Friday, August 26, 2005

Yes, too many kata, but...

This is something I've been thinking about for a while. This post was prompted by a conversation I have been having with someone via pm from

We all recognize that we tend to learn a whole lot of kata, much more than the "old masters" did. At the same time, I can't help but feel a logical disconnect by the statement that the "old masters" really only knew very few kata.

I will use an example, Bushi Matsumura. Yes, perhaps I am padding my case by adding the genius founder of Shorin Ryu karate, but I can't feel that he is the only one to have learned so many kata.

1. He is known to have taught many kata.

2. On empty hand alone, he taught Seisan, Chinto, Kusanku, Passai, Gojushiho, Naihanchi shodan, Naihanchi Nidan, the various Channan kata (which Itosu modified into Pinan kata), male and female Hakutsuru, and Chinshu. That's at least 12 kata. This doesn't include kata he either did not teach (ones he made or learned in China or from local te traditions) or did not gain mass popularity. Nor does it include variations of those kata he himself knew or taught to his students or the various drills and exercises not included as "formal kata". That is still a sizeable number.

3. As far as weapons go, it is more difficult to ascertain which weapons kata he knew. It is known that he personally devised at least a sai, bo, and eku kata which bear his name. This implies he knew at least one kata for each of these weapons from other sources. A student of Sakugawa (or lineage, as there is debate over that), he had to have known at least Sakugawa no Kun. As a royal bodyguard he was skilled in the jo, the fan, and as many sources point to, Jigen Ryu swordsmanship. This means at the barest minimum, he knew 9 weapons kata. Because the bo, sai and sword are recognized as entire systems in and of themselves, I strongly believe he knew multiple kata for each of these, which pushes the number 9 to a much higher amount. In addition, the use of nunchaku was also known among Bushi of the period (albeit in a different form than we see common nowadays). But if we accept the number 9, which I think logic strongly argues against, we still have a sizeable amount of kata.

4. So we have by the strictest definitions of logic, Bushi Matsumura knew 21 kata, although common sense leads to the hypothesis he knew far, far more.

5. Yes, some styles like Uechi Ryu started with a very small number (3). Most of these are "younger" styles in the sense that while they come from a rich tradition in China, their current form is a relatively new one, hence there is little of the evolutionary build-up of kata. Even now there are 8 official empty hand kata in Uechi Ryu. This isn't to bash Uechi Ryu or styles with a small amount of kata, certainly not. I recognize the existence of those greats such as Motobu Choki who knew a limited number of kata yet were excellent fighters.

6. The establishment of standard curriculum kata is more of a modern concept of karate, as is the style system. Ironically, it was meant to preserve the older ways against encroachment by sport karate or other watering down effects. However, this requires people to learn a specific number of kata and any optional learning (which was freely done in the old days) is frowned upon by some as it takes attention away from the established set.

7. My thoughts are still mixed on this. On one hand, keeping a core set of kata and principles ensures the original framework is there (balanced by the fact that every generation reinterprets the kata to varying degrees with varying degrees of modification). On the other hand, there is a loss of personal modification of the kata which is the reason why we have so many version of the same old kata to begin with. Certainly every good karateka worth his or her salt has their version of the kata and the standard curriculum version. But it is often only the standard curriculum version that is passed down. Therefore an important burden is placed upon each instructor to maintain the difference in instruction and determining the delicate balance between doctrine and innovation. It is helpful to discuss these differences candidly with students who have matured in their martial arts to understand them (I think my current and past instructors have always done a great job in this). In the end, all karate is individual and nothing can change that.

8. In the end it all boils down to principles rather than techniques, anyway. A variety of kata is great for introducing awareness of different techniques which enhance improvisation and adaptibility to a broad range of circumstances. But the most important thing is the principles underlying those techniques so even if you know a lot of kata, you can avoid being bogged down by having too much techniques to study by focusing on the principles instead.

And by the way, if any of you know for certain there are kata Bushi Matsumura knew that I did not include (I didn't feel like doing too much intensive research on this and tried to err on the side of confirmation rather than conjecture), if you would be so kind, please leave me a comment informing me which kata it is. Or if you feel I'm totally off the mark, let me know too (I say as if there are a lot of people that read this).

Tuesday, August 23, 2005

Kyoshi Perry's Shorinkan Summer Camp 2005

This past weekend I had the opportunity to make it to Kyoshi Doug Perry's summer camp for the first time. It was simply amazing for various reasons. I really enjoyed myself, getting to see people I've met before and meeting others for the first time. I was very impressed by the vast majority of teachers. There were also some I was not impressed with (who will go unnamed as this is a public site...don't want to hurt anyone's feelings/offend people for various reasons) but they were the vast minority. The instructors ranged from within our system (like Kyoshi Perry, Kyoshi Haley, Kyoshi Roberts, Kyoshi Estes, etc.) to gues instructors from other systems such as Hanshi Logue, the designated head of Taika Oyata's system. Sadly I was unable to meet up with my first karate instructor Mark Staal who is currently deployed. He originally planned to come, but Uncle Sam had other plans. His instructor, Kyoshi Gravelin did show up and I chatted with him for a while. I met Major Jason Perry, USMC (Kyoshi Perry's son) and he was quite impressive as a karateka. He is also working very actively on the US side on the issue of ballistic and theater missile defense in the Pentagon, which just so happens to be the topic of my thesis (Japanese theater missile defense). I wish I knew that about a year ago...oh well. I also picked myself up a nunte bo, which was pretty nice. Now I can do the kata without having to use just a bo as my proxy.

Just as general info, it was held at Camp Pinnacle. Humorously enough, it was the place where most of the footage for the movie Heavyweights (basically one about fat camp if I recall correctly) was shot. The weather was pretty nice some of the time while raining at others.

So, what did I do? I only went to a few seminars on learning kata. I went to a nunte bo seminar just to ensure I had it down from when I last came to North Carolina to see Kyoshi Perry a couple of months ago. I also went to the Rokishu class taught by Kyoshi Perry because he's just the man and it is always great seeing him doing it. I then attended 3 of the Tai Chi classes so I could start learning the Yang Style Long Form. I think it will help me loosen up even more. The rest of the classes I went to were more "concepts and principles" classes. I figure I can always learn kata from my instructor. Gaining concepts and principles from other instructors is something I can't just do everyday.

So, just as a brief rundown, I will simply list the things I went to. Note that for each hour, there were 6 different classes being held. These are just the ones I went to.


1200-1300: Kyoshi Pat Haley and Kyoshi Eddie Bethea gave a class about principles and concepts in Passai and Gojushiho kata. In this one, he remarked on the lack of people "locking down their stances" and was demonstrating a few commonly misperformed stances. For Terry, I think is most likely what you were mentioning earlier...

1315-1415: Kyoshi Chris Estes held a Takemyoshi no Nunte Bo class.

1430-1530: Kyoshi John Carria (Uechi Ryu) held a Uechi Ryu concepts and principles class. Pretty interesting. Liked to emphasize the simplicity of the system. He would liken it to simply pulling a gun out of its holster, shooting, and putting it back in. A pretty neat guy.

1800-1900: Hanshi Jim Logue gave a principles and concepts of application class.

1915-2015: Charles Dean gave a Tai Chi class introducing the Yang Style Long Form.

0630 -0730 Friday and Saturday Morning: Kyoshi Kimo Wall (Goju Ryu) gave a quick class on Hakutsuru, Sanchin, Tensho and kung li (I think that is what it was...). Like many of the instructors, an ex-Marine (he used to be Kyoshi Perry's spotter when Kyoshi Perry was a sniper...the saving of life went both ways many times I hear).

0845 - 0945: Kyoshi Kimo Wall gave a Thai massage class. Pretty interesting. Humorously dubbed as "Kimo Therapy" later on in the camp.

1000 - 1100: Kyoshi Phillip Koeppel gave a seminar on principles and concepts in Matsumura Shorin Ryu. I'm glad I went to it. Due to a typo on the schedule, it said "Matsubayashi Shorin Ryu", but he was actually a Matsumura guy who studied under Yuichi Kuda. Quite an impressive guy. True to Matsumura Shorin Ryu, he heavily emphasized tai sabaki (body change) and multiple blocks/strikes at once.

1115 - 1215: Class on Rokishu conducted by Kyoshi Perry. As usual, he is lightyears beyond any of us yet drops us little pearls of knowledge here and there.

1345 - 1445: Okinawa Kenpo Principles and Concepts by Hanshi Larry Isaac.

1600-1700: Charles Dean gave a Tai Chi Class. This one me, Mike and Gawain learned the first 16 of the 108 steps. Each step has different postures, so it was enough to keep us busy.

1830-1930: Me, Gawain and Mike sat out of the classes and brushed up our Tai Chi form. I was not particularly interested in going to the other classes as they were primarily learning new weapons kata and I didn't want to overload the brain.

1945-2045: Kyoshi Chris Estes and Kyoshi Jerry Taylor gave a karate principles and concepts class for the shodan - sandan level. It mostly focused upon tai sabaki while doing various responses to varying attacks. Quite interesting.

0845 - 0945: Charles Dean gave his last Tai Chi class. Disappointingly, most all of the attendees didn't go to his other classes, so we essentially started over from square one. On the other hand, it helped solidify the things we already went over.

1000 - 1100: Kyoshi Pat Haley gave a kobudo kumite principles class. He gave very, very practical applications and drills for the sai and kama against the bo and nunchaku against empty hand. He essentially did this at the behest of my instructor, Sam Ahtye (I remember him saying he asked Kyoshi Haley to give a seminar on it for the camp earlier).

1115 - 1215: I wanted to go to the Kikou level (Martial arts breathing level) seminar for Rokishu conducted by Kyoshi Perry, but he was adamant about it being only for those 35 and up. I keep forgetting Mike's age (I always think he's about 10 years younger than he really is) so he was able to go. Me and Gawain went over the Tai Chi set.

1345 - 1445: Kyoshi Haley and Kyoshi Luzzi gave a seminar for yudansha level concepts. Kyoshi Pat Haley took over the seminar, but since he is one of the best Kyoshi in our organization, that wasn't a bad thing. Lots of Gojushiho applications.

1615 - 1715: Kyoshi Perry gave a seminar on Sueishi no Kon. Quite a beautiful and advanced bo kata. This block was reserved only for "fun" and all the classes offered were on weapons kata not widely taught at all in our system. As it was Kyoshi Perry, quite interesting, as usual.

1845 - 1945: Kyoshi Luzzi and Kyoshi Williamson gave a class on Shodan-Sandan principles and concepts.

2000 - 2130ish: Demonstrations. There were quite a few demonstrations during this time period. The most memorable was Kyoshi Perry dancing the cha-cha and the shag with his wife Joy. He told us before that he would have "Something special. Not good, but special." He refused to tell us what it was, so when he changed out of his gi and into his shag dancing clothes, we were all greatly surprised. For those of you not in the know, he was a national shag dancing champion back in the day. It was quite a treat as he has never danced in front of us karate people like that before (only perhaps maybe a few steps at a time to demonstrate a linkage between dancing and karate). People literally pay him thousands of dollars to perform. He's pretty good...and at 68, he moves like he was 18 still. Other ones which stood out were things like Myles Luckert (age 14...) doing passai dai backwards. I don't mean mirror image, but he did it all the way forwards, then at the very end he went through it backwards. It looked like someone pressed the rewind button. Sensei Gordon Shell (current owner of Murasaki kobudo) did a self-created version of Naihanchi Sandan to the front with open hands. Obviously a tribute to Kyoshi Perry's creation of Naihanchi Shodan to the front. It looked very Kyoshi Perryesque. I was impressed. Kyoshi Kevin Roberts and Sensei Jason Perry did the yakusoku kumite. It was more like an "old times" presentation because they used to do it all the time when Jason Perry was growing up. There were a few other presentations. Last (and right after Kyoshi Doug Perry's demonstration), Kyoshi Chris Estes did his version of Hakutsuru. He had quite an act to follow, but did it very well. At the end, Kyoshi had all the war veterans and the past-and-present active duty military members come down to the floor for applause. It was a nice touch.

Friday and Saturday nights me and Joe Stitz (he was also there at Kyoshi Perry's when me and Terry visited his dojo last summer) went out with a lot of the "Hendersonville crowd" to a local Irish bar (Hana O'Flanegan's or something like that). It cut a lot into my sleeping time...I did talk a lot with Kyoshi Bethea on his views of fighting and tournaments and all that. Pretty interesting. He was of the mind that fighting (sparring, preferrably) was essential to creating a good fighter.

All in all, a great experience. I've no regrets whatsoever in going, no matter how busy I am now (why the heck am I spending time to write this?).

As Onimitsu2004 said, there is always the danger of being a kata collector. Here's my kata catalogue (not including things like yakusoku, kihons, fukyu kata, ones I've forgotten, etc):

Empty Hand
Pinan Shodan, Pinan Nidan, Pinan Sandan, Pinan Yondan, Pinan Godan
Naihanchi Shodan, Naihanchi Nidan, Naihanchi Sandan
Passai Sho, Passai Dai
Kusanku Sho, Dai
Hakutsuru So, Hakutsuru Tan, Hakutsuru Tan he (White Crane training drills, Matsumura Shorin Ryu)
Hakutsuru Sho (Matsumura Shorin Ryu)
Wansu (Matsumura Shorin Ryu)
Ananku (Matsumura Shorin Ryu)
Seisan (Matsumura Shorin Ryu)
Hakutsuru (Kyoshi Perry's version, I believe it is the Takemyoshi family style)
Rokishu (Kyoshi Perry's version, unsure where he got it from)
Yang Style Tai Chi Long Form (aptly named...I'm still learning it)
Another one I'll say if I get the "okay" to make it public (No, it's not some super secret society thing...)

Shushi no Kun (Yamanni Ryu - Shorinkan)
Sakugawa no Kun (Yamanni Ryu - Shorinkan)
Kubo no Kun (Yamanni Ryu - Shorinkan)
Sakugawa no Kun Dai Ni (Shugoro no Sakugawa no Kun)
Nakaima no Kama (Shorinkan no Kama Dai Ichi)
Shugoro no Kama (Shorinkan no Kama Dai Ni)
Shugoro no Tonfa (Shorinkan no Tonfa)
Hamahiga no Tonfa
Shorinkan no Nunchaku Dai Ichi
Tonaki no Nunchaku (Shorinkan no Nunchaku Dai Ni)
Nakaima Kenkou no Sai Dai Ichi (Shorinkan no Sai Dai Ichi)
Nakaima Kenkou no Sai Dai Ni (Shorinkan no Sai Dai Ni)
Shugoro no Sai (Shorinkan no Sai Dai San)
Shugoro no Eku (Shorinkan no Eku)
Miyazato no Tekko (Yeah, yeah, the correct way is Maezato)
Takemyoshi no Nuntebo Dai Ichi

Yeesh. Too many you know why I wasn't interested in learning any more kata at the camp apart from the Tai Chi form?

Sensei Richard Church asked me this weekend if I was going to do an entry on the pullout from the Gaza strip. I should. I've just been so late to the game I can't say anything that hasn't been said far better than I ever could...maybe in a few days I'll put a belated entry together...