Senshin: The Enlightened Mind

Martial Arts Blog

normrobitza On May - 3 - 2015

61jMh9v39JL._SL1000_Recently, I purchased Shihan Yokota’s second book, Shotokan Mysteries. As with his first work, Shotokan Myths, he takes the reader on a journey trying to figure out some of the things in Shotokan Karate that are different from other related styles. His writings will make you think about the reason we perform certain techniques in our katas and why we are so different.

The first two things in the book that made me think were yoko geri keage and kokutso dashi.

First, yoko geri keage is not performed in the Pinan katas (aka Heian) in other styles. The technique that is usually performed is mae geri keage. Why did Funakoshi change these? Well to start with you have to look at the history of karate and Funakoshi’s involvement.

Prior to Funakoshi going to Japan, it appears that he also performed mae geri for the kicks in Pinan. When Funakoshi went to Tokyo and began to adapt karate for the Japanese people, he changed names, tweaked katas and adopted the judo gi and rank system. This was in an effort to make Karate Japanese and not Okinawan. It was to help the people of Japan to embrace karate and not consider it something foreign as Okinawa had just recently became a prefecture of Japan.

yoko_geri_keageYoko Geri was not a big part of karate before this move. The main kicks were mae geri, mika zuki geri and to some extent mawasha geri and ushiro geri. Remember karate had no use for kicking above the belt. What was the point to kicks that would take you off balance when you attempted to kick high? This is the down fall of styles like tae kwon do when they are used on the street. It becomes a hazard to throw high kick especially against someone else that is trained. So if the yoko geri kicks in the katas were originally mae geri, why were they changed? According to Shihan Yokota’s research, Funakoshi adapted the katas to appease the young Japanese university students he was teaching. He made the changes because they wanted to learn other kicks so he introduced yoko geri. A kick that could be performed both low and high depending on the flexibility of the student. This change explains the awkward bunkai application in Heian Nidan. A uraken zuki and mae geri would be make more scene than a uraken and yoko geri at move #7.

Another change that was made by Funakoshi is very important and should be looked at as a fundamental reason for karate to have developed as it has. Not because the technique is mind blowing but, according to Shihan Yokota’s research, madFUNAKOSHI_Gichin_Heian-Shodan_03e it so Funakoshi could maintain the backing of the Judokan and have a place to teach in the first years of his stay in Japan.

This technique is kokutso dashi. Kokutso dachi as we perform it in Shotokan karate does not exist in other similar styles. Kokusto dachi in other styles is zenkutsu dachi with the karateka facing backwards. An example of this in Shotokan is in Enpi when the practitioner is performing a downward block behind them. In the original katas, the stance, that was performed instead of kokutso, was actually neko ashi dashi, the cat stance! If you look at early pictures of Funakoshi performed Heian Nidan, he is in neko ashi dachi. Then later pictures show him in a shortened version of kokutso dachi. These photos were taken as the stance was being developed into what we know today. So why the big shift?

Well according to the research by Shihan Yokota, Funakoshi had a great deal of support from Jigoro Kano. Kano is known as the Father of Modern Judo. He was very interested in karate and want Funakoshi to stay in Japan and teach his judo students karate so they would have a greater ability to defend themselves. This gave Funakoshi the means to remain in Japan. A roof over his head, food in his belly and a place to teach karate. Funakoshi saw so much in judo that he adapted their gi and rank system for karate. He also adopted some throwing techniques that became known as the Funakoshi Throws. (I have written a previous post about these.)

So what does judo have to do with kokutso dachi and why it was changed from neko ashi dachi? Well think about the short powerful stance being taken against a judoka. For a judoka to perform a throw, he must get close enough to grab the opponent. If you were in neko ashi and someone attempted to grab you, your first instinct would be to deliver a deadly mae geri strike to the groin or lower abdomen. This would put an end to the combat with the judoka before they had the opportunity to set up for a throw. By changing it to a kokuso dachi, it is harder to throw a kick and allows for a judoka to get a decent grip on the karateka. Why would Funakoshi allow for a throw to be set up on one of his students? Well if you think about the importance of making karate look inferior to judo it makes sense. Funakoshi was living and teaching in a judo environment. Japan had embrace judo but karate was the new kid on the block. He had to find were he could fit in and did not want to be heading back to Okinawa without spreading karate.

The adaptions did the trick. We still perform the techniques the way Funakoshi taught and Shotokan karate flourished around the World. As karateka, we often find techniques that just do not make sense but we blindly perform them. The beauty of Shihan Yokota’s books is that he attempts to uncover why we perform them the way we do. I strongly recommend getting a copy of Shihan Yokota’s books; Shotokan Myths and Shotokan Mysteries. They are both available for Kindle at Amazon for a few bucks each or you can order the paperback or hardcover versions. I have only begun reading Shotokan Mysteries so I expect that I will have more to share as I read more of the book.

Recently, Shotokan Transcendence was released and I have been personally assured by Shihan Yokoto that the Kindle version will be available soon.

5 Responses

  1. Reference the kokutsu daChi,

    Where is any of this even partially backed by verifiable documentation and accounts.

    This theory lacks sound reasoning.

    A. Bustillo

    • normrobitza says:

      Thanks for your comment Antonio. The theory is that of Shihan Yokota. He sites the Pinan series of kata in Okinawa’s Shorin-Ryu. Pinan is what the Heian katas were called before Funakoshi renamed them in Japan. Funakoshi took Shorin-Ryu and Shorei-Ryu and combined them to create Shotokan. In Shito-Ryu and Goju-Ryu, the back stance or kokutsu dachi looks more like a front stance or Zenkutsu dashi but the practitioner is facing the opposite direction, ala Enpi. You can read more in Shihan Yokota’s book Shotokan Mysteries.

      • Thank you but let me be more specific on what I was referring to.

        I was not arguing that the stance did not change. By that the kokutsu dachi theory lacked sound reasoning, I meant , “the why and how it came about” that has been proposed recently.

        It is one thing to borrow from another art something one finds valuable and practical, uniform, rank system and even some techniques, yet it is an entirely different matter to change things in order to “appease” and make it easier for an opponent to attack you.

        And actually, a cat stance, with the legs and feet close together facilitates grapplers, wrestlers and judoka to throw their opponent. Moreover, a lead leg front kick has less power from that stance and a front kick can be thrown from most stances anyway.

        The next point.

        Funakoshi was attempting to spread karate on mainland Japan.

        For that to happen, Okinawan karate had to be recognized and respected as a some form of effective art in the first place. it was not going to be respected much if Okinawan karate could be readily thwarted by judomen grabbing and throwing karateka around relatively easily.

        Kano indeed gave Funakoshi exposure and had him demonstrate at the kodokan. Kano was so impressed that he offered Funakoshi to stay and teach at the kodokan but Funakoshi, fearing karate would always be overshadowed if he accepted, he declined the offer.

        Funakoshi had “Difficult Times” early on in Tokyo. He taught and lived in the Meisei juku student dorms and worked as janitor to earn money, and have ‘food in his belly.’

        When the 1923 earthquake destroyed the dorm he taught at the Hakudo Nakayama fencing school.

        Gradually Funakoshi went on to teach at different universities.

        I have read many of K. Yotoka’s ideas and theories and have often agreed with many of the arguments he made in “Shotokan Myth’s.

        But on this kokutsu dachi theory of how Funakoshi may have decided on it, I believe lacks logic.

        • normrobitza says:

          I do not disagree with you. I wish that there was more evidence to the reason why the stance was changed. I thought it was an interesting idea and wanted to share it with those that may not have read the book.

Leave a Reply

Featured Posts

I’m a Sensei!

What makes a person a Sensei? There are a lot of factors involved but what gives a person the ability to call themselves Sensei? Ok, first what does the word mean? Sensei translates to “one who has gone before” or “one who has walked the path ahead”. It synonymous with the term “teacher” but in […]

It is my instructor’s fault!

This happens often, a student or parent complains that the outcome of their testing was not what they expected. The student isn’t successful or gets a low level pass so they blame the results on the examiner or the instructor. Then they either give up, change to a different dojo or different style. The problem […]


Achieving a goal is something that is to be celebrated but don’t fixate on it. As a white belt the main goal is to become a black belt. This is true but each beginner should start off with basic goals, learn how to tie your belt, memorise the first kata and learn all of the […]

2017 IKD World Camp

In 2 weeks, the IKD will hold the 6th IKD World Honbu Camp. The organisation has grown with leaps and bounds over the past few years and recently expanded into Australia. Each year at Camp there has been a theme, last year was kobudo, weapons. This year will have two themes. The Science of Karate […]

Search my site

Twitter Updates

No public Twitter messages.