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Michael Stolberg
Michael Stolberg's picture
Profound kata changes leading to loss of precious infromation

Hi everyone,

I was revisiting Iain's e-book "Introduction to Applied Karate". On p 15-16 he [Iain] explains his 8th rule to kata study - "There is a need for skills at every range". To explain this rule he uses the example of the final 3 movements of Kanku dai/Kushanku kata. The sequence is roughly done in the following manner: a low stance is taken with hands down. The hands then scoop up alongs the sides of the body as the knees are straightened and finally the arms come up still alongs the sides level with the shoulders and arms bend at 90 degrees. Iain goes on to explain that this sequence is in fact a maneuvre to pick up an opponent and then trhow him behind yoursel. Moreover he adds that the common interpretation of this movement is a low block which is followed by 2 high blocks. I have heard an interpretation of it being a scoop for a stomach level kick. The  attacker's leg is then brought up as the arms raise and this would cause him/her to lose balance.  Iain goes on to say that these kinds of interperetations most likely stem from the fact that people who are used to mid to long range sparring do not practice and therefore see any other techniques apart from punches, kicks and blocks.

After thinking about this sequence I remembered that a senior instructor explained to me that we (Shotokan - JKA) no longer bend our knees at the onset of the abovementioned sequence. I was told that bending the knees too low was not necessary. Furthermore I was always tought the kata as having only the right arm perfrom the scoop and the left one staying on the hip util both arms start going up. This is obviosuly different from Iain's perfromance which includes both arms scooping which is reasonable if one wants to pick an opponent off the ground. This difference prompted me to do a Kanku dai video search. Following are 3 videos of Shotokan - JKA Kanku Dai perfromances. What is important to note is that they are from 3 different time periods.  Although there may be many changes between the videos, I focused primarily on the final sequence which follows immediately after the double jump kick. Please pay attention to how low the initial stance is and what the arms are doing (left and right). The first video is (IMO - Please if someone could provide solid info that would be great) prior to 1965. The second video is (IMO - Please if someone could provide solid info that would be great) is from the 1980's. The final video is from a recent (last 3 years) JKA All-Japan tournament.



After comparing these videos I would argue that someone that learns the kata in the fashion of the recent video would not be able to comprehend the application of the original movement. These kinds of changes I belive are far more detrimental than taking a knee kick and raising it to face level. At least such a change does not fundamnetally change the technique. Howver the changes seen between the Kanku Dai videos clearly show a progression of further and further misunderstanding of the application which brings the practiionner to change the kata.

I appologize for the length of the post, but hope to get many thoughful responses,



Iain Abernethy
Iain Abernethy's picture

Hi Michael,

Interesting to compare those videos like that! Thanks for posting them.

Today we have changes being made to the kata in the interests of “standardisation” and aesthetics; as opposed to anything combative. Any I agree that these changes can sometimes obscure function.

I think we basically have two options to deal with that. Firstly, we could stick to the older version of the kata where the combative application is more evident. Secondly, if the kata has multiple purposes in any given dojo (i.e. not just combat, but aesthetics, sport, etc too) then there needs be an awareness of the differences and modifications that have been made: “In the standardised kata we kick head-height, but in application drills we kick to the knees”; “In competitions we need to keep high when we do the kata, but the “dojo kata” should have us go lower as we would in the application”; and so on. I know of quite a few groups who have differing versions of the form for differing purposes.

The problem occurs when people take the modified version as being mandatory instruction and they are not aware of the changes. For example, they believe the kick must be head height in bunkai drills. It’s one of the reasons why comparing numerous versions of the kata can be helpful as we can see alternative ways the motions are performed and that can give insights into the function. If we take the view that there is only one valid version of the kata, we can miss things that may be of interest and importance (i.e. alternative takes on a given technique, changes that have been made that could obscure function, etc).

I also think we need to be clear that partner practise will demand the technique is applied correctly and relevant to the circumstance (regardless of the kata version). Solo kata practise, while it can be useful part of the mix, can not be a wholesale supplement for partner work.

Could be a very interesting thread this and I look forward to reading everyone’s views.

All the best,


Harry Mord
Harry Mord's picture

A similar case can be seen with the JKA version of Tekki Shodan. This kata was very obviously changed to make it fit a commonly taught (and rather unrealistic) bunkai.

All representations of the original version of the kata (e.g as illustrated in "Karate-do Kyohan" and instructional tapes from the early 1980s) end with a straight punch out to the right with the right arm and a hook punch with the left arm that does not extend out past the right side of one's chest. When I trained in shotokan in the late 1980s (I'm assuming it is still performed like this today) this was changed to two straight arm punches (the left arm now stretched out as far as possible to the right). This was obviously done in order to make the movement better fit the bunkai being taught for this technique (i.e. leap in sideways in kiba dachi and punch with both fists at once).

Here is an example of the original version:


And an example of the "corrupted" version:


Michael Stolberg
Michael Stolberg's picture

Hi Harry,

Although you are right about the JKA application for that technique.

I must correct you on the fact that the kata is still performed with the hook punch.

I think that the video you have posted is a case of someone trying to fit the kata to the bunkai. I guess this is logical since doing the kata in its original form does not lend to the double punch application. (In fact the usual application is not so much a double punch as a penetrating block of a punch with a straight arms and an attack with the other arm.

Although the bunkai is unrealistic, I can assure you that JKA still practices the kata in its original form. I am actually doing a week long training camp with a 7th dan from the JKA Tokyo HQ and he definetly teaches that motion with a "hook punch".

Here's a recent video of a JKA competition. You can clearly see the "hook punch" at the kiai points




Harry Mord
Harry Mord's picture

Michael Stolberg wrote:

I must correct you on the fact that the kata is still performed with the hook punch.

I think that the video you have posted is a case of someone trying to fit the kata to the bunkai.

Thanks for the clarification. Your description of the bunkai is much clearer than mine. What you describe as a "penetrating block" is what I actually meant. I haven't practised JKA shotokan for many years now.

If it's the case that the JKA have always practised the original form, then I'm rather dismayed to learn that we were obviously being taught, and were earnestly practising, the kata incorrectly. As an eager young kyu grade at that time I just accepted whatever I was told. My instructor was a very well respected professional instructor at a very large dojo in northern Scotland, so I'm even more surprised. It's strange, though. I must have performed Tekki shodan for at least one of the kyu gradings (3rd kyu?) complete with the "modification". Our kyu gradings were always conducted by Japanese JKA instructors. I recall senseis Kawasoe, Tsuyama and especially Enoeda, with Ohta as his assistant, regularly coming to grade us. I guess they must have just overlooked the two "mistakes" in our kata.

In any case, I don't wish to derail the thread too much. The video I posted shows that this "unauthorised" modification to the kata wasn't restricted to us and is apparently still being practised in some places. I guess then that it still maybe has some relevance to the topic of the thread.

-- Harry

munteanu radu
munteanu radu's picture


I practice Shotokan SKI (the tehnical lineage of Kancho Kanazawa). We also have some minor modifications in kata, but i don't think this has a very big importance. Also is of little importance what style is "the real descendant" of a martial tradition, i think.

We must consider for what we use the kata: for competition, healt/psihical development, self-defence... If we consider the self-defence, maybe we must look beyond the "standard" bunkai (the attack is from front/side/behind and it is done with kick/punch/grab), to see the principles of self-defence. If I am interested in the competition/psihical development, i think that it is ok to practice the form that is taught in our organisation.

I have also read ms. Iain books (and others to). He practiced Wado Ryu karate. His research is based originally on the Wado Ryu system but he also has researched the practical apllications and principles.

From my knowledge, 99% of the bunkai taught in our shools (Shotokan, GojuRyu, Wado Ryu...) is explained so:  One attack's from a distance of 1,5-2m with a punch/kick and the defender is blocking with ... and conterattacked with ...

"I attack you with tehnic X and you blocks with tehnic Y"... is "the game of prearranged kumite/bunkai kata". So it is not to realistically as self-defence but looks great in demonstrations.

On the other hand, the SKIF motto is: "The philosophy of Shotokan Karate-do is based on the traditional budo spirit of karate which seeks for the perfection of character through hard training and discipline. In addition to the traditional philosophy underpinned by the Rei-to-Setsu and Dojo-Kun, SKIF also seeks for the healthy mental and physical growth of youth and peaceful international exchange of friendships through the training and competition" (http://www.skifworld.com/skif-history.php) So the self-defence principles and tehnics are not so much stressed in our school. The emphasis is on perfection of character and physical development.

I think that is the same case in many organisations. It is up to us to make a choice regarding our training and to follow them

All the best

Th0mas's picture

Hi Munteanu Radu

 As long as you are clear about why you are training .... then more power to your elbow.

 Personally I love the intellectual challenge associated with Kata application and bunkai, I desire to be able to defend my kith and kin in times of danger, I wish to stop myself from falling into bad habits that effect my health and I want to have a sense of achievement from excelling at something that is very challenging.

 Having spent my majority training in Shotokan I have become very ambivalent to the "traditional" Shotokan training approach and what is judged as "good". I don't have a problem with hard training and discipline being character forming (in fact I believe it is) but why can't I do it within the context of self-protection?

 If we move away from the original "self-protection" roots you end up with a lot of Art and no martial... and debates about the number of angels that you can fit on a pin-head and whether the arm is bent or straight smiley

 (IMHO the bent arm implies the arm-lock application, the straight a punch/strike and infact both are valid applications for the movement - sorry couldn't resist)