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Paul Herbert 5th Dan
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Shotokan Kata: A look inside

By George Carruthers and Charles Gidley

HANGETSU Kata: Part 2

The information or techniques in this article should not be attempted as serious injury may occur. The text is offered as a platform for debate and is not meant as a training tool.

Application/Bunkai: Kata bunkai literally means an analysis or breakdown of the kata, therefore it is the training in and understanding of the kata and its applications in a manner which accepts that karate or Shotokan in this instance is a ‘martial’ art with all the tools and skills that this entails.

Hand position as performed today.

Within the Hangetsu kata itself, there are some interesting strikes or grabs and depending on your perspective, they can either be simple in explanation such as a block or simple grab or more specific in their target orientation and effect. The latter having a greater potential in dictating the combat process. We will not concern ourselves in this article with the bunkai of the full kata, but stay with some interesting snippets, to stimulate thought and debate.

Interestingly as we look at the hand position in movement 11 of the kata where the karate-ka turns and utilises the open hand techniques described by some authors, such as Mr Kase, as chudan haito uke – middle, sword ridge (thumb side of hand) block (right-hand) and gedan shuto barai- lower knife hand sweeping block (left-hand) the hand positions are in fact open with fingers extended and close packed. It is at this point in the kata that the top hand is used as an open hand strike converting into a pull or grab. Yet in the first pictures of Mr Funakoshi performing the kata in his book Rentan Goshin Karate Jutsu, the hand positions are with only the index fingers open as in ippon-ken.

Hand position, ‘Sehshan’ in 1925.

The reason for this may be argued that Mr Funakoshi, on personalising the kata with the name change to Hangetsu, wished to remove the more dangerous techniques. He may on the other hand, being aware of his Okinawaan background and secrecy which surrounded ‘china hand’, decided to hide within the kata, the more dangerous aspect of the bunkai. Of course, he may simply have changed the kata to reflect his own personal perception of how the kata should be performed without any esoteric rationale other than changing the format of training to more easily embrace the Japanese environment he was introducing it to. 

However, he change in finger position changes the possibilities in the interpretation of the bunkai, some of which we will discuss in this article. Confining our current discussion to the upper hand itself, during the course of the movements in 11, 12 and 13 of the kata, the technique could accurately be described as either a block (uke) or a strike (uchi).

This of course is dependent on the utilisation of the technique within the bunkai considered to be appropriate. To keep it simple, if we accept the first upper hand technique on the turn as a haito uke then we are in the correct position to turn or ‘open’ the opponent to expose certain target areas. However as our research has shown in the past, successful strikes to target specific areas in a moving and aggressive opponent, is also dependent on many other variables and not necessarily easy to execute. However the strikes are definitely feasible if the conditions are right. 

Strike to the throat

Strike to the eye

If we accept the concept of the strike as ippon ken nukite, the target areas are reasonably easy to define, as they are either soft tissue specific where western anatomy is considered or kyusho specific where oriental kyusho/acupuncture points are used. This of course does not mean that there is no overlap with baseline anatomical structures and many kyusho points, which of course there are. The most obvious soft tissue area which is taken into consideration using the trajectory available within the kata, is the eyes. It is no great stretch of the imagination to appreciate the full implication of a quick and powerful strike, either into the eye or the eye socket itself.  Even with the eyes closed, depending on the direction and power behind the strike, the technique could have a devastating effect, at the very least easily affecting momentarily, the sight of the individual being hit.

Further strikes, which may be either specific or non-specific (global) in their target area, are simply dependent on both the rational behind the strike and the abundance of vulnerable structures available in the area. A global strike to the larynx in the throat for instance can affect the upper respiratory tract in general and all that that entails. While more specific strikes to just below the ‘Adam’s apple’ (thyroid cartilage) will potentially have more serious implications to your opponent. Within the confines of the neck itself further Kyushu specific strikes are apparent, which in turn overlap anatomical structures. However these strikes being reasonably obvious and dangerous may have been excluded for obvious reasons.

When dealing with specificity strikes in smaller areas such as the base of the ear just behind the lobe (Triple Warmer 17), where both nerve and blood vessels lie close to the surface of the skin, the target is more difficult to strike if moving but if executed correctly can have quite serious effects on your opponent. However ippon ken has been removed from the kata itself and replaced by shihon nukite within the confines of haito-uke and becomes koko (Tiger mouth) as the ‘grab’ is brought into effect.  This process and its uses will be discussed in the next article.

George or Charles are happy to accept comments and can be contacted through jskagb@aol.com website: www.jskagb.org