Shotokan Kata: A look inside
By George Carruthers and Charles Gidley
HANGETSU Kata: Part 1
Over the next few issues we will be looking at the various Shotokan kata from a historical aspect and touch on the application/bunkai perspective from the kata itself.
We will start with the 41 movement kata; Han-getsu which may be translated from han (half) and getsu (moon) to mean either ‘half moon’ or ‘half month’ a reference to the half-moon stance (Hangetsu-dachi) used extensively in this kata as well as the semi-circular stepping and hand actions. It is one of the ‘basic’ 15 kata of Shotokan and its movements follow the lines of a cross. Hangetsu is reputedly derived from far older Naha-te kata as taught in other schools of karate namely Seisan (Goju-ryu and Uechi-ryu) and Seishan (Wado ryu) which means thirteen and was modified and renamed to ‘Hangetsu’ by Gichin Funakoshi, the father of modern karate and founder of the Shotokan style. However it is fair to note that in Mr Funakoshi’s text of 1925, Rentan Goshin Karate Jutsu that he lists the kata as being ‘Sehshan’ which we may presume could have been Seishan as per the Wado-Ryu spelling, therefore the name change came after 1925. There are of course many opinions to the relevance of ‘thirteen’ previously mentioned and some authors suggest that it relates to kyushu points within the kata itself and others that Seisan could have been a reference to the 13-day cycle of the moon’s phases, and knowing this Funakoshi named the kata 'Half Moon/Month’. There is also the theory that is was based on an Okinawaan folk dance relating to the tidal changes in relation to the thirteen day cycle of the moon. However, Harry Cook offers some interesting information where he suggests that the name may be related to 30 rather than 13. As 30 fits into the ‘multiples-of-three’ effect seen in other kata such as Sanchin (3), Sanseiryu (36), Superimpei (108) etc, etc.
Of course, the kata and its derivatives, prior to its introduction to Japan, came into Okinawa from mainland China and the Hangetsu kata itself is reputedly from the Okinawan shorei-ryu. According to Harry’s Shotokan, a precise history, the kata Seisan, from which Hangetsu may have in part been derived, was demonstrated at the Ochayagoten celebrations in Okinawa in the 19th century suggesting that it has been around and recorded as such, for a reasonable length of time.
Hangetsu kata itself is known for its focus on discrete breathing (Ibuki) and the emphasis on power and strength under tension, rare in Shotokan kata. The first part is slow and strongly respiratory, stressing the development of the hara where the sequence shares a strong similarity with the sanchin kata. The second part of the kata is more dynamic in its execution and the combination of proper breathing, tension speed and therefore muscle control, helps build stamina, and strength.
As Mr Funakoshi was reputedly taught by Soken Matsumura (Shuri-te), Kodatsu Iha (a student of Kosaku Matsumora of the Tomari-te) and Seisho Aragaki (associated with Goju-Ryu, a Naha-te style) then the possibility of their versions of Seisan being taught to Mr Funakoshi is high. It is therefore possible that he may have taken what he presumed to be the best of the Seisan kata from these three styles to produce what we know as Hangetsu today. This in turn may explain why it is different in emphasis to the other Shotokan kata practiced. Interestingly Mr Tsutomu Oshima of Shotokan Karate of America, is recorded as saying that he found no commonality with the older Seisan kata and Hangetsu and felt that Hangetsu was purely Mr Funakoshi’s kata which may support the concept of ‘the pick and mix’ theory from Shuri-te, Tomari-te and Naha-te. However discussions and opinions abound and such dignitaries as Harry Cook would suggest that the kata has distinct similarities to both Aragaki and Matsumura seisan but is not exactly the same. So what we have left is the kata Hangetsu and its practice by Shotokan stylists. What can be said, is that ‘Hangetsu’ has been an integral part of the Shotokan system since its inception, and is included in the syllabus of all mainstream branches of our style where its distinctive stances and breathing are well appreciated by exponents of the style.
The stance used predominately throughout the kata is hangetsu-dachi. Mr Nakayama in his book Dynamic Karate describes the stance as being midway between zenkutsu-dachi (front stance) and much shorter sanchin-dachi (hour glass stance). The space between the foot positions is similar to zenkutsu dachi but shorter from front to back rather than side to side where the distance is maintained. Tension in the inner thighs forces the knees inwards towards the centre line of the body, which is indicative of sanchin dachi. The lateral border of the feet should be firmly fixed to the floor, giving a very solid foundation but good mobility thus allowing delivery of any required techniques. Moving from one stance to another requires that the torso be erect at all times, coccyx tucked, abdominal in slight tension and feet and legs moving in a semi circular ‘half moon’ format, maintaining full stability at all times.
This stance requires good abdominal involvement which in turn improves the core stability for the karate-ka themselves. Hangetsu-dachi is described as being viable in both attack and defence situations but Mr Nakayama suggests that it may be more favoured in defence situations where the position of the legs offer some protection against attacks to the inner thigh and groin. Accepting that all stances are just moments in time during the course of movement, where tension and relaxation is fleeting within the whole sequence of events, the importance of the stance outwith the kata must rely on personal preference in combat situations.
The next part of the article will touch on specific aspects within the kata and hopefully stimulate karateka to look more deeply into the techniques that they perform. We appreciate that there are those who would argue that the ‘do’ concept of karate is not about either attack or defence, but is about personal progression. We both agree with this opinion, but when training within a martial art, one surely cannot exclude the of ‘jutsu’ aspects, nor be unaware of the ‘martial’ concepts therein.George or Charles are happy to accept comments and can be contacted through firstname.lastname@example.org website: www.jskagb.org