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Why Kata Differ -- Interpretation

Here is a simple kata. Please try to visualize it.

  1. Stand in a ready position.
  2. Block to the left with a left downward block in a left long stance.
  3. Step to the left with a right forward punch in a right natural stance.
  4. Pull back and turn to the right and step forward with a right downward block in a right long stance.
  5. Step to the right with a left forward punch in a left natural stance.
  6. Turn to the front and block to the front with a left downward block in a left long stance.
  7. Step to the front with a right forward punch in a right natural stance.
  8. Step to the front with a left forward punch in a left natural stance.
  9. Step to the front with a right forward punch in a right natural stance.
Can you visualize it? Of course, this is a very simple, English description of the first few movements of Fukyugata Ichi (Promotional Kata One). See: The 1940 Karate-Do Special Committee: The Fukyugata "Promotional" Kata. Even if you do not know this kata, it is very easy to describe, visualize, and learn.

So here is the catch. Each of us will probably visualize this kata (as I have described it) using our own basics. The only movements I described were downward blocks and forward punches. Only two movements -- but we probably all do them a little (or a lot) differently.

We could all do the movements of the kata, but because we are doing our own interpretations of the movements, we are doing essentially different kata.

I once watched a video of my Sensei giving a seminar to Goju-Ryu students. No matter what he did, they seemed to interpret it in terms of Goju-Ryu basics. Their minds were translating what he did into what they understood (Goju-Ryu). My Sensei would demonstrate a Shorin-Ryu (Kishaba Juku) middle block and they would do a Goju-Ryu middle block. They were the same (in terms of the names of the movements) but quite different (in terms of the execution of the movements).

In our Hawaii Karate Kenkyukai, one of our members is a Goju-Ryu Sensei in the Seko Higa line. When we compare our Fukyugata Ni kata (which was developed by Chojun Miyagi at the same time and as part of the same process by which Fukyugata Ichi was developed by Shosin Nagamine), they seem alike (in form) but quite different (in execution). For example, after the first kick, we strike with the left elbow. So does my friend. Then we block down with a left downward block. They strike to the face with a backfist first, then strike down with something that looks like a hammerfist/sideways ura ken. We block -- they strike twice.

Now who do you think is giving a truer rendition of Fukyugata Ni? My school traces to Shoshin Nagamine. My friend's school traces to Seko Higa, a fellow student of Chojun Miyagi under Kanryo Higashionna. Could it be that we are both interpreting the same kata in light of our own basics? Of course. And, for the record, I am pretty sure that the Goju-Ryu people are doing this kata correctly, or at least closest to the way that Chojun Miyagi designed it. (I still like our way better, because I am comfortable with it, but I appreciate their applications, which I borrow at every opportunity.)

I have also had the opportunity to teach "our" kata in Kishaba Juku to other Shorin-Ryu yudansha from a closely related style. Essentially, we know the same kata, and I used to study and teach that style. You would think that this would be easy since we know the same kata. But no. It is harder than teaching the kata to someone who never learned it. Why? Because they see what I am doing in terms of what they know. I am not doing what they think they are seeing. They are seeing their own images projected onto me. I have to break this illusion and help them to see that I am doing something very different.

Learning kata is an interpretation process. Even if you learn from the source, it is extremely hard to see things as they are.

And that is just the beginning. Once you can see "what" someone is doing, you have to learn to see "how" they are doing it! Now that is really something.

Respectfully,

Charles C. Goodin