Introduction To Kata Hangetsu
Having arrived at Shodan-Ho, you will be introduced to a new kata, Hangetsu. This will be assessed at your next grading (Shodan – 1st dan black belt) along with kata Sepai. While your Sepai was assessed to achieve your current grade, a much higher technical expectation and understanding is expected for your Shodan grading.
Compared to some of your more recent kata, Hangetsu is relatively short and simple to learn (difficult to master of course). It is interesting to note that Hangetsu has a stance used throughout that is unique to the kata, so it is simply known as hangetsu datchi. The stance is likened to an extended sanchin dachi (hour glass stance).
This is a popular kata throughout the world, and unlike most kata which have a history from either a Goju or Shotokan base, this kata has lineage back to both and adapts the qualities of both. This explains why it ebbs and flows throughout between the flowing circular techniques common among the Goju kata and the straight line explosive techniques found among the Shotokan kata. In some ways this almost makes it a true GKR kata as the aim when developing GKR’s kata curriculum was to take the strengths of both systems.
Hangetsu dates back to the early 1700‘s, and is one of the oldest Okinawan kata. It was said to have first been taught by a Chinese martial artist named Seishan (or Seisan – as in kata Seisan), who regularly spent time on Okinawa. Originally known as kata Seisan, the unique thing about this kata is that it developed both in Naha-te (Goju based styles) and Shuri-te (shotokan based styles). The Naha-te version still favour the Chinese version of its originator and maintained the name, while the Shuri-te version had its own evolution and became known as Hangetsu. Not only did the hand techniques change dramatically but the predominant stance (originally sanchin dachi) was lengthened and slightly altered and later called hangetsu-datchi. This stance alteration is believed to have occurred to suit it to smaller practitioners who did not have the body weight to hold a sanchin dachi in self-defence. Note that the people of Naha (Goju styles) were generally shorter and stockier than those of the city of Shuri (Shotokan styles).
It was Gichen Funakoshi who changed the name from Seisan to Hangetsu, which translates as ‘half moon’ or ‘crescent moon’ (the literal translation is ‘han’ meaning half and and ‘getsu’ meaning moon).
Like many of the kata whose names were changed by Funakoshi, he chose a Japanese name that depicted the movements of the kata. The name Hangetsu became an obvious choice as the crescent moon shape shows up in physical form during the kata. Numerous times the leg, hand or body movements follow semi-circular or crescent paths. The final technique is also definitive as the hands (while executing a leg lock or break) form a perfect crescent moon.
What is interesting to note is that this ongoing crescent moon shape shows up continuously throughout hangetsu yet does not appear in the Goju version of the kata (seisan). So at some point the original kata (seisan) morphed in movement to suit its latter name. Looking into its lineage we see that the kata was taught for a period by an astronomer and mapmaker called Peichin Takahara. His fascination with astronomy likely led to many of these changes and it is also likely that he used astronomy as a way to explain the movements behind these techniques.
This kata also contains unique fighting principles such as avoiding sweeps and thrusting yourself forward into an attacker with a block as opposed to a strike.
The standout feature of kata Hangetsu is the stance used predominantly throughout the kata. As it is the only kata that uses this stance, the stance is named after the kata. While most stances will differ slightly from traditional style-to-style (a few inches in length or width), hangetsu dachi can differ quite substantially.
Some styles practise a hangetsu dachi that resembles a zenkutsu dachi (in length) while others will practise one that more closely resembles sanchin dachi.
This major difference occurs for two reasons:
Hangestu Origin: This kata originally hailed from Naha-te (the city where Goju was formed). In the city of Naha, Sanchin dachi was used and the kata was called Seisan (or Seishan). In old Okinawa, many masters trained together and the kata was adopted into the Shuri-te system (the city where Shotokan was formed). The Shuri-te system was not used to the shorter stances and thus, over time it was altered slightly in length and dimension.
The hangetsu dachi practised in Go-Kan-Ryu more closely resembles a sanchin dachi, maintaining the same width but being slightly longer.
Hangetsu Dachi Dimensions
- The stance maintains the same width as sanchin (one shoulder width).
- The front foot maintains the same angle as sanchin (approximately 30 degrees).
- The stance is about a foot length longer than sanchin.
- The back foot is turned out on an angle but only slightly. The feet should not be parallel as the front foot is turned in slightly more.
- The hips in this stance are 45 degrees. This is why we allow our back foot to turn slightly.
- The knees are turned in towards one another however the weight is not centered. It sits approximately 60% over the front foot.