Funakoshi's "Shorin" and "Shorei"

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Funakoshi's "Shorin" and "Shorei"

Postby HanshiClayton » Mon May 25, 2009 8:52 am

The final draft of Shotokan's Secret, the First Edition contained a lengthy analysis of Funakoshi's "Shorin" and "Shorei" kata. It was too technical and too dry, so the editors persuaded me to remove it. Here it is.

In all of Shotokan, there is probably no area where there has been more heat and less light than in the classification of Shotokan’s “Shorin” and “Shorei” katas. Funakoshi started the furor by making some enigmatic comments in Karate-Do Kyohan: The Master Text to the effect that small, quick people make a good impression with “Shorin” katas, while thick, heavy people look good doing “Shorei” katas. Then he made a short list of a few katas he thought belonged to each group. Funakoshi would be appalled at the controversy this short passage has created.

The problem is that people can’t make sense of his examples. He said the Heians, Bassai, Kanku and Empi were Shorin, while the Tekkis, Hangetsu, Jitte and Jion were Shorei. He didn’t mention the remaining katas. Funakoshi intended this as a casual remark, and didn’t explain in any detail.

To make matters worse, Funakoshi had made a previous attempt to partition the katas in his earlier work, Tote Jutsu. In the earlier treatment, he put Empi on the Shorei list, and Jitte on the Shorin list. His lists are inconsistent.

People often try to sort out Shotokan’s Shorin and Shorei katas based on what town the kata came from, but that doesn’t work. As we know, the terms Shorin and Shorei are used to denote the difference between Shuri-te and Naha-te. If the world were an orderly place, Shotokan’s Shorin katas would have come from Itosu at Shuri and the Shorei katas would have come from Higaonna at Naha. This approach looks promising as long as you look at the Shorin katas only, because they all come from Itosu.

When you look at the “Shorei” katas Funakoshi mentioned, the picture unravels. The “Shorei” katas all come from Itosu, too. All Okinawan styles do a version of Hangetsu (Seisan), so that isn’t exclusively Shorin or Shorei. Naihanshi (Tekki), Jitte and Jion are katas found only in Shorin styles. The Naha styles have never practiced these katas. How could they be Shorei?

Having failed to sort the katas by city, people then try to sort out the katas based on which country they originally came from. “Shorei” might mean imported from China, while “Shorin” might mean invented in Okinawa. This works well with Funakoshi’s abbreviated list but it leaves us deeply puzzled. His examples just don’t sort the Shotokan katas into a light/quick pile and a heavy/strong pile. His “heavy” pile make no sense.

When Funakoshi used the terms Shorin and Shorei to describe katas, I believe he was talking about the fighting style portrayed in the kata, and not the town, country or teacher that the kata came from. We know that the big difference between Shuri’s karate and chuan fa is Shuri’s heavy emphasis on linear technique. Shuri stylists move fast and hit hard. Naha/Chinese stylists build heavy muscles for powerful punching and grappling while standing still. This is a distinction we can measure in terms of our linear metric.

Figure 7 3 shows the Shotokan katas and their individual linear metric scores based on kata performances by Joel Ertl, Anita Bendickson, Kenneth Funakoshi and Hirokazu Kanazawa. Looking at this bar graph, we immediately see that there are actually three types of Shotokan katas, not two types. The Shorin katas are light, fast, and full of impact technique. They have very low metric scores. The Shorei katas don’t move around as much, and tend to slug it out with the bad guys using hip rotation and vibration instead of forward motion. They have very high metric scores. Then there are four more katas that fall in between. These are Chinese-type katas that remind us of White Crane katas. They aren’t heavy, muscular katas but they aren’t impact katas, either. They form a third group.


Figure 7 3: Shotokan katas, in the normal sequence of study with the five Heians on the left and the Gojushiho katas on the right. The white bars are the high-impact Shorin katas. The black bars are the powerful Shorei katas (Tekki Shodan, Hangetsu, T. Nidan, and T. Sandan). The gray bars are the lighter Chinese katas that don’t fit either group (Chintei, Unsu, Gojushiho Dai and Gojushiho Sho).

I think this is the distinction that Funakoshi was trying to make. The fast-moving, high-impact Shorin katas favor performers who have fast oi-zuki and tai sabaki technique. There are also heavy, muscular Shorei katas that look great when done with a kind of ponderous Sumo-like power. Unfortunately, Funakoshi didn’t mention the light Chinese katas at all, and he put Jion in the wrong pile. As for Empi and Jitte, he identified them as Shorin in one book and Shorei in the other. No wonder people are confused by this. Funakoshi himself was confused by it.

Shotokan’s Jion, Jitte and Jiin are supposedly based on venerable Chinese katas from the Shaolin temple, (or at least from some ancient Chinese temple somewhere). Most writers classify them as Shorei because they allegedly came from China. Nathan Johnson, an expert on Chinese katas, classifies the temple katas as clearly Okinawan. It appears that these three katas come from Itosu, and are studied only by Shuri-derived styles. If we had the nerve, we could rename the temple katas as Heians 6, 7, and 8, and they would blend right in with the other Heians. They are Heians for grown-ups.

By this accounting, the Heian-like Shorin katas include Bassai (Patsai), Empi (Wanshu), Kanku (Kusanku), Jion, Jitte, Jiin, Gankaku (Chinto), Nijushiho (Niseishi), Sochin, Meikyo (Rohai), and Wankan.
The heavy Shorei katas include the Tekkis (Naihanchi) and Hangetsu (Seisan).

The lighter Chinese-style katas are Chintei, Unsu and Gojushiho, usually considered very “advanced” forms. There is a strong White Crane flavor in them. These katas contain crane-like motions, circular blocks, and a fair number of “pecking” attacks. It is ironic that people consider these katas to be “advanced.” On the evolutionary scale from White Crane to Shotokan, these katas aren’t advanced at all. They are primitive, a throwback to kung fu.

The linear metric makes it easier to sort out the katas objectively, and once sorted, Funakoshi’s comments about the katas apply rather well. The muscle men from Naha really would look good doing Hangetsu and Tekki.
Bruce D. Clayton, Ph.D.
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