‘Kanku Dai’ Kata Notes
There has been many stories and theories attached to Kanku dai that I have heard or read over the years; some mystical and some pseudo historical. The basis for most is pretty baseless! Often a story will creep up after an idea is introduced, with good intentioned hyperbole mixed in. The story becomes truth over time or at least accepted as truth by the students and is passed down through the students to their new students or juniors. The truth about Kanku dai is that it was named after a Chinese military emissary. However, The accepted "translation" for Kanku dai is " to view the sky" and the Kenji appears to have been changed sometime before coming to Japan or slightly thereafter to reflect this new translation.
I have been given many explanations for the name of this Kata over the years as well. One was that you are becoming one with the Universe. This seems to be more of a symbolic idea than a direct translation of the name or intent of the creator to go into the mystical side of training. The other, more plausible is that it refers to the first movement of the Kata. The direct translation of Kanku is "to gaze skywards"! This seems to be a perfect explanation of what you are doing in the Katas first movement.
Regardless of the name or its etymology, I put a great deal of importance on this Kata. Not only is it the definitive Shotokan Kata for me, it also holds all the treasures of Shotokan. I don’t like to call the ideas, theories and techniques "secrets", this infers that only a select few will be "told" the secrets! Rather I like to think of them as "Hidden" in the Kata and we have to search for the answers through hard training. The "hidden" ideas that one can find in this Kata are limited to personal experience to date, personal preferences and training time. Once a student reaches Shodan they should start researching and practicing a Kata to improve and further their training. Kanku dai is a perfect selection as it has a vast arsenal of lessons that can be used to improve skill and knowledge.
My favorite Kata is still Kanku Dai. When I first was awarded my Shodan I asked a Sempai, Tammy Dingman (now Heibert) what Kata I should work on. At that point I had already a fair knowledge of all 15 Kata. I was hoping that she would tell me to work on Sochin, or Nijushiho or even Chinte...but instead she told me that Kanku Dai would serve me the best. To this date I don’t think I have ever been told a truer thing in my Karate training. I researched this Kata for four years hard and found that it gave me the knowledge that I would get from studying all of the other 15 Kata by just working on the one.
To "gaze heavenly" or "to view the sky" is truly one of the most important Katas for an intermediate student to study in Shotokan Karate.
History of Kanku Dai
In 1756 a Chinese Military official was sent to Okinawa to serve his government. As a military person he was skilled in fighting and in fact was a Chinese Gung Fu master.
The Envoy Ko-Sokon (Okinawan pronunciation) or Kwang Shang Fu, Began working in Okinawa and soon began teaching a few of the local officals his style of fighting. He did not directly create or pass on a Kata called Kusanku, but rather his student "Tode" Sukagawa created a form from his teachings and passed it on to Soken Matsurmura who in turn taught his version to Itosu Sensei his students. As a student of Itosu Sensei Gichin Funikoshi trained in this Kata and altered the original Kosukon Kata to create Kanku Dai. Itosu Sensei also created Kanku Sho and passed this on to Funakoshi as well.
A second lineage exists for a similar but unique Kata called Chatan Yara no Kusanku, which was developed by Chatan Yara after he finished his training with Kosanku.
This Kata often creates some confusion with Karate-ka when they are looking at the history and practice of Kanku or Kusanku Kata. The Kata often confuses historians and I know that I was looking at it as some kind of link before I was told it had a separate lineage that was only loosely connected to Kanku/ Kusankus lineage.
Kwang Shang fu was a Fukiun White crane expert and the from created from his teachings had many Crane characteristics that have been distilled out of the kata in a lot of the styles in favour of what some would say are more practical techniques. Where and when the distillation occurred is up for debate. The original Kata is the corner stone of many styles that still exist today. Shotokans version is seen as the quintessential Shotokan Kata having all the aspects of orthodox Shotokan in its movements. While it is considered an advanced Kata, due to its length and intricacy, it is a very basic Kata for the most part, avoiding flashy techniques and focusing mostly on basic body movements and techniques.
It was from Kanku Dai that Itosu Sensei began creating his "youth" Katas, the Heians. By extracting basic ideas and techniques from Jion, Bassai Dai and Kanku dai, Itosu Sensei set about making Katas for school children. When one has mastered these Kata the more advance parent Katas should feel somewhat familiar and not as foreign as when one started in Karate. The Heian’s were such a masterpiece that they became the opening Kata for all new students and not just the school kids. But, Kanku dai remains the flagship of the Shotokan style of Karate.
Kanku Dai was Gichin Funakoshi favourite Kata and the one he selected to perform for the first public Karate demonstration outside of Okinawa. Funakoshi did so because he felt that Kanku Dai had all the essential aspects of Shotokan in its movements.
Like Bassai Dai, Many forms and variations of this Kata exist, in Kanku dai’s variations their are two branches with variations on both sides. Today there are four main branches of Kata associated with Kanku Dai; Matsumrua no Kusanku, which lead to Shotokans Kanku dai, Chatan yara no Kusanku, which produced Matsubayashi ryus version of Kusanku, Chibana no Kusanku, which was produced by Chosin Chinbana and passed on threw his shorin ryu lineage, and Kunayoshi no Kushanku, perhaps seen as an original Te form taught to Chatan Yari by Kusanku himself.
The two Kusanku branches differ greatly as the teachings both received were very different. Chatan Yari had spent time learning Gung fu in the past as he was Chinese by birth on one of his parent’s side. He spent time in China learning different styles of Kung fu and Qi Gong (Energy training) and understood the internal aspect of Kung Fu as well as the external aspects. Sakugawa had been exposed to the external aspects of Gung fu on his travels and Kwang Shang Fu spent more time teaching him the External parts of his style and gave Chatan Yari and deeper look at the internal lessons of his style. This alteration in training lessons lead to Sakugawa being taught a far more physical version of Kwangs style which only touched on the more spiritual aspects of Gung fu.
Kusanku/ Kwank Shang Fu died in China in 1790 after having retired from the service of the Ming Government and leaving his post as Emissary to the Ryu Kyu islands. He made a lasting impression on Okinawan Karate, but did not make much of a influence on Kung Fu in China.
Itosu Sensei used the original Kata he learned from Matsurura to generate three Kata. kusaku dai, kusanku sho and the less known Shio-Kusanku. Shio- Kusanku seems to have fallen out of practice and has not been passed on to Funakoshis Karate. Normally this indicates that the Kata had large redundant parts and was not especially favoured by Itosu Sensei in general.
Kanku Dai is a bold Kata, filled with the basic and powerful fundamentals of the Shuri Katas of Karate. Basic and advanced theories of movement and combat evasion and striking and also some very advanced ideas on battlefield grappling are all demonstrated in the Kata. The more linear movements of Kanku dai and the changes to the Kata are supposedly the work of the JKA and Nakayama, but most evidence suggests that this was already in the works when the JKA started to "tweak" Kata. Also the Kata had been passed on to the JKA by Funakoshi Sensei and was not one of the Kata that was picked up after the war when the JKA trained with Mabuni Sensei, a younger Karate-ka that had trained with Funakoshis instructor as well.
Some suggest that a fair amount of the changes to Kanku Dai were the work of Gigo Funakoshi, the son of Master Funakoshi. This is a good possibility, however, from what I have read Gigo was much more interested in creating new Kata or dealing with the "Shotokanization" of the Kata that his juniors picked up while training with Mabuni. That and his focus on changing the very Kihon that made up Shotokan and his short life may have limited his ability to make changes to Kanku dai.
Notes on Kanku Dai
Kanku dai is the longest Kata in the Shotokan syllabus, having 65 movements and it is also one of the most complex and demanding Kata in Shotokan. Funakoshi sensei was said to favour this Kata as it did represent his style of Karate to a tee!
Kanku Dai has remained fairly unchanged since Funakoshi sensei had put this Kata into the syllabus of his new style. Stance length and some minor changes have been put into place, but the Kata itself is basically the Kata that Funakoshi sensei introduced. Over the last 15 years some minor changes, such as raising a knee for a move or not, have been played. Still, like Bassai dai and other Kata, the regional requirements and accepted dojo Waza for the Kata may be slightly different, but a student in Europe doing Kanku Dai should do a rendition that a instructor in Canada can identity as Kanku dai with ease.
Kanku dai is not a kata that should be taken lightly. It has many moves and a lot of advanced theory to process. A student that selects Kanku dai is looking at years of challenge and lessons that can be learned and enjoyed.