It has been brought to my attention that some of you do not know what the last e-mail was about; Gojushiho. So this e-mail is a description of the Gojushiho and how it came about. The difficulty is where to start in history (mythology?) of the system. So let’s start with Matsumura in 1811.
Sokon Matusumura was 14 years old when he started training with Karate Sakugawa. He trained with the aged master until the master died in 1815. During those four years he assimilated much karate including many kata of the ancient masters. But he only had four years to learn what it had taken Karate Sakugawa a lifetime to accumulate. The methods of the ancient masters of karate included a fair to high degree of secrecy. It is improbable that Karate Sakugawa taught everything to Matsumura that he wanted to, let alone all that he knew.
Matsumura, however, was to become one of the greatest Okinawan martial artists of all time. He devoured what Karate Sakugawa gave him and he learned a lot even if he didn’t learn it all. Matsumura, according to legend, recognized by 1830 that karate kata themes were so diverse and there were so many that a system of codification was needed. This codification he took upon himself and taught it to his greatest disciples later in life.
Recognizing the importance in his culture of the numbers 6, 18, 36, 54, and 108 (all divisible by 6, an important number in the I Ching of Confucius, and all integrally divisible into 108) he selected 108 as the number of importance to be used in the system. The number 108 in our culture has little meaning outside of being a number but in the orient 108 is far more significant. Temple bells (Jion) are rung 108 times at the outset of the new year. This is a rite of purification. The 108 defilements occurring in the previous year are washed away and a new perfectly clean opening begins with each ring of the bell. Matsumura knew the importance of 108. He knew it represented cleansing. He chose it as a pivotal point for the codification (not yet obvious to you perhaps, but as time goes on it may become more obvious; so let’s continue)…
Going to a buddhist temple in Shuri, or for that matter many other places in Okinawa-Japan, one finds 54 shrines at the temple (108/2 = 54). These shrines do not necessarily represent a god in the western sense of the word, but represent a human character, like say loyalty. There are two sides to loyalty; loyalty and its defilement, or shall we say disloyalty. Matsumura, according to legend, selected 54 as the number of separate forms to be included in the system. (54 X 2 = 108: This number was selected because there are two ways to do each kata; as a young person and as an old person.) One kata was selected to represent an index. This kata is Gojushiho, also said Useishi. It literally means 54. It was, at first, a means of codifying the kata in the system so that each kata had one movement in the kata named 54. There were 54 movements in the kata each movement representing one kata in the system. One movement was a representation of the kata 54 itself. Hence, this rather long kata had 54 movements.
All other kata had a place in 54 (both the kata and in the system). So kata #1 was Suparumpei (or any other that the master put there in his 54). Kata #2 was Seiunchin (or any other kata that the master put there in his 54), and so on. Kata #54 was always Gojushiho.
So the kata are divided into different levels. Some schools list kata as white belt, green and brown belt, black belt and even 5th degree black belt kata levels. Aoinagi karate does this only as an indication of difficulty not as a “you must be black belt before you learn this kata.” On the other hand Aoinagi separates out kata in accordance with the emphasis of the student in the menkyo. The five levels are gyo, shugyo, sensei, sozosha, shihan. (more on this later.)
In the 54 of Aoinagi Karate there are;
Gyo = 30
Shugyo = 11
Sensei = 6
Sozosha = 6
Shihan = 1
Now let me list the kata again and give the number the kata is in the system. Notice the missing kata: 12, 27-29, 30-35, 37-49, 51-53. The missing kata are the shugyo, sensei, sozosha and shihan kata (more later).
24. Nijushiho (Niseishi)
30. Seisan (Sansei)
54. Gojushiho (Useishi)
So, I hope you understand what we mean when we say that there are 54 kata in our system and that we follow a Gojushiho. Many students from other schools will not understand unless you just tell them that there are 54 kata in our system. Then they will usually say, “Wow! that’s a lot, our system only has 18.” Their system may only have 18 or there may be more that the master of the system just hasn’t exposed them to yet. Who knows?