Yoshukai Kata History
Yoshukai's literal translation means "Strive for Excellence"
Contributed by Lee Farrell
The kata, often referred to as the “formal exercise” of martial arts, demonstrates the essence or spirit of its practitioners. The kata is a series of prearranged maneuvers in order for one to become proficient in certain techniques. These prearranged movements can be practiced alone, or under the watchful eyes of an instructor. In ancient times, the kata served as a method of teaching and practicing karate when instructors were far removed from the disciples. Additionally, the kata served as a means of practicing karate where it was otherwise outlawed. The kata serves as a catalog of all the techniques in the martial art. The movements and techniques within the kata give a student insight to the advanced methods of subduing a foe. In the kata a few major techniques are presented and various basic movements are connected with the major techniques. Many kata follow a linear pattern or a cross-like intersection on the floor, like the letters “I”, “H”, “X”. Each kata contains different types of stances which give advantages to offensive or defensive techniques. In the kata, kicks, strikes, and blocks are executed in straight or angular lines verses circular; snappy motions. The movements in the kata are executed with precision, while some movements are also executed with augmented breathing. These techniques teach us the lessons of the ancient masters.
There are two major groups of kata; Shuri-te and Naha-te. Many of the advanced kata translate to numeric names: Seisan (13 Hands), Ni Sei Shi (24 Steps), San Shi Ryu (36), and San Chin (3 Battles). The relationship between the exact meaning of the names and the techniques used in the kata are in dispute among many masters of the martial arts. The majority of Japanese karate forms were either inherited directly from, or inspired by the old Okinawan masters. The style of our kata comes from Chito-ryu and Goju-ryu.
A student must understand the theory of the kata. Otherwise, a student is only performing a random combination of movements. Understanding what the kata has to teach separates the novice from the advanced student. It is important to understand why the last move was performed a particular way before advancing to the next move or technique. The kata teaches both hidden and obvious techniques as well as theory. It also provides a form of meditation. Our style has four main core kata that represents a variety of combat systems. The core kata are taught at brown and black belt level and include: Seisan, Sochin, Ten Shin and Bassai.
White Belt Level
The study of the kata begins with basic training drills and the understanding of stances, blocks, and strikes with correct breathing practices to maximize power. Our beginning students are introduced to 27 Movements and Zen Shin Ko Tai forms. The new student starts as a white belt, working his/her way through the rank of yellow and orange belts.
This basic training form utilizes hand techniques to introduce the beginner to proper effective blocks and strikes. Each technique is performed first by the left side, then the right. Basic blocks are executed and followed by strikes to imaginary opponents surrounding the practitioner. The student is introduced to hip torque while working from the neutral stance uchi hachiji dachi (knees and toes turn slightly in at shoulder width).
Zen Shin Ko Tai
This kata teaches the student to move forward and back in a zen kutsu dachi stance while punching an opponent. Turning to the right and left while blocking and punching. This is the first kata to introduce the sidekick. The kata mirrors the moves of an imaginary opponent.
Green Belt Level
Green belts learn H-forms through Shi Ho Hai. There are four basic H forms which follow the same floor pattern of tracing a capital H on the floor. These forms can be traced back in various incarnations to Okinawa well over a century ago. The H-forms were introduced in the Okinawa school systems to teach elementary-age students easier kata patterns than those of the more advanced levels.
This form contains basic front stances (zen kutsu dachi), center blocks, and center punches. The last move, common to all four of the H-Form kata, is a left hand punch/ grab while twisting the hips towards the left throwing the opponent to the floor following with the right-hand punch to the opponent.
This H-form uses upper blocks and punches, again following the same floor pattern with the basic front stances.
This form introduces the beginner to the immoveable (fudo dachi) stance with the lower block, and the straddle stance (shiko dachi) with the center punches. The new stances make this third H-form the most difficult to perform correctly and requires a great deal of practice.
This form uses the same floor pattern with the stances fudo dachi used with the lower block, while introducing front kicks and zen kutsu dachi with the center punch. The addition of the front kick teaches the beginning student balance and stability.
Shi Ho Hai
“Fighting to the Four Directions” Dating back to 1828, Shi Ho Hai was originally shown to Chinese officials visiting the Royal Court of Okinawa. The four-way turn at the onset of the kata demonstrates the usefulness of the neutral stance (uchi hachiji dachi) while developing hip torque or snap. This will enable the student to deliver strong punches. This kata is only found in styles that are derived from Chito-Ryu karate.
“To Destroy” This kata was created by Chojun Miyagi from Goju-Ryu to popularize the style in the Okinawa high school system, the kata influence was from Shuri-te. This kata integrates kicking with blocks, strikes, and punches using multiple directions. This is the last kata for green belt level.
Brown Belt Level
Brown belts learn Seisan through Sochin kata, which incorporates more advanced footwork for use with multiple opponents. As brown belts, students start to learn angles and more advanced combinations. Students at this level have a better understanding of speed, timing, and power.
Seisan translated means “13 hands”. The kata origins are in the Fujian Province of China. Seisan has been used in Okinawa for over two hundred years. Several versions of Seisan have been contrived since its origin and practically every karate style uses it as a method of training. The version used in Yoshukai karate is from either Seisho Arakaki (1840-1920) or Chotaku Kyan (1870-1945) who learned it from Bushi Matsumura, one of the master instructors and bodyguards of the Royal Court of Okinawa. Years later, Arakaki taught Seisan to a youthful student named Tsuyoshi Chinen (Matsumura’s grandson), who later changed his name to Dr. Chitose.
This kata teaches how to get inside an adversary’s attack and destroy their stability, while simultaneously developing a strong foundation. Seisan combines straight-ahead attacks with movement offline to gain an advantage in distance and timing. In the nineteenth century, Seisan was practiced to learn proper posture and was the first kata learned in many styles. Seisan introduces both “soft” and “hard” techniques. This kata is from the Shuri-te group and is Yoshukai’s first core kata.
Ni Sei Shi
“Twenty-four Steps”-Arakaki also taught Ni Sei Shi to Dr. Chitose. Like Seisan, many traditional styles use Ni Sei Shi. Breathing and concentration are tested during this kata. This is from Naha-te group of kata. The origin of the name Twenty Four Steps is uncertain.
Ro Hai, meaning “sign of the white heron”, takes its name from the crane stances in the kata. A Tomari kata from Matsumora Kosasku, the Ro Hai series (Ro Hai Sho and Ro Hai-Dai) are short kata featuring throwing and sweeping techniques. Because of the transitional moves, Ro Hai kata are difficult to master even though they are neither long nor complex.
“Monks of Peace” or “Men of Peace”-Sochin came from Fujian, China and was originally introduced in the Okinawan village Naha by Seisho Arakaki. Sochin is performed on a cross-shaped floor pattern and contains techniques for short-range defense and counterstrikes. The stance transition is the key to utilizing this kata effectively. The student must constantly strive for balance in the practice of Sochin. The reference to monks or men of peace in the translation of the name may be from the Chinese origins, possibly referring to the monks of the Shaolin Temple. Sochin is from the Naha-te group. Sochin is our second core kata.
Black Belt Level
In the advanced black belt kata the applications of strikes are directed toward vital areas and pressure points. Circular blocks and slashing hand strikes teach one to disable multiple opponents quickly. The ancient masters embedded the secrets of their unique fighting systems in their kata. Every kata contains a significant number of secret techniques or okuden waza that are not obvious to the causal observer. Most of the truly dangerous, advanced routines are deliberately concealed. As a black belt practitioner one must have a deep understanding of strategy and tactics that is a necessary prerequisite for being able to properly decipher kata.
“Turning Body Motions”-A simple cross-shaped floor pattern hides the real complexity of this kata. Ten Shin focuses on coordinating hip-torque and punching to develop power. The key to maximizing powerful punches is in the hasami dachi (scissoring of the legs) to zen kutsu dachi transition. Ten Shin teaches a very practical defensive strategy for extremely close range evasion and counterstriking techniques. Ten Shin is our third core kata.
Literally translated as “endless”, this kata was originally designed as a Sai kata. The inspiration for the Mugen kata translated as the extension of infinite power through deflective blocking. Mamoru Yamamoto developed this kata using the basic “H” floor pattern with an emphasis being placed on various uses of the heel-palm strike as an assertive block that misdirects the opponent’s attack.
“To Breach a Fortress or Penetrate a Defense”-Bassai is the most commonly practiced of all the known kata. Most martial artists will learn one version of Bassai by the time they earn their black belt. The version used in Yoshukai comes from Kyan. Kyan was taught the kata in Tomari village, from a master named Roken Oyadomari. Bassai is considered to be one of the oldest kata in Okinawa. Bassai teaches the student escapes, blocks, and counters in order to overcome a bad situation and achieve victory. This kata is from the Shuri-te kata group and is our fourth core kata.
“Fighting to the East or Fighting Techniques from the East”-The word Chinto is believed to derive from the name of a Chinese seaman befriended by Bushi Matsumura. Our version of this kata comes from Kyan and was adapted by removing techniques that were repeated several times; therefore, our version is shorter than other styles. Chinto is characterized by its narrow, straight-line floor pattern. Chinto is considered to be an advanced kata. The kata teaches hand-trapping and breaking, this form is found in both the Shuri-te and Tomari-Te traditions.
San Shi Ryu
“36”-A short but advanced kata from Fujian, China. San Shi Ryu contains some of the most beautiful techniques after Seisan and Bassai. San Shi Ryu is broken into sections that deal with multiple opponents, throwing techniques, and the use of the spear hand strike (nukite). There are fluctuations in the rhythm of this kata. San Shi Ryu is from the Naha-te group.
Ku San Ku
Ku San Ku was inspired by Kung Shang K’ung, a visiting Chinese official at the Royal Court of Okinawa in 1756. Ku San Ku introduced some of the Chinese fighting or grappling techniques to Okinawa, which were incorporated into the kata. One of the oldest kata in use today, Ku San Ku is used in many variations as an advanced kata throughout Okinawa and Japan. The kata is based on a straight-line floor pattern and contains quick shuffle steps and crescent kicking blocks. Ku San Ku contains many practical self-defense techniques.
“Dragon Mountain”-This kata is thought to be developed by Hanashiro, who learned the kata from the Chinese master Gokenki; a practitioner of the Chinese art of White Crane. This is a very rare kata found in a few styles. The name Dragon Mountain implies the whipping motion of a dragon’s tail. This is one of the few kata in the Yoshukai system that uses the crane stance. Ryu San comes from the Shuri-te group.
“Three Battles”-Is a Naha-te kata from the Fujian Province of China, San Chin emphasis is on breathing, strength, and a strong posture. The name San Chin implies that those who train diligently can overcome the conflict between the mind, body, and spirit to unify the basic components. Sanchin dachi, or “hour-glass” stance, is used to develop a strong stable kata in which hard breathing and tension develop chi power. Originally open hands were used to perform thrusting moves; most styles today use fists instead. Versions of this kate today are short and simple. Due to the extreme amount of physical exertion San Chin is hard to perfect. San Chin is an exercise for personal development of internal power and concentration.
A part of our history is listed in many books and websites for one to research and learn. Most of all is the dedication of our Karate Masters who continually pass on their knowledge of this great art to their students. One can only hope that we grow and flourish. As we continue to research more accurate information, our history will change and grow. We encourage more students of this art to record their history for the future.
Interviews with Mike Foster, Hanshi of the Yoshukai International Karate Association, and Mike McClernan, of the Yoshukai Karate International Association.
Unante The Secrets of Karate 2nd edition, by John Sells.
The Way of Kata, by Lawrence A. Kane and Kris Wilder.
Living the Martial Way, by Forrest E Morgan.
Shotokan’s Secret; The Hidden Truth Behind Karate’s Fighting Origins, by Clayton.
The Overlook Martial Arts Dictionary, by Emil Farkas and John Corcoran.