Prologue, Karate-do Nyumon


By Genshin Hironishi

Kodansha International

Karate-do Nyumon was published in Japanese in December, 1943. The present English edition marks the first tanslation of this book into a foreign language.

In 1984, the Japan Karate-do Shotokai held various commemorative events to celebrate the tenth anniversary of the rebuilding of its central dojo and headquarters, the Shotokan. In 1986, we observed the thirtieth anniversary of Master Gichin Funakoshi’s death. The publication of this English edition is therefore quite timely, and I consider it a great honor to write this foreword.

It is said that in the master’s youth his study and practice of karate included learning over one hundred different kata. As a result of years of research and investigation into these formal exercises, the master reduced the number to fifteen traditional kata. These fifteen kata, familiar under such names as Bassai and Kanku, together with the five introductory Heian kata, form the central core of Shotokai training.

The kata called Ten no Kata, explained in this book, was created and designed under the leadership and guidance of Master Funakoshi. It is a kata unique to the Shotokai and is proudly cherished by all of us, his students.

Master Funakoshi felt that, rather than a great variety of kata, it is more important to take a limited number and practice them thoroughly and precisely, This way of thinking can be regarded as basic to the Shotokai.

A Japanese maxim says, Kantan na mono yoku kachi o seisu “The balance between victory and defeat often hangs on simple matters”.

And another admonishes, Shoshin o wasurezu” (In your training) do not forget the spirit and humility of a beginner”.

This does not mean that it is sufficient to practice only basics. To accurately digest and improve even simple combat techniques and basic movements, practice of the more advanced traditional kata is utterly essential.

Unlike the advanced kata, practice in basics tends to be limited to simple forward and backward movements. The complexity of integrated left-right, forward-backward, pivoting, turning, two-and three-step advancing or retreating executed in rapid succession tends to be lost. One should question whether the practice of basics alone would allow one to respond to continuously changing circumstances, or whether one could effectively apply basic techniques under difficult conditions. In this sense, the traditional kata are extremely important for training the body under a variety of conditions. In kata, individual movements combined become more than their sum total. Kata practice is meant to lead to an understanding of the true value of the movements as self-defense techniques.

Nevertheless, all things have advantages and disadvantages. Often in practicing the advanced kata, students concentrate too much on the order and continuity of the movements, without considering the effectiveness of each technique. In extreme cases, they may have the illusion that they have mastered the kata by simply memorizing the order of the movements. It should be clear that, in reality, one must practice both basic techniques and advanced kata, and that the study of basics takes on a new and deeper meaning after one experiences more complex practice.

To return to Ten no Kata, it should first be noted that it is not necessarily an introductory kata and nothing more. Rather, it is meant to be both a kata and a continuous practice of basics. It is well suited to those who have practiced the traditional fifteen kata to the point where they have more or less mastered them and wish to further hone their skills.

Another important characteristic of Ten no Kata concerns the element of maai literally translated, maai means “(spatial) distance”, but in this usage it also evokes a sense of timing, or chance. Thus, it indicates both the space and the time it takes for and opponent’s fist to reach one’s body. In the practice of both kata and basics, there is a tendency to forget maai and become absorbed solely in the repetition of movements.

In traditional kata such as Bassai, the difference between simply executing the movements in the correct order and performing the kata while taking maai into account is immediately apparent. If one imagines a real opponent and performs the kata while thinking of maai, a blending of hard and soft, quick and slow elements appear quite naturally. Then each movement of the hands and feet takes the shortest possible route.

In actual practice, this concept seems rather difficult for students to grasp, even though its importance is pointed out and stressed. It is impossible to understand through words, and it seems as though the body refuses to cooperate. Besides being a trying experience for the student, it is source of much anguish to the instructor who wants his students to understand and develop this sense as quickly as possible.

The concept of maai can be instilled through the practice of Ten no Kata. My fervent wish as an instructor is that this will serve as an incentive to work hard on Ten no Kata Ura, the kumite portion of the kata. I think that the explanation in this section of the book will lead you to a deeper appreciation of maai, and this understanding will in turn influence the manner in which you practice the traditional kata. This is the idea upon which our system of practice is based. It should now be clear that Ten no Kata is more than an elementary kata.

The Shotokai kata span the hard and heavy kata of the Shorei style and the light and fast kata if the Shorin style. Emphasis on maai is an element common to both styles and kata should always be practiced with this in mind.

One of the subjects Master Funakoshi touches on in this book is his own masters: Azato, Itosu and Matsumura. This makes it an especially valuable document, and, not surprisingly, in his recollections of these three men, he indirectly refers to the importance of maai.

In the Shotokai, after acquiring a general understanding of Ten no Kata, we begin the practice of kawashi,or might be called “interaction”. In kawashi practice, you pass through your opponent’s attack, in effect exchanging places with him. Unlike kumite kata, you do not catch the attack and sweep it away, nor do you step back or to the side. Instead you step in, towards the attacker, while turning (kawasu) your body to avoid the attack.

In practice, the distance between the attacker and defender should be about ninety centimeters, so that if the defender does not step in to avoid the attack, he will surely be struck. This is therefore real practice in maai. It is a drill in close-quarter fighting where you must quickly read your opponent’s decision to attack.

In a fight, interaction is implicit — to do battle with the opponent is, so to speak, to interact with him. The kawashi of Ten no Kata practice, however, does not mean clash or conflict; on the contrary, it means to pass by or cross through one’s opponent without the slightest physical contact, in other words, to interact, but not in the material realm.

In the practice of basics, this interacting is reflected quite naturally in body movements like the retraction of the left fist to the hip when punching with the right hand. Even in blocking with the sword hand, the opposite sword hand held in front of the chest is in essence a retracted pulling hand

Karate practice reinforces the idea that before engaging in combat, you must first experience kawashi with your own self. In other words, karate is a martial art of self-examination.

In closing, I wish to say that I would be more than happy if, through this book, students could come to understand Ten no Kata as basic training method embodying traditional concepts, such as kawashi, that have been passed down over the years. And I hope that it will help students advance in their practice of karate.

Motonobu Hironishi
President Japan Karate-do Shotokai