04 June, 2011

Arakaki Seisho and his Kata

My Sensei teaches many different arts and many different kata - he is a career Sensei and has a deep interest in a wide variety of arts.  While we are a Goju Ryu school, our history is such that we have influences from other schools.  And in the interest of preserving the kata and their varied applications, we preform not only their kata, but the many related kata.

For example, we have different versions for all of the core Goju kata - I had to have three different Seisan's for my Sandan (there were more, but I am not a hardcore, teacher-type student).  We also have several versions of non-Goju kata - Wanshu, Wanshu Dai and Empi (all in the same lineage).  As a person with some interest in the history of the arts I practice, it is fascinating to see the evolution and changes of kata between branches, teacheres, etc.  Don't get me started on Patsai - we have at least four, off the top of my head, and keeping them straight is an exercise in and of itself.

Anyways, back to my topic.  We had recently begun doing (re-doing for some of us) kata from Arakaki (Aragaki) Seisho - namely Unsu and Sochin.  I had Sochin for my Sandan, but hadn't practiced it in years.  In doing it again at this point I have started to see some different benefits.  What I had thought (at the time of my grading) was that this was another kata for depth but not breadth - a foolish assumption!  Now, especially after reading "Hidden in Plain Sight" by Ellis Amdur, I am starting to think more about this teacher in our lineage, as well as the intent behind his kata.

For those who don't know, or who may do the kata differently, Sochin has five techniques, in the beginning, three to the front and two to the back, which are the same.  But the method is interesting, and different from other breathing done in Goju (and in Shuri-inspired schools, I would imagine).  We inhale, compress the breath and energy twice in a manner that sounds like two terse exhalations, then let the effort explode into a basic strike.  This manner of breathing reminded me of the description in the above named book of Chinese exercises learned by some Bushi several hundred years ago that were incorporated into the highest levels of their ryuha.  Gathering the breath and energy, compressing it and concentrating it - while the application is different in karate, there is perhaps something behind this.  After all, Goju itself is known for its forceful breathing and dynamic tension.

I looked around for more information on Arakaki Seisho, and most of it is either based on the same source or agrees that he was a student of Louhan Quan (monk fist or arhat boxing).  His contributions to karate are mainly carried on in Naha-derived styles such as Goju, but Seisan is a well known kata which, while it has several major variations, is found in almost every style of karate.  Arakaki was Sensei to many of the most prominent teachers of various karate styles and most lineages can trace back to him in some way, at least indirectly.  If his style was based on Shaolin or other monk/temple exercises, it is quite possible that qi gong or some similar exercises were incorporated into that lineage.  It should also be noted that this may not exist in an unaltered form today, as I believe there are no Sensei on Okinawa teaching monk fist - all of Arakaki's students went on to create their own systems.

I should note that many karateka trained and developed methods across their styles.  Yamaguchi Gogen and Nagamine Shoshin would be a good example or more modern collaborative efforts in their creation of Gekisai/Fukyu gata.  So it is not necessary that everyone comes back to a single, easy to trace root.  I just find it interesting and intriguing that I think most can.

Anyways, I have been learning a new kata, called Annan.  It seemed to me to be a mighty coincidence that this kata has many monk-like postures (recognized as either wisdom or compassion mudras, I forget which) just after working on Arakaki kata. 

Edit: I recently found out the information I had googled was not correct, so I have removed it at the request of the original website author.  My apologies for any inconvenience - any spread of misinformation was solely my fault - and my apologies to the original author.

So all of this has me thinking more about the holistic nature of karate, the roots of the art, the founding styles and the teachers, the intent behind the techniques.  What I mean by intent is that one often sees in the Chinese arts that the movements are not just for combat, but also a means to increase vitality, stretch the body and strengthen the various systems (nervous, skeletal, muscular, those pertaining to the fascia and tendons (if there is a name for that, and you know it, pass it on!)).  If monk style is a founding aspect to karate, then it bares investigating and relating the modern approaches of those techniques to ours and seeing what has changed and what was missed and what was improved.  If not, this is at least an amusing mental diversion and a chance to study kata and methodologies in depth.

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