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My Favorite Kata

In my system of Shorin-Ryu, we practice 18 empty handed kata. That is more than some styles and much less than others. To me, it seems like we have about the right number of kata (not katas, remember that there is no plural in Japanese).

If you are like me you will have certain kata you prefer and others that you dislike or tend to practice less than your favorites. Over time, your favorites may change.

I never liked Fukyugata Ichi. I found it to be a very basic kata and I always felt awkward with the gedan barai movements. When I started to learn Shorin-Ryu, Fukyugata Ichi was the first kata taught. Now, in my dojo we teach the first three Naihanchi kata before the Fukyugata kata (Ichi and Ni). I find this to be much better because the stances in Naihanchi are more stable, and thus easier for beginners. Also, by the time students learn Fukyugata Ichi, they will have already been introduced to koshi principles.

When I re-learned Fukyugata Ichi from Professor Katsuhiko Shinzato, he made a small correction that entirely changed my view of the kata (and all kata): he repositioned my body in the zenkutsu dachi position to hamni (diagonal). Before, my shoulders had been square (facing forward) and my koshi was straight (forward). Now, my shoulders and koshi were about diagonal. While the length of my stance remained the same, it could now be narrower (because my koshi was diagonal). In addition, because my shoulders and koshi were diagonal, there was still body movement left for the next punch or block.

Shinzato Sensei showed me many other basic and fine points of the kata, and as a result, Fukyugata Ichi is now one of my favorite kata. It is a great complement to the Naihanchi kata. While the Naihanchi kata are relatively fixed, Fukyugata Ichi is very free.

My point is that I used to dislike Fukyugata Ichi because I misunderstood it. With just a few hours of instruction and a few weeks of practice, the kata became one of my favorites. It did not change -- my understanding of it did.

Whenever I feel like I dislike a certain kata, I try to keep in mind that the problem is probably with me, not the kata. Shinzato Sensei often says that with proper body dynamics, any kata of any style can be done well. If I can't do a certain kata well, I should re-examine my body dynamics. The kata may be revealing a weakness and giving me the opportunity to correct it.

So what are my favorite kata? Naihanchi Shodan, Naihanchi Nidan, Fukyugata Ichi, Pinan Shodan, Rohai, Passai, and Chinto. Pinan Yondan, Wankan, and Kusanku almost make the list. I also like sequences of many other kata. One day I hope to be able to say that my favorite kata is whichever one I am doing at the time.

Respectfully,

Charles C. Goodin