9. To Replace a Kata in Gojushiho

The following is truly a shugyo discussion. Glenn Little from UCSD asked it and I am very willing and desirous to answer it but it may be far from what you are interested in. This is a technical question on what a master of the system does to replace kata within the system when he/she feels it is necessary to replace a kata.

To begin with I must ask this question to set the stage, “why would we consider changing a kata in a system?”

We live in a nuclear age. Karate was created in a feudal age. We have the Internet and computers and telephones. Karate was developed in an age of wooden plows, peasants, knights (samurai) with long swords. We have democracy. Karate was developed in an age of oligarchy and worshipped-emperors, and worse yet military control with frequent internecine wars.

If karate is to be an art it is inevitable that some of the kata fall, while others emerge to meet the challenges of a new age. So if an art is to remain an art and not just a history of an art how can it change? Do we just keep adding to the list of artworks until no person alive can learn what is important? That is what we have done with music. There are millions of scores of music since the beginning of written records. No person can play them all, let alone learn to play them with heart.

We could do that in karate now, with videotapes and computers which can replay a movement over and over. But karate wasn’t developed that way. Karate was developed where the sensei taught the deshi a hand-picked kata, one that the master knew well enough to know that this was the correct kata for the deshi. The deshi learned it by imitation of the sensei’s body actions. Then he practiced it for years until it was as much of him as the color of his eyes. If the student was in a menkyo line then after many years the student developed until he too could create new kata himself, kata which were specific for his own lifestyle, age, place, time and body. Someplace in the menkyo system guidelines had to be developed so that the deshi and the sensei knew when enough was enough, and what followed what in that system. That is the beauty of Gojushiho, and its nemesis.

There are only 54 slots in the Gojushiho, no more. If a master adds a new kata, he must delete an old kata. The kata he will select to delete will be the one with the least importance to his time, place and needs. The Gojushiho system keeps the system trimine and functioning within the needs of the menkyo system. It does not mean that one must not teach, learn or practice kata from outside of the Gojushiho (witness Shihohai, Nipaipo, Hokusuru, Seikenosaihareuki; all kata which I practice and occasionally teach). What the Gojushiho system does is allow direction and limits to the system; it states here is the standard for the student to meet. It does not limit the artist.

So Glen Little asked the following question of me:

If you’ve replaced any of the 54 with yours, which ones did you replace and how did you choose them? If not, which ones are you considering replacing and why?

I can tell all of you that I have never replaced a gyo kata with one of my own creations. The 30 gyo kata were created by someone else. A part of Chintoshi, which is a shugyo kata, I created, because it is a requirement of a portion of the kata, just like it will be a requirement of the kata for sozosha to replace that part forever and anon. When I taught it to the gyo on the first women’s gasshuku (I don’t remember if Ceci was gyo then or shugyo) I had to make a decision, to teach it the way I learned it or to teach it the way that was right (by the inherent design of the creator). If I taught it the way I learned it I would have missed the point of the kata. By design in the shugyo process the student must change the generation movements as time changes and generations of karate sozosha come into the forefront leaving behind the movements (but, hopefully, not the memories) of the older generations. I did what I thought was right; I changed it and Chintoshi remained true to its origin, a shugyo kata.

As for the other gyo kata, they remain essentially unchanged, at least to the best of my ability.

Beyond the 30 gyo kata lie 24 others. (These include Chintoshi.) Of these others I have created Soosei 1, 2, 3 and a few others.

Soosei 1, 2, 3 are kata 51, 52, 53. Each sozosha must create these kata for himself/herself. Until these kata are finished a sozosha’s system remains incomplete. Here, in the Soosei, the name of the kata changes, and the movements are discovered by the would-be-master. He/she always replaces the kata of the sensei before him. If he is lucky he might get to see the sensei’s Soosei, but even more rarely learn them. The kata 51, 52, 53 are always replaced; it is part of the beauty of the system.

Now, let’s say that I have learned one of my own student’s creations, say that student’s Soosei Nidan (kata #52) which she calls Yamahana (Mountain Flower). And say that I find the theme and creation to be extremely poignant. I may want to put that kata into the system I am teaching. Now let’s say that I find kata #27, say its name is Kori, to be less valuable than the creation of my own student. I may replace kata #27 with the kata that my own student created. What happens to Kori? It is lost, perhaps forever, just like hundreds before it. Now kata #27 is Yamahana, and Kori is history.

The last part of Glenn’s question, “which ones are you considering replacing and why.” Shihohai. Why? because it is elegant, to the point, valuable and worthy of note. Why haven’t I replaced one with Shihohai? because the others are elegant, to the point, valuable and worthy of note. Sometimes decisions are really difficult.

I hope I have answered your question, Glenn.