Style sheet

In my last post I mentioned how the execution and entire appearance of kata are influenced and in fact defined by the characteristics of the kihon (basics). I did so on example of the bo kihon set of Ryukyu Kobudo but this applies to karate as well. I made the point that, when changing technical characteristics emphasized in kihon, the technical characteristics of the whole kata change, too.

To illustrate the matter, I used the term “style sheet.” In other words, kihon provides a “style sheet” for a specific school or a specific sensei. Accordingly, kata change according to the habits and contents (=style) emphasized by any given chief sensei.

What I mean by the term “style sheet” is the separation of content and presentation so that any “content can be reused in many contexts and presented in various ways” and that such a style sheet can be “attached to the logical structure to produce different presentations.”

The contents emphasized in the basics are subject to many different influences. Usually, if you want to be acccepted in a school, or you want to do a grading, or you want to win a competition, you have to follow the basics defined by that school.

For example, if you take Tomari no Passai of Matsubayashi-ryu, it has a very specific style that includes footwork, body shifting, rythm, starting and end position of movements, the direction each body part travels from a to b, and so on.

Tomari no Passai of Matsubayashi-ryu

If you compare this with Tomari no Passai of Inoue-ha Shito-ryu, it is clear that it is the same kata, but simply with a different style sheet attached to it.

Tomari no Passai of Inoue-ha Shito-ryu

Of course, Tomari no Passai of Shito-ryu was borrowed from Matsubayashi-ryu long ago. In this example you can realize how style sheets work, how important they are, and that you should consider them when studying (=practicing) karate.

The next example of how to use a style sheet in basics to the kata is from Kobudo. This kata here is “Urasoe no Kon” and it is one of the highest kata taught in Okinawa Taira lineage kobudo (There is an Isshin-ryu variation of this kata, too, but I am talking about Taira – Akamine lineage!). Since it is a 7th or 8th dan kata, and kata teaching has long been neglected for the benefit of basics, most people don’t even know it. Therefore, here is a video of how it has been handed down in Taira – Akamine lineage in Okinawa:

Urasoe no Kon of Taira – Akamine lineage, old Shimbukan style sheet applied to it

The following video shows the same Urasoe no Kon of Taira – Akamine lineage. However, they applied a different style sheet of basics to it. Watch it:

Urasoe no Kon of Taira – Akamine lineage, new Yamanni style sheet applied to it

You see, it is the same kata (negligible differences). They simply applied a different style sheet.

The first video uses the old style sheet of Ryukyu Kobudo Shimbukan. The second video uses the style sheet of modern Yamanni-ryu (I say modern because there is also an old Yamanni style sheet. In other words, yes, Yamanni-ryu is actually just a style sheet itself). Which one do you like better, which one do you think is better for fighting, which one looks more “awesome”?

Now, this kata is “Urasoe no Kon” of Taira – Akamine lineage and it never historically existed in Yamanni-ryu. And actually almost bo and ueku kata the dojo in the second video (Fukuoka Shidokan) does are Taira lineage bojutsu kata. However, the basics (= style sheet) of modern Yamanni-ryu have been applied to them all. It is really that “simple.”

Now, what to do with all that? Well, I hope this little article provides you with a different perspective on kata, how it is performed the way it is, and why, and that you might look into your own style sheet and optimize your basics to your own advantage, and to what you believe it actually means, and so finally that you come up with your own style sheet that then shows itself in the kata.

In the end, and as I showed in the above examples, you can simply change the basics, and the result becomes something almost entirely different. In any case, you should learn the kata and its applications. Otherwise you might simply learn a format, but not the content.

© 2021, Andreas Quast. All rights reserved.

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