Kata Kunku-sho Is Introduced To GKR Students At Nidan (2nd Dan)
Kanku-sho seemed a perfect choice to put alongside Shisochin as it contrasted in timing, muscle movements, technique (and the way in which techniques developed their power) and fighting philosophy. Often recognized by its difficult jumps, Kanku-sho follows a very similar embusen (performance line) to Kanku-dai. And like Kanku-dai its a very physically demanding kata, encompassing long, well grounded stances; focusing on moving between these with explosive speed using dynamic hand and foot techniques. It also requires agility, moving in between stances without pause and hosts a number of fast 180 degree turns.
As a Nidan kata, Kanku-sho further challenges a student beyond Kanku-dai as it often combines 4, 5 and 6 techniques together in rapid movement. Students demonstrate self-mastery by their ability to perform fast and explosive combinations while maintaining good form and technique. The kata was created by Master Itosu. Itosu was also responsible for creating the five famous Heian kata.
Kanku-sho was formulated on Okinawa by Sakugawa, who formulated the kata to honour and record what his instructor (Kusanku) had taught him.
‘Tode’ Sakugawa was the first martial arts teacher of the legendary Bushi Matsumura (who became Sakugawa’s student whilst he was a child). Matsumura later became the instructor of Yasutsune Itosu (teacher of Gichin Funakoshi) teaching him Kusunku (which late became known as Kanku-dai). Itosu created the Sho (lesser) version of Kusanku and it was taught extensively by his most advanced student, Chibana (founder of kobayashi-ryu). Later, Gichen Funakoshi also modified it by taking the cat stances and altering them to longer, back stances. He also changed the name from Kusunku-sho to Kanku-sho. On a side note, Itosu also create a Sho (lesser) version of Bassai-dai.
Today, many styles practice both the lesser (Sho) and greater (Dai) versions of the form while some only practise the ‘Dai’ version. In GKR, we practice both the ‘Dai’ and ‘Sho‘ versions of the Kanku kata, but only the ‘Dai’ version of the Bassai kata.
What fascinates many modern martial artists is why Itosu created two new very similar kata from pre-existing classical kata? Once again this has been a much-debated topic. Some argue that as Itosu was famous for being instrumental in the introduction of karate in the public school system, the ‘Sho’ kata were less concerned with combat and more concerned with physical exercise. It is more likely however that he designed the Heian kata to serve this process.
What is more plausible however is that at the time (late 19th century) there were over 20 classical Bo-jutsu (long staff) kata practiced in Okinawa indicating that many conflicts would have involved someone possessing a Bo. Considering that the majority of the bunkai in both Bassai-sho and Kanku-sho effectively defend against a Bo staff (while the ‘Dai’ versions work more effectively in unarmed combat) it seems reasonable that Itosu would have taken the classical kata and, while adhering to the fighting principles within, modified these to train students in defence against this now popular weapon.