will be no more authentic than what we come up with, because nothing can be truly documented as authentic.


#372259 - 12/11/07 08:23 PM Re: Comparative Analysis of Kusanku [Re: kakushiite]
Shonuff Offline

Registered: 11/03/04
Posts: 604
Loc: London, UK

Regarding applications:

I'm starting to think that even in the days of Matsumura and Itosu the prevailing culture was to pass on very few applications, just enough to teach important skills and guide the student to some understanding of the possibilities present in the kata; perhaps with the intention of chalenging the student to find his own path.

As students began to play with movements and think outside the box he developed his own applications and then adjusted his technique to fit his individual interpretation, and then the cycle began anew with his own students.

Again, a totally unsupported and unprovable idea, but it seems to fit the evidence.
It's Shotokan not Shoto-can't!!!

#372260 - 12/11/07 11:05 PM Re: Comparative Analysis of Kusanku [Re: Shonuff]
kakushiite Offline

Registered: 02/06/03
Posts: 266
Loc: Ithaca, NY, USA

We will never have evidence that will tell us conclusively whether this was the norm, or not, but my feeling is that you are dead on.

I like to quote Patrick McCarthy's translation of Itosu's 6th (I believe) lesson of tote. It goes something like this.

"Handed down by word of mouth, karate is a myriad of movements and corresponding meanings. Resolve to independently explore the context of the movements based on torite (theory of usage) and the practical applications will be more easily understood."

That says it is up to us to interpret. That is why I always chuckle inside when I hear some instructor say that a movement means x or y. Not only can we never know the original meanings, the Okinawans likely taught in a way that didn't pass down much at all, that it was up to the student to learn some set of basics (te) however that was taught back then, and then come up with applications by himself.

But I personally don't buy into the Okinawan model. They had a much different training methodology. Generally they started when they were 12 or so and trained intensively for many years. One of Itosu's lessons urges us to practice 2-3 hours every day. Most students have trouble maintaining 2-3 hours per week, over the long term. In any event, at the end of 10 or so years, that Okinawan student might have practiced a kata like Naihanchi and perhaps one or two others tens of thousands of times. That kind of repetition would make any student well posititioned to begin to see all sorts of applications.

But we practice differently today. And I think that teachers give a lot of value if they choose to pass on good applications to their students.

And as a teacher, I see 4 options for any given kata sequence. A teacher can be taught:

1. nothing and chose to pass it on. (Lots of typical Shotokan)

2. a poor (useless) application and chose to pass it on. (Lots of typical Shotokan)

3. a good application and pass it on. (unfortunately too rare, but becoming more common.)

4. no application or useless application and choose to develop a good application and pass it on. (Also surprisingly rare, but hopefully growing as well.)

I don't mean to single out Shotokan here. I mention it here more as a model of common karate systems. It's useful to use Shotokan as an example because the JKA system and its off-shoots are so well documented in text and video. But many other systems suffer the same challenge, probably because, as has been well-documented and mentioned by Shonuff, not much in the way of kata application got passed down as karate made its way out of Okinawa, to Japan and beyond, and to US GIs and back to the States.

I think that a lot of qualities make a good teacher. However, I give great value to teachers who innovate, who take useful concepts from wherever they learn them and map them to kata, who look deeply into kata and figure out just what they can do with it. And to the extent that this gets passed on to a broader community it can enrich the art for many students across a broad cross section of karate.

I see a beginning of this effort to reach a broader community. There are thousands of hours of video available on VHS/DVD from all types of fighting arts and an increasing amount is coming on-line on youtube and other sites. (We've seen lots of discussions on this site about many of them.) I imagine that over the next few years, certainly the next decade, we will see an explosion of good concepts readily available on line. And I think a forum like this is a great way for serious students to air their thoughts on the merits of a given technique.

What I would really love to see one day is a fruitful gathering of students sharing their thoughts on specific movements from common kata. If we could do that, say get 10 people to post video on-line (text just doesn't cut it), then it is highly likely that at least some of us, and quite possibly many of us, would find something meaningful, enough that we would then go and practice it, make it our own, and in turn, pass it on.


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