First of all, I pray that all of you had a fine and safe Christmas and are enjoying the time spent with friends and family during this holiday season. At this time of year, I always tend to look back and reflect on all of the many good things I am thankful for. Not least of which, is the time I’ve gotten to spend with all of you in the practice of Karate-Do. I am very cognizant that we are so fortunate to be blessed with such a fine group of karateka of all ages, along with the many helpful senpais and senseis who help guide the classes each week. I can’t believe that 2020 will mark nineteen years since we began what is now, the HIS Karate-Do Foundation.
I often say that we should strive to learn something new from every class that we attend. If we have achieved that modest goal, then one would be surprised to find out how many new things were learned in the space of a year, and the growth and progress resulting from decades of training.
It’s often said that the practice of Karate-Do can be broadly divided into three components: Kihon, Kumite, and Kata. Kihon and Kumite were gradually developed over the last century, while the purpose of Kata has become somewhat altered in modern Karate-Do. In the distant past, the Te found in the Ryukyus was generally passed down among from father to son (usually the eldest) or selected individuals in very small private classes. All were usually members of the warrior gentry class. This knowledge was not made available to the general Ryukyuan populace who spent long days working in the fields or mercantile activities. Early in the twentieth century, when the art reached Japan, classes were held in dojos for larger groups of students in similar fashion to mass instruction at large classes for Judo, Kendo, Iaido practitioners. Kihon was developed in response to the need to share basic techniques and drills amongst larger groups of karateka training en masse. By the 1950’s, Kumite was gradually allowed, in order to accommodate the desires of young men to compete against each other in matches similar to those found in Judo and Kendo. Kata, which had always existed, slowly transformed into an aspect of tournament competition and incorporated into one of the requirements for promotion through the ranks.
For those of us who love kata, we practice it because we love the speed and power found in coordinated movement that one has practiced hundreds of times. Some will naturally compare this to dance and also note that it doesn’t seem very applicable to the modern practice of kumite. This is true, as the sport of modern kumite generally employs high speed punches and kicks, and the skill of gapping distance for such “long-range dueling”. However, the ancient practice of karate kata wasn’t really designed to aid one in sports kumite or kata competition, much less to pass the next examination requirement.
Below are links to a couple of videos. The first is an example of JKA Tekki Shodan, which we begin to teach you at the purple belt level. It is also the way most of us think of this short kata, as a series of movements performed in the kiba-dachi stance, in a left and right direction.
Compare that to the second video containing an explanation of some of the moves found in Tekki Shodan (original Ryukyuan name Naihanchi) and one realizes just how much depth and meaning is contained within the kata. While none of us will be able to do the applications demonstrated by Hanshi McCarthy unless we spend hundreds of hours doing so with a partner, I do think that there is a value in understanding why such ancient katas have been handed down to us and to gain a very basic awareness of why these katas were considered so important during the time of the Ryukyu Kingdom.
BTW, I’ve been an admirer of Hashi Patrick McCarthy for many years. Originally from Canada, he was an excellent tournament karate competitor in the 1970’s and relocated to Japan over thirty years ago to study with Okinawan masters. Fluent in Japanese, he has done much research on the history of the Ryukyu martial arts and is a scholar, author, and is a master-level instructor on the art of Uchinadi (Okinawan Hand). He lives in Australia with his wife Yuriko.