The Evolution of Kata

Something I’ve heard a lot about my new kata, Empi Sho, is that it is closely related to the kata Wansu, if not just another version of the same kata. However, the way we run it in Shuri-ryu, there are only a couple of movements they have in common. They share a block/strike combo and have a morote (double) technique near the end, but for the most part it’s hard to see why they’d be labeled sister kata.

Then I recalled some of the varations of Wansu I’ve seen on YouTube, such as this one:

The embusen, or step pattern, through the majority of the kata is almost identical to our version of Empi Sho. Now I can see why they’d call them versions of the same kata.

It’s strange that the two interpretations of Empi could diverge like that, yet the idea that they are (in essence) the same kata as Wansu would persist. I think it’s a good example of how karate as a whole is a living, breathing, evolving entity. A master dies, his students start changing things (or they remember things differently). Those guys die, and their students start changing things (or they remember things differently), and so on.

The core is there. The physical movements change, but the philosophy persists.

It’s strange when you consider how karate — and most all martial arts, for that matter — pride themselves on tradition.

Or maybe I’m still too much of a rookie to expect otherwise…

About Mike Oliveri

Mike Oliveri is a writer, martial artist, cigar aficionado, motorcyclist, and family man, but not necessarily in that order. He is currently hard at work on the werewolf noir series The Pack for Evileye Books.

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  1. Noah L says:

    Hahaha, well pretty much all of us are rookies, regardless, but I will have to agree with you on how kata develop and evolve, and that they are a living, breathing entity. As far as the priding ourselves on tradition thing–of course we pride ourselves on tradition, and we are doing everything with the traditions that WE learned. Those traditions may not be what Motobu learned, or what Bushi Matsumura learned, or what Matsu Higa learned, but they are what WE learned. And besides, it isn’t the techniques themselves that make a kata traditional, it’s the methods that are learned from the kata. Naihanchi sho/tekki shodan have many, many variations, yet they all teach fighting with your back to a wall, sweeping opponents, using your koshi (hips) to strike to the sides as well as the front, using your elbows, etc. Empi sho/wunsu have many different versions, but all emphasize hip thrust and vicious counter-attacks. I’ll stop myself before I write a book on your blog, but you get the idea, lol :P