Tag Archive for wansu

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.

Rockin' the Green Belt

I made green belt tonight! The official title is gokyu, which roughly translates to fifth-level student. Purple and three levels of brown belts are still ahead.

I’m eager to learn my next kata, Naihanchi sho:

It looks like a fun kata to learn and perform, but it also lets me geek out about karate history and my style’s lineage a bit. The last Okinawan in the Shuri-ryu line, Choki Motobu, felt this kata taught everything one needed to know to become a fighter. Motobu in turn learned it from Anko Itosu and Bushi Matsumura, both of whom are important names in almost all styles.

In other words, this is the first kata I learn that many other Shuri-te-related styles appear to interpret the same way we do in Shuri-ryu. Unlike the two Chinese kata I know, Anaku and Wansu, I feel like I could show up at another dojo, perform Naihanchi, and not get a bunch of funny looks from the crowd.

Cool stuff. To me, anyway.

The only killer is I probably have to wait until next week to start learning it.

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.

Blue Belt, Blue Kata

We just finished review week at my karate school, and I’ve officially been promoted to rokyu, or blue belt, in Shuri-ryu. With it comes a new kata called Anaku, which I learned in class yesterday and which I’ll be practicing intensely for the next few months.

You can get a look at Anaku (aka Ananku) on YouTube. Shorin-ryu and Shotokan are similar to Shuri-ryu in many respects, and as such our interpretation of the kata is very similar to what you see in the video. The pattern is the same, but some of the blocks and strikes along the main axis are different. I’ve been practicing the yellow belt kata Wansu (aka Wanshu) for 18 weeks, and there are two adjustments that I’m going to have to work hard to change for Anaku.

First is what we call an augmented shuto uke. This is a knife-hand block, and we bring both hands together at the ear to build tension before firing the block. If you watch the linked video, it’s the slow technique where Shimabakuro moves his hands outward with his fingers straight (we execute it fast like a block, but I’m guessing their interpretation is a scan). In Wansu, this technique is executed from the left side and is used a total of four times. Running a quick-and-dirty calculation, I’ve executed it that way a minimum of 1600 times since becoming a yellow belt, but probably closer to 2000 or more.

Now I have to execute it from the right side. One wouldn’t think such a small change would feel so awkward, but it really threw me the first few times. It’s the first movement in Anaku following the opening gestures, and if I’m not concentrating I automatically fall into doing it from the left. This throws off the entire kata.

The second change comes at the finish. In Wansu, there are three points where you execute a simultaneous oyugo uke (swim block) and punch, then immediately follow it up with a reiken zuki (backfist punch) to the groin. I now automatically flow from the combo to the strike, especially after several runs of Wansu in rapid session, or with attackers. Like the knife-hand block, I’ve probably done that 1500 to 2000 times now.

In Anaku, the swim block-punch combo is the final technique before doing the augmented shuto uke (and a return to the left side) as a scan for more opponents. Furthermore, it involves a 180-degree turn rather than another step forward. This too has really thrown me for a loop.

This is after day one, of course, but it’s a good demonstration of how muscle memory works, how it develops, and how strong it can be. The retraining will probably be tough for the first couple of weeks, but that’s no different from how it felt learning Wansu the first time. It also proves that in a few months it will all become second nature, particularly if I continue to run Wansu with Anaku (which I intend to).

In addition to the new kata, I’ll be learning several new techniques, more self defenses, and some judo. It will almost double the variety of moves I can practice in a workout session, making my home workouts that much more interesting and engaging. This variety keeps me working, which in turn keeps the movements from stagnating. That, in turn, keeps the body from stagnating.

Which was the whole point of this endeavor in the first place.

For those who are curious, there are five more steps before black belt in my style: green belt, purple belt, and three degrees of brown belt. It’s at ikkyu, first-degree brown belt, that things slow down. As my sensei put it, it’s when things “come to a screeching halt.” If I nail every review from here on, I’m looking at about a year and a half before I hit ikkyu. From what I’m told, it could be three to five years after that before I’d be looking at black belt, dependent upon when Shihan Walker decides I’m ready. In that sense, it’s almost like going through a college program, and thus it’s not hard to see why some think the martial arts is a young man’s game.

A lot of people get their black belt and drop out, and there have been several ikkyus in our program who got tired of waiting and gave up. There are several black belts at my school, however, who are as passionate as ever about their karate. They approach their new katas with the same excitement and energy I approach mine, and they still find they learn new things in all they have learned thus far. These are the people who feel that, at black belt, they are just beginning to learn.

I hope to be one of them.

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.

More Advice for Dads

In Shuri-ryu’s version of the Wansu kata, there are three points where the karateka delivers a backfist punch to the opponent’s groin. Specifically, the sequence is a block, a punch, a simultaneous block and punch, followed by said backfist. I like to break down my kata and apply a memory aid to make it easier for both myself and the Midget to learn, so in this case the sequence became as follows: block, punch, block, punch, nutshot.

Simple and a little bit funny, thus easy to remember.

Last week, I’m working with one group on their techniques while Sensei is going through Wansu with a group of yellow belts. He explains the B-P-B-P-N sequence in their proper karate terms, such as geadan uke, augmented shuto, and so forth. The Midget raises his hand at the end, and Sensei calls on him.

He proceeds to tell the entire dojo “My dad calls that the nut shot.”

So begets my next bit of advice for Dads: no matter how much you tell your kid not to repeat something, it’s eventually going to come out.

And with that I leave you with a link to Nad Shot, a greatest hits collection of nut shots from comics.

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.