14 April, 2011

Animals of Goju

The Chinese martial arts are well known for their use of animals in the names and design of their styles.  One often sees this in movies where both hero and villain claim a mastery of eagle or dog kung fu.  It seems that animals provided the inspiration for many martial arts.  A great example are the five main animals of Shaolin kung fu: tiger, monkey, dragon, crane and snake.  Out of all of the animals of Shaolin, the one which is most important to a Karateka is crane.

White Crane is a well known style in southern China, and is one of the formative arts which has led to modern Karatedo.  But this is far from the only animal that is extent within the world of Karate.

The crest of Shotokan, for example, is a tiger, although I don't know of any direct connection with tiger kung fu from China.  Similarly, when I asked my Sensei about the animals of Goju, he said that our style, overall, is based on the dragon.  Not that it came from dragon kung fu - crane is still the basis.  But some of the influences for our style hearken back to a variety of locations.  Suparinpei, our highest form, came from the same temple as Hung Gar and similar Tiger-Crane kata and exercises.  So there is a connection between crane and tiger patterns and idealogies, and that has some bearing on the intent of our kata.

As my Sensei explained, our dragon comes from two animals - tiger and crane.  The core kata of Goju can be broken down, as follows:

Saifa - basic kata, learned when you first get to the temple - the "outside the gates" exercise.  Once you were there for a few years and showed that you were serious, you were allowed in to learn the "real" stuff.
Sanchin and Tensho - these are conditioning and breath-work kata.  They involve the circulation of chi, the focus of intent, and precise movements.  Rooting yourself to the earth is a part of this as well.

Now for the animals:

Tiger - Seiunchin, Seisan and Seipai - grounded, strong, powerful movements - you never leave the floor.

Crane - Sanseiryu, Shisochin, Kururunfa - can be more easily seen in the tobi geri in the first, the crane like dodging and ikkajyo in the second, and the quick hand motions of the third.

Dragon - Suparinpei - the combination of tiger and crane in its highest form (for Goju, at least)

Outside of my Sensei, I have never seen the animals or division referred to as the above.  There are a lot of theories about the origin of kata and their connections, but since this was unique I thought it was worth posting.

No comments:

Post a Comment