As we know, the Pinan kata were developed by Itosu Sensei between 1902 and 1907 and introduced into the Okinawan school system. Like no other, he influenced the development of modern karate.
Besides the Pinan kata, Itosu Sensei developed among others the three Naifanchin kata, the Passai Sho and Kushanku Sho. In my opinion, a significant part the worldwide spread of karate is due to him and thereby the possibility for us to practice this wonderful art.
So, on which basis did Itosu Sensei develop the Pinan kata (and Kushanku Sho)?
It is supposed that Itosu Sensei developed the Pinan kata basing in particular on the Kushanku kata. Because of the length and technical complexity of the Kushanku and other old kata, these forms were unsuitable for pupils and beginners. So, Itosu Sensei allegedly removed many dangerous techniques from the kata, like fingertip strokes in the eyes, in order to make karate suitable to be taught in school lessons. He also reduced the length of the long old kata or split them.
So far, so good! Now I present my assumption regarding Channan:
I plan to publish a book in 2020, treating the Channan no kata. I will describe the Pinan kata and the Kushanku variants of Shudokan and further I will give a more detailed justification regarding the Channan no kata theory. Please be patient while waiting!
My book currently gives me the opportunity to get in contact with many different people. On one hand, I get interesting questions and on the other hand wonderful stories are shared with me. In the current blog article I would like to share the experiences and stories of Albert Thai Sensei with you. In the late 1960s Albert Thai Sensei practiced Karatedo Doshinkan in France and Austria. Let's listen to his stories:
It was coincidence or fate that my brother came to France in 1969/70 for a sabbatical and talked me into taking up karate. I was a bookworm, and built like a worm, and never liked any physical activity.
My brother invited Hanshi. He was then in contact regularly with his sensei, Walter Todd, and Walter Todd wrote to him and told him about Hanshi, Kanken Toyama's youngest disciple, who was in Austria. I remember my brother quoting from the letter "Hanshi is very proficient in karate", so my brother got in touch with Hanshi and invited him to Clermont (France). The karate club was part of the Michelin all-sports club of the ASM, and part of the Judo section, there was no federation of karate then. They took kindly to my brother and had no objection when he asked them if he could invite Hanshi and they provided with the travel expenses for Hanshi who waved any teaching fees.
The second year, I was in charge of the karate section (me, I had only one year of karate!!! Of course, my brother showed me things at home too, there was no holiday from karate, but still, I was a very beginner), and I also asked if we could invite Hanshi again, and again, they said yes and provided us with the funds. Again, Hanshi did not ask for any teaching fees.
The old masters were different then, and so were we. We were young, college kids most of us, not naive, but eager to learn, to respect, to worship even. They were the stuff that legends are made of. Travelling, let alone flying, was expensive. So when a legend comes knocking ...
Oh, I remember Hanshi well, I saw him only three times (and his brother Ichikawa Nobuo, once), but he first impressed me as a very nice person.
Now, even with hindsight, when I remember him in the dojo, I still remember the feeling of awe we felt. He was so impressive, such a short man, and such power! When he did his ushiro geri, with his body almost parallel to the ground, I thought he could break a wall.
And his flying yoko geri! I remember once, in his demonstration, and our friend Patrice was the target, standing there with his arm raised as if he had done jodan tsuki, Hanshi did it several times, and there were silent ohs and ahs, our looks could tell it all, and then once, his heel got slightly into Patrice's sleeve, and Hanshi did not drop as smoothly, but he spun around and landed and went up with an ura tsuki, and stopped in time. His face then was the face of a fighter, but a split second later, he was laughing again.
In the comments on YouTube about some of the videos that were posted, Doshinkan has often been accused of being all show and no substance, a style for college professors who are afraid of contact. Sadly, and honestly, I don't think those videos should have been posted. And true, Hanshi was against competition, and even jiyu-kumite in the club. But in those days, only a fool would think that Hanshi could only do things for show.
For his demonstration of a block followed by a counter, he had to have a partner, and he would ask my brother on his first visit, or one of us (boy, were we scared!), but with us, he had always been gentle, it was only when he was hitting the air that he really unleashed all his power. And that, to me, is also the mark of a great master. What's the point of hitting and hurting your own students? But in Tulln (Austria), we noticed that when he demonstrated with his brother, Shihan Ichikawa Nobuo, it was not the same thing. Once, his brother staggered back after being hit and Hanshi said "Nobuo, come here, again!", and for once, I was happy I was not Hanshi's brother! Again, they were both masters, they knew each other's strength.
And to this day, I still quote Hanshi, not in a slavish way, but because I believe in the truths that he told us. He said that in the dojo, the beginner is the equal of a 10th degree master, in the sense that if the beginner does everything he can, if he gives it everything he has, then he can be sure that the master cannot do more than is possible for him. And I remember his "must try", or "must brush up" when it comes to katas. And sometimes he does something different in a kata, because he is really fighting, he is not just performing a choreography, then he stops, shakes his head, waves his hands, and then starts again. With the same kime, the same power.
And one thing we dreaded, he would tell us to sit in seiza, and if too tired, to rise on our knees, when we are to listen to him. And sometimes, he would explain katas for 10, 15 minutes, then up we go and he would expect us to do things as fast and as strong as we can, so I told my friends beforehand, ok, Hanshi is a great master, he is a pro, he can do it, but we have to be careful and not stretch a muscle. But in that atmosphere, it was difficult to hang back, even for self-preservation!
Hanshi went to the U.S. several times I think, and for reasons that are not for me to mention mainly because I don't know them, some of the clubs decided to remain as they were and not go over to Doshinkan.
But we always remember Hanshi as a very nice person and a great master, we remember his big laughter, and his caring for both advanced learners and very beginners like us.
Ichikawa Hanshi died over 20 years ago. The memories of him live on in all who knew him and in his students. Thank you, Thai Sensei, for sharing your memories. These stories are a wonderful way to get an impression of the training in the old days and they give us a feeling of the man Ichikawa Isao.
All photos and the newspaper article are courtesy of Albert Thai Sensei.
Recently I shared some pictures of the kata Shimpa on Facebook. In this article I would like to share my knowledge of this kata from my upcoming book "The Kata of Shudokan". Let's look at some theses on the history of this kata:
To study the techniques of Pangai-noon, Mabuni Kenwa Sensei and Konishi Yasuhiro Sensei visited the dojo of Uechi Kanbun Sensei in Wakayama in 1925. Pangai-noon is the style Uechi Sensei has learned in China from the monk Chou-tzu-ho (jap .: Shu Shi-wa). This style unites the movements of the tiger, the crane and the dragon.
For what happened in the dojo at the time, I have various information.
The following story was told to me by Tsuchiya Hideo Sensei: Uechi Sensei wondered how he could best explain the techniques of his school to his visitors. Finally, he decided to teach them a simple kata - the Kata Shimpa (tan). Mabuni Sensei trained the kata with Uechi Sensei and learned the techniques. Konishi Sensei did not practice with them, instead he wrote down the techniques, positions and the course of the kata.
The question that inevitably arises here is why should Uechi Sensei have taught outsiders a kata that he did not include in his school curriculum. Well, Mabuni Sensei had a great deal of kata knowledge and was open to their demonstration and transmission. It is quite possible that Uechi Sensei recognized an advanced master in Mabuni Sensei and thus showed him another kata. Doubtful in this thesis seems to me that Uechi Sensei shows a kata to almost strangers and obviously did not teach this kata to his son Uechi Kanei Sensei, otherwise he would not have founded additional kata (Kanshiwa, Kanshu, Kanchin, Seichin and Seiryu) and added them to Uechi-ryu. This leads us to the much more probable thesis. This assumes that Mabuni Sensei founded the Kata Shimpa after the inspiring visit to the dojo of Uechi Sensei, based on what he saw and learned there.
Today the Kata Shimpa is practiced in the Shito-ryu, Shindo Jinen Ryu Karate-Jutsu and in some Shudokan schools (Doshinkan, Keishinkan, Yoshinkan and Tsuchiya-ryu). Tsuchiya Sensei did not learn the Shimpa (tan) from Toyama Sensei, but from Konishi Sensei. On one of my visits to his dojo in Odawara, he demonstrated the kata to me. It was very exciting to see that in his demonstration, the Uechi-ryu typical movements were very clear. If you look at some of the internet videos of Shimpa, most of the versions have no similarities with Uechi-ryu. I do not know if Toyama Sensei learned this kata from Mabuni Sensei, Konishi Sensei or any other teacher.
Interesting seems to me that Toyama Sensei practiced another form of Shimpa, the Shimpa cho. According to oral tradition the kata Shimpa cho was next to the Koryu Gojushiho the actual favorite Kate of Toyama Sensei. The technical level of Shimpa cho is much higher than that of Shimpa tan, and indeed it has similarities to Koryu Gojushiho in many areas. How did Shimpa cho get into the Shudokan?
In this regard, I can only provide theses?
As we can see, both the history of Shimpa (tan) and the history of Shimpa cho are fraught with many open questions.
The name of the kata can be translated as "heart waves", whereby "heart" does not mean the organ, but an inner feeling (mental attitude).
During the initial movement of the Kata, press with the ankle of the ring finger of the right hand into the hand pit of the left hand. According to Chinese medicine, "energy (ki, chi)" flows through the human body through a variety of meridian lines. This point (Point 8, Ro Kyu - "Palace of Concern") is located on the cardiovascular (pericardial) meridian. The pericardium energy ensures the circulatory system, ie the circulation and the blood pressure. It gives us the ability to keep calm in times of excitement.
Figure taken from: YU SEN - Sprudelnder Quell, Rappenecker Wilfried, Felicitas Hübner Verlag
So, there could be a connection between the translation of the kata and the pericardium meridian. However, it seems important that the stimulation of this point has a positive effect on the concentration and inner peace. A similar initial movement can also be found in some other kata (Passai, Seiryu, ...).
More about this kata in my book “The Kata of Shudokan”, which is expected to be published in 2020.
The concepts of martial arts were handed down from generation to generation through kata. Traditionally, the secret kata, the secret techniques encoded in these kata, and the historical background of the style were taught only to a small circle of students. As the generations passed, the secret kata were modified, and therefore some of the old techniques and parts of the historical knowledge were lost. Today, our knowledge is based on folk memory and on a small number of books written in the beginning of the 20th century by martial arts experts such as Hanashiro Chomo, Funakoshi Gichin, Mabuni Kenwa, Nakasone Genwa and Choki Motobu. Despite these books, we must realize that our knowledge of the times and the work of the masterssuch as Kushanku, Matsumura, Itosu, Higashionna is merely anecdotal. Thus, the information about the lives of these masters and the essence of their martial art available today is reliable only to a limited degree. However, even though it may be hard to trace back and reconstruct this information, studying these masters, their lives, and the kata they taught greatly enriches day-to-day training. As a comprehensive art and path of personal development, Karatedo encompasses all aspects of life. It allows practitioners to explore their art in all stages of their lives, not only physically but also from philosophical and historical perspectives.
Let's go to Naifanchin kata.
The Naifanchin kata is one of the oldest kata in Okinawa karate and was known in Shuri-te and Tomari-te. Together with Passai, Kushanku, Useishi, Chinto, Seisan, Channan and Hakutsuru kata, Naifanchin kata belongs to the forms which had already been passed down by Matsumura Sokon. Along with Seisan kata, Naifanchin was one of the basic kata used to introduce novices to the training of technique and physical fitness.
By introducing karate as a means of physical education at elementary schools in Okinawa, Itosu brought to public attention an art previously trained only by a select few. This process was accompanied by a thorough reform of teaching methods and led to an expansion of the kata curriculum.
Above, we saw which kata had already existed in the time before Itosu. Itosu revolutionized karate, he adapted it to meet the requirements of group training and created a variety of new katas. (Pinan I-IV, Passai sho, Kushanku sho, Rohai I-III, Naifanchin I-III).
Similar to the three Naifanchin kata, Pinan (5), Kyoku (7) und Rohai (3) are trained in groups of kata with different stages. In these groups of kata, the different stages represent different degrees of difficulty. However, an analysis of the three Naifanchin kata shows that Naifanchin Shodan is the basic form and Naifanchin Nidan and Sandan are only variations which, from a technical point of view, include no major innovative elements and technical advances compared to Naifanchin Shodan. Many believe that training only Naifanchin Shodan is sufficient to gain deeper insight into the underlying concepts of the kata. Itosu expanded Matsumara’s kata curriculum on a large scale. Looking back from today’s vantage point, however, we can say that this expansion caused the “tradition” to be diluted. Nowadays, many more katas are being taught in the different schools than in the days of Matsumura, which invariably means that less time can be devoted to each individual kata. We must not overlook, however, that it is precisely Itosu’s revolutionary spirit and his courage in breaking with tradition that made the global spread of karate possible.
The following pictures show Naifanchin Shodan performed by Toyama Kanken, Funakoshi Gichin and Motobu Choki. I hope you enjoy analyzing the pictures.
There are several karate masters who, although they have not trained in the Shudokan dojo, have received high dan-grades and titles from Toyama Kanken Sensei or the AJKF. These masters included: Gima Makoto, Izumikawa Kanki, Kinjo Hiroshi, Akamine Shosuke, Higa Seitoku, Shimabukuro Eizo and Walter Todd.
In my book "Toyama Kanken - The Heritage of Shudokan" there are short biographies of these masters. However, I have forgotten the biography of one master, that of Higashionna Kamesuke (1905-1968).
Higashionna Sensei's surname can also be read as Higaonna. Later, he also used his nickname Hiroshi (quasi as a first name). Therefore, you can find this master in the karate literature as Higashionna Kamesuke, Higaonna Kamesuke or Higashionna Hiroshi and Higaonna Hiroshi.
Higashionna Sensei was born in Okinawa in 1905. We do not know when he started karate. He was, inter alia, a student of Motobu Choki (1870-1944), who described him as his favorite student. Higashionna Sensei was one of the pioneers who contributed to the worldwide spread of the karatedo. Together with Mizuho Mutsu (1898-1970), he traveled to Hawaii for more than 5 months in 1933, where they gave karate demonstrations. Higashionna published several articles on karate in the Ryukyu Shinpo in 1935, and in the same year he wrote a book about his time in Hawaii. Later he went back to Okinawa and headed a dojo in Naha. He gave his dojo the same name that Motobu Choki used for his former dojo in Tokyo: "Daidokan" (building of the great way). In 1968 Higashionna Sensei was involved in a traffic accident in Hawaii and died in the same year at the age of 63 due to his injuries.
How intense the contact from Toyama Sensei to Higashionna Sensei was I do not know. Higashionna Sensei received the title "Hanshi Shihan" from Toyama Sensei. The reasons could be one of the following:
For more information, I recommend the book "Higaonna Kamesuke: On Karate in Okinawa, Japan & Hawaii Paperback - January 18, 2017" by Henning Wittwer.
A few weeks ago an extraordinary karate master left this world forever. Unfortunately, I never met him personally. However, he supported my book project with a lot of information and an interview. I am talking about Herbert Z. Wong Sensei (1940 - 2018). Wong Sensei was a student of Todd Sensei, Shimabukuro Eizo Sensei, and thus trained under Ichikawa Sensei. In 1965, Wong Sensei had the opportunity to visit the Shudokan dojo and talk to Toyama Sensei.
In this blog I would like to answer some of your questions about the book. In addition, there are a variety of photos and interesting stories that have not found entry into the book. Furthermore, the blog should serve to give you new historical insights immediately, so you do not have to wait for the second edition of my book.