I have been thinking a lot about the order and progression of kata, specifically within the Goju system. Recently reading an article at Total Karate brought some of these thoughts to the forefront.
I have seen a lot of theories about the order and progression of kata within a system. Since I honestly don't have much of an opinion of the goju kata and their order (perhaps a case of being too close to see what is in front of me), I have been doing a lot of reading. I don't think that this was often written down in the past by others, as I have found scant resources dealing with this topic specifically, and definitely little to nothing from the older masters. I should note, I am still working through some older material at the moment, so there is still hope.
First, let's start off with some definitions. When I refer to order I refer to the order in which the forms are taught within a system. When I refer to progression this is an admittedly loaded term which is bundled with the assumption that there is an increase in difficulty or skill with later forms versus beginner forms.
Now for some theory. Why have more than one form in a system? Many of the arts are founded on a few principles which are supposedly recorded in a core form, usually the highest in the system. This form is said to contain everything in the school - by practicing this form you can see the basics that have been isolated for training specific skills in other forms or drills. For more on this line of thought, please see another post at Classic Budoka.
Another possibility is that the higher forms are more difficult. Perhaps as a beginner you must learn the most basic techniques that will help you survive. AS you progress, you can refine the technique into more subtle movements. In this progression, the later forms are more minimalistic and obviously more difficult. This has a certain logic to it that draws my mind to it - like learning in school, why start with calculus when you don't understand the basics of arithmetic? But logic nor my own tendencies necessarily dictate reality...
Another possibility is that you learn a form or two to gain the skills you need. Then you realize that something is missing, and in your research find it in another form. So you pick it up to round out your skills and strengthen your own weaknesses. So a form you learn later, and perhaps teach later, does not have any inherent difficulty or skill refinement that is a progression from earlier forms, but rather a new set of skills that are equally important for someone with only the preceding forms as a basis.
Here is a fact for thought: some masters reportedly had a favourite kata. I have had favourites at each belt level, and it has changed as I learned new forms. Shishochin at shodan, seisan at nidan, kururunfa at sandan, and now suparinpei at yondan. Does this reflect a modern ADHD-esque behaviour compared to the stalwart and dogged determination of past practicitioners? Or is there perhaps little difference between forms and it is up to the karateka to determine where they should spend their time?
As a comparison, here are the core forms of Goju as learned in my lineage:
- Taikyoku kata - gedan, chudan, jodan (additional taikyoku crop up throughout the ranks)
- Gekisai ichi
- Gekisai ni
I should note that Seipai and Kururunfa are both learned together at Sandan in preparation for Yondan.
And here is a breakdown from Miyagi Chojun in his article Historical Outline for Karate-Do, Martial Arts of Ryukyu:
- Junbi Undo - preparatory exercises for building strength and flexibility for basics.
- Kihon Kata - basic forms, specifically listing Sanchin, Tensho and Naihanchi.
- Hojo Undo - supplementary exercises to develop muscles, bones, ligaments, fascia to support martial activities and explosive power required.
- Kaishu Kata - all forms except the kihon.
- Kumite - where the application of the kaishu kata is unbound from the kata.
The category of kaishu kata is left pretty open, likely to include Shurite as well as Nahate school forms. At the time of this writing, Miyagi was heavily involved with the Okinawan Karate Study Group and there was a lot of agreement between the masters that the different forms of karate were immaterial, they were all one at heart.
I should also note that there are stories from different students of Miyagi that indicate different kata were taught to different people at different times. So was it a matter of flavour of the month (or year or cycle) or was there a method to the madness? Did some students show predisposition towards certain forms than others? And what are those factors, so that we may today know which forms we could study from to gain the most benefit before moving on?
Finally, here is a list of the forms I have seen listed in other schools. I believe this is a generic listing, but it may well trace to a single student of Miyagi.
- Gekisai ichi and ni
Here is a quick list from the Shuri side of things - the 15 kata of early Shotokan, before they started going nuts with them:
- Pinan 1-5 (Heian)
- Naihanchi 1-3 (Naifanchi, Tekki)
- Kushanku (Kanku)
- Passai (Bassai)
- Seisan (Hangetsu)
- Wanshu (Enpi)
- Chinto (Gankaku)
Before completing this article, I broke down and asked my Sensei. His answer was simple. That was the order that it was learned by a sensei further up the lineage, so that was the order it was handed down. While this doesn't invalidate the above, it does put this line of reasoning into perspective. Perhaps it really doesn't matter, and I am making a mountain out of a mole hill. My own studies should continue, despite this information. The way of study is to find your own way?