February 22, 2023
What does it mean, where it came from, and who created it? Does it matter? Maybe for some ’philosopher’ type karateka who rather spend time to dig its history than actually learn the kata? But in my opinion, when you want to learn something, you need to know at least a little bit of every corner of it.
Thanks to those who created the katas and didn’t leave any notes for us!!!
According to some history, a guy named (supposedly) Kung Siang Chung( Shokugawa’s Teacher) from China brought it to Okinawa. ” Kushanku” can‘t be a name, let me explain why in a bit. Let us see where this name came from. Most people say that the kata came from Sokugawa or Matsumura because they were the top contributor to Shorin-Ryu karate (both Shori-Te-and Tomari-Te), but that is just because of a lack of understanding of these unique styles. If I stick to the name Kanku or kushanku and go back to see what it originally was and how it was named, I need to research what Chinese historian has to say. The original name according to Chinese historians is ”Kwanku”, ”Kwan” which means ”to look up” or ”see through” and ”Ku” means sky, emptiness, or nothingness. We can simply say” Looking at the sky”, because when we start the kata our hands go up and we see the sky through a triangle shape that we make with our fingers. Now we see it can’t be a name of a person. It could be the nickname of that person or simply his title. The philosophical way to say,” Seeing through emptiness”. This emptiness is not the absence of all thoughts but the absence of egotistical thoughts, personal issues, worrying about what is going to happen, and stuff like that. When these useless (in most cases) are gone, the clean /fresh strong awareness kicks in. That is the meaning of ”Kwanku”.
Originally, kwanku was pronounced the way it is now spelled but the modern Japanese language tends to pronounce it without the letter ”W”. Before Funakoshi renamed this kata, it was called Kushanku, the name or the title of the Chinese person who introduces it to Okinawa approximately 150 yrs ago. Funakoshi said in his writing that this kata is more than 300 yrs old. Funakoshi’s book indicates that he was trying to change the name of this kata from Okinawa to Japanese pronunciation, in ”Ryuku Karate Kempo” and ”Retan Jutshu”, Funakoshi’s first two books one of the subjects of karate, he used the name Kosokun for this kata. Why would he change the pronunciation from the Okinawan Kushanku to Japanese Kosokun, and then change the name again to the Okinawan pronunciation of Kwanku instead of Kanku? That just does not make any sense. Question is, do we still have the same version of the kata which was practiced 300 yrs ago? No, we don’t. Kata has changed based on time and the need of people who are practicing kata. Besides Shotokan, the name Kwanku and Kushanku are still often used by Shuri-Te and Tomari-te (i.e. well known style Shito-Ryu).
Most senior karate-ka, like Funakoshi, along with Oshima and Kanazawa said that this kata is designed to face 8 opponents. I think this is just a theory. And theory looks good in the book and in movies, we don’t live in the book or in the movie, but the idea is, to imagine, that the person who made this kata was very tall, with a slender build, was very good at ‘tobi geri’ someone who could take 8 opponents, eight opponents means you can face many opponents. Just a quick note, numbers like 8, 54, and 108 have a deeper meaning in oriental culture, so do not get stuck with the number “8”, it may have a different meaning. Kanku dai is very important kata for Shorin-Ryu. I am using the name Shorin-Ryu because it covers all the styles under it that are influenced by Kanku-Dai.
Kanku-Dai was Funakoshi’s favorite kata out of the 15 katas that he taught and was often used in the demonstrations that he performed in his mission in popularizing karate in Japan. He stated that this kata contained all of the art’s essential elements. I think this kata is the essence of Shotokan. It is a long kata but all the moves are a simple basis. That is why the Shotokan syllabus, is located right after Heians, so that everyone, seniors and who just finished 5 Heians can practice all the basic techniques in one kata. No matter how senior we are, we always need to go back and tune up our basics from time to time and kanku-Dai serves that purpose very well.
Regardless what’s the real history behind Kanku-Dai we all agree that his kata is loaded with simple moves which make the kata very difficult. Note: Dr. Schmesser’s theory, simple means difficult. Oshima sensei said that a shodan student should do this kata at least 5000 times before even thinking about the Nidan test and after the Nidan test, they need to do another 10,000 times. What he was trying to say is that the number is not important, it’s the kata itself.
The first move of the kata is the essence of Kanku-Dai like Kanku-Dai itself is the essence of Shotokan and breathing of the first move is the essence of the first move. According to Oshima sensei, “The opening two moves of kwanku have a very important lesson about breathing.” Breath is during the first move until the arms are at the top. Then as the arms separate, we start breathing out. This way we draw the opponent while we inhale and just before the start to attack we exhale strongly with our counterattack with the fullness of our opponent’s breathing with the fullness of our own breathing. In the sixth move of the kata, we straighten our knees, tighten buttocks and punch immediately, these need to be done simultaneously. The first must connect with the whole body and all must become one, not only physically but mentally as well. This is one way to make “Kime”.
Shuto-uke movement 16, 21, and 36 is different from shuto-uke of Heian Yondan. Look at the connection between the hand and the feet in two katas to study the difference. In Kanku-Dai we rotate the hip completely and strongly, the coordination of body movement is different than in H. Yondan. In the mid-point of the kata we need to duck after Ura-zuki then Ryote Fuse, and the turn with gedan shuto-bari kokutu dachi is very critical, it needs good practice to actually perform it. These are the special feature of Kanku-Dai, kime level is different as well.
There are a few other moves in this kata that are taken out from Heian kata but are not completely identical. For Heian kata, those moves are weltered down a little bit. But the bottom line is, students need to pay attention to those moves and create new muscle memory for “almost the same moves” in Heian and should be able to perform it properly on “auto-pilot” without paying attention to their actions. This allows the expert to focus on technical precision by paying attention to only one detail at a time while the others are maintained through habit forms by long years of training.
Most importantly, all the katas we have contained a lot of information. We need to spend time practicing them and figure out how they can help us to improve our understanding of the particular kata and karate overall.