Monday, 7 November 2011

Kosokun Shio - 'To view the sky'

One of the kata that I am currently learning for nidan is Kosokun Shio. Whenever I learn a new kata I like to explore the origins and history of it. I think this is important because many kata, particularly older ones, have many cultural or historical references in them that may make them difficult to understand or interpret if you are not aware of the kata’s founder or the political/cultural situation at the time the kata was developed.

Kosokun shio is almost an exclusively Shito Ryu/Shukokai kata and is generally attributed to Mabuni Kenwa (the founder of Shito Ryu). This makes the kata comparatively modern (i.e. early 20th Century) but since this kata is almost certainly an amalgam of the kata Kushanku Dai and Kushanku Sho, it‘s roots are much older. We therefore, need to look at the origins of the Kushanku kata to truly understand Kosokun shio.

The Kushanku kata are attributed to ‘Tode’ Sakugawa (b.1733) who developed them in recognition and remembrance of one of his teachers – Kushanku (Also known as Kong Su Kung, Kwang Shang Fu and Guan Kui) who was a Chinese envoy sent to Okinawa around 1756. It is said that Kushanku learned the art of ch’uan Fa in China from a Shaolin Monk. 

Apparently Kushanku was a specialist in ‘night fighting’ and grappling. In Okinawa during the mid 18th century (during the Satsuma occupation and the banning of bladed weapons) military combat usually occurred during the daytime but ‘self-defence’ fighting between civilians usually occurred at night.  It would have been a fairly common experience to be attacked whilst walking home in the dark, perhaps beaten unconscious and robbed. Grappling techniques are ideal for dealing with an attacker in the dark when you cannot see to kick and punch.

Kushanku taught his night fighting techniques to Sakugawa, who was his student for 6 years. There is a story that Sakugawa, on route to China in a boat, was attacked by pirates at night as they approached Fuzhou harbour. The pirates' usual tactic would be to board the boat and throw everyone overboard to drown, thus escaping with the entire ship and any treasure. However, on this occasion, Sakugawa’s night fighting skills took the pirates by surprise. He was able to single-handedly defeat the pirate crew, grappling with them and throwing them all overboard!

It is not surprising then that the Kushanku katas that Sakugawa went on to develop were designed to be ‘night fighting’ kata. The opening move of the kata, where the arms draw a big circle in front of the body, is thought to represent the moon and is to remind you that this kata is teaching you how to fight in the dark.

According to Bruce Clayton in Shotokan’s secrets, the kata has three aims: (1) To avoid being caught by the enemy, (2) To locate and attack the enemy in the dark and (3) To remain in control of the enemy until he has been defeated.  In other words you need to touch the enemy before you can strike them and once you’ve got hold of them you need to finish them off.

It is said that the kata should also teach the enhancement of the senses, particularly hearing and touch both of which would be particularly important in the dark.

As I said earlier Kosokun shio is an amalgam of the two Kushanku kata or at least combines many techniques from both of them. Though Kosokun shio is practised only by shito ryu stylists, Kushanku kata are practised by Isshin ryu, shotokan (where it is called Kanku Dai) and possibly other styles of shuri-te karate.

If you are familiar with Kosokun shio or the Kushanku katas then you will have noticed that they have several combinations that appear in the pinan kata series, particularly pinans shodan, yondan and godan. It is thought that Itosu created the pinan katas partly from the Kushanku katas.
Here’s a video of Kosokun Shio:

Shotokan's Secret, the hidden truth behind karate's fighting origins. by Bruce D Clayton Ph.D
To view the sky:

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John Vesia said...

We don't have the pinan series in Ishhinryu but we do Kusanku. Unique to our style is a sai version of the same form.

The opening move -- hands come up and down in a circle -- supposedly signifies groping in the dark. Another explanation that makes a little more sense is that of someone parting a curtain. Who knows.

A beautiful and challenging kata, good luck with this. Without going into too much detail, there are some very interesting applications found in this form. Well, you'll find out.

. said...

Thanks for your lovely comment on my blog Sue. It's nice to be back :)

Good luck with your new kate. I love reading your kata posts like this one. Something similar to this is a requirement for my Shodan grading (presentation on the history of a chosen kata but kata performace and bunkai). I've started to fish about the internet for information on a couple of katas and it is truly a mine field of information! Always lots of contradicting views and opinions. I guess you need to take whichever makes the most sense to you in how you feel about the kata and how you apply it. It's a scary prospect though (as if knowing all the practical grade syllabus wasn't enough! LOL).


Sue C said...

John, ...the sun, the moon, opening curtains? who knows eh? Looking forward to learning the bunkai on this one, though some of it will be familiar from the pinan katas.

Marie, you've probably noticed its quite difficult gathering information about specific katas. I always think it adds a bit of mystique and intrigue to the kata even if you have to take some of it with a pinch of salt!


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