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Kishaba Juku Kata, et al.

As you probably are aware, I practice the Kishaba Juku form of Shorin-Ryu, which was named for Chokei Kishaba, and is  headed by Katsuhiko Shinzato.  Kishaba Sensei and Shinzato Sensei were heavily influenced by Seigi Nakamura, and all three Sensei studied the Matsubayashi-Ryu form of Shorin-Ryu.

Most styles of Karate have a certain curriculum.  They practice a certain number of distinct kata which form the core of the style.

Kishaba Juku does practice a certain core set of kata.  To be honest, I am not completely sure if we practice 18 kata, or fewer.  I practice 18 kata, but there are about 3 kata that are either not practiced or are not emphasized.

But Kishaba Juku is not known for the kata it practices -- it is known for the way that it practices them.  In particular, it is known for core driven, whole body mechanics.  If you have seen videos of Sensei Katsuhiko Shinzato, you will know what I mean.

Just be careful when you watch such videos.  You have to know the context in which they were taken.  How Shinzato Sensei performs a kata depends on who he is teaching and what he is teaching or demonstrating.  Sometimes he might try to demonstrate something wrong or inefficiently to demonstrate a point.  A random video will not explain this.  Again, you have to know the context in which a video was taken.

But even when he is moving in a basic way, or trying to show something "wrong", Shinzato Sensei is extremely dynamic.  By this I mean that he can move very quickly with tremendous power, in a very relaxed manner.  When I first saw him on video, I absolutely could not understand how he did that.  I now know why I could not understand -- I was trying to figure out how he did what he did based on an assumption the he was moving the same way that I was.  In other words, I thought to myself that it would be impossible to him to do what he was doing moving the way that I moved.  And that was absolutely true.  Of course, he was not moving the way that I was!

I have spent a decade now, mostly trying to understand how Shinzato Sensei moves and to do it myself.  I have had some success.  I certainly do not move as well as he does, but I move much better than I used to.

In the last year or so, I have focused less on moving exactly like Shinzato Sensei and more on moving in a way that is optimal for me -- the way that gives me the best results.  I still used Shinzato Sensei's movements as my guide, but I recognize that we are two different people.  I am taller and heavier than him and about 19 years younger.  I have my strengths and weaknesses.  He has his strengths and weaknesses.

If I try to move exactly like him, I should not expect to do so -- because we are not exactly the same.  More importantly, Shinzato Sensei does not move the way that he does because he tried to be exactly like Nakamura Sensei, Kishaba Sensei, or any other instructor.  He moves the way that he does, based upon the influences and examples of his Sensei, and his own effort to move the way that is optimal for him.

Therefore, if I want to be like Shinzato Sensei, I should not simply try to copy him -- I must try to move in a way that it the most optimal for me.  He took responsibility for his own progresss -- so must I.

In fact, at a certain point, every student of Karate must take responsibility for his own progress.

My wife tells a story of a long ago relative who was in his 50s but still lived at home with his parents.  Every day he would ask "What's for dinner?"

A mature Karate student should not be asking "What's for dinner?"  A mature Karate student should be living his own life and making his own dinner.

And it is very important to keep in mind, and this is my personal opinion, that Kishaba Juku is not the result of its kata curriculum.  We do what we do because of a particular body mechanics and an approach to teaching and training that is focuses on body mechanics.  We use the kata we practice in order to get the body mechanics results we are seeking.  We could generally do the same with other kata.  In other words, our kata are a tool.  Our body mechanics are not the result of our kata.

I am fairly confident that if we could go back in time and watch Chotoku Kyan, Choki Motobu, and their teachers perform the same kata we practice today, they would not look exactly like us.  There might be some similarities, but I do not believe that Chotoku Kyan, for example, practiced Tomari Passai, exactly the same way as we do.  I do not mean that the base movements are very different, after all, we learned Tomari Passai from Kyan Sensei.  I mean that we probably do not move the same way.

Kyan Sensei moved in a way that was optimal for him.  Motobu Sensei moved in a way that was optimal for him.  And Shinzato Sensei moves in a way that is optimal for him -- on that certain day.  A day later, he might move differently because he is still working on what is the best for him.

Our kata are excellent.  Several of them lend themselves very easily to good body dynamics and good "fighting".  Naihanchi, Rohai, Passai, and Chinto, for example, are amazing kata.  When you see Shinzato Sensei perform them (and other kata), you just have to marvel.  I and my students just watched with our mouths open.

But the same kata can just as easily be performed in a stiff, robotic, heavy, clunky, horrible way that does not work at all!

It is not the kata that count -- it is the way that you do them.  And please don't forget that at a certain point you have to seek to move in the way that it optimal for you.  You have to make your own dinner.


Charles C. Goodin