Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Gankaku: Crane on a Rock


Gankaku is a very difficult Kata to learn. Its turns and twisting motions make balance hard to maintain, and developing good body control is required to properly execute Gankaku. Gankaku is a very smooth and light Kata, using the recoil from the kicking leg to draw the student into the next movement. The movements are light and snappy, but also long and controlled. Gankaku’s name translates to ‘Crane on a rock’ and it truly should give the student the feeling of a Crane standing on one leg defending itself.

My favorite person to watch do this Kata is Brian Dingman Sensei, my instructor’s son. His long lines are perfect for this Kata, his snap and flexibility make the Kata look regal and accentuate the power and speed of the Kata perfectly. The only other person I have watched do this Kata and make it look very effective was Tanaka Sensei on a tape many years ago. In order to make the Kata look correct, a student must understand the tempo of the movements and be able to make their body change tempo and keep up with the long fast movements and then slow down and stretch out for the slower moves.

History of Gankaku

The original name of the Kata was Chinto, which was the name of a Chinese teacher by the name of Chin Tao/Chin Ji. The Kata is said to have originated in the 19th century when Matsumura befriended Chi Tao/ Chin Ji and learned his style of Gung fu. Some stories make Chin Tao out to be a typhoon victim and a ship wrecked sailor. Others as a pirate who lost his ship to a mutiny. Any details past basic info should be viewed as whimsical myths and stories passed on for entertainment sake only.

Both the Tomari te and shuri te styles use Chinto (fight to the east) as a Kata which suggests either chinto or Matsumura taught this to other people from Tomari as well as Matsumura brining this style/Kata to his home town. Many of the more modern systems of Karate use Chinto and a few have taken the Gankaku name. Shito ryu, Isshin ryu, Wado ryu, Shukokai, Shorin ry and Shotokan and its derivatives all use version of this Kata. Interestingly Shotokan does not place as great an emphasis on this Kata as the other styles do.

Gichin Funakoshi Successfully changed the name of this Kata to Gankaku to avoid anti-Chinese sentiment in Japan when he brought his Okinawan art to the mainland. At that time he also altered some of the techniques and the Embusen-path to a more linear lay out, to allow it to resemble other Shotokan Kata and also to meet his new criteria for Karate. Unlike what the Gankaku name suggests, this Kata is not really related to a 'bird' gung fu style like white crane. The style has its roots in the five ancestor Gung fu system, which Chin Tao seems to have known. Chentou or Chuto is also a kata in the Wu Sho Quan or 5 ancestors fist and is translated as 'sinking the head', and the Chinese ideogram refers to sinking the body to protect the head. Funakoshi wrote a famous article in 1914 to explain the ancestry of the kata and mentioned that Azato Sensei did bring up that Chin Tao did teach several people different version of this style, including Gusukuma and Kanagushuku (chinto), Matsumura and Oyadomi sensei,Yamasato and Nakasato all of Tomari, who also learned Chinto. One reason that is given for the variety of interpretations to the Chinto style/ Kata is that Chin Ji was in a hurry to get home to China after becoming stranded in Okinawa. From Matsumura, the Kata was passed on to his student Itosu, who modified the Kata to meet his ideas and practice. It was further modified by Funakoshi, then by the Japan Karate Association brain trust and senior members, with a lot of input by Gigo Funakoshi to include techniques that have longer lines and of course the Embusen change. The alterations that the JKA implemented were indicative of the changes that the JKA were placing on most of the Karate techniques while generating their new and more modern style.

One commonality between all of the Chinto Katas and Gankaku is the Embusen line is straight and the Kata is done while moving back and forth on this line. Also, all of the Kata have the one leg stance and a unique reinforcement of the leg with the hooked part of the foot behind the knee of the support leg.

The Kata is very dynamic and employs a great deal of unique stances that require a great deal of balance, speed and coordination. The unique single leg pivot is also a challenging aspect of the Kata despite the linear Embusen. Kata houses many turns and circular movements. Balance is very important along with Good hip control to make the turns fast and with balance. The attacks should feel overpowering, quick and smooth with a light feeling in the arms. Gankaku is not a favorite of the JKA tournaments because of the balance and coordination required to perform this Kata correctly and create the proper aesthetics. It is also not seen as a flashy Kata so it tends not to be a favorite with junior black belts and students of Shotokan. But the Kata’s many difficult movements and intricate techniques lead to many dynamic applications and can lead to a deaper understanding of Bunkai.

Notes on Gankaku

The Kata is often called Yabu Chinto when referring to the original Kata that was taught by Chin Tao and it appears in many of the original Okinawan styles. The definitive characteristic of Gankaku is the single leg stance. Because this stance occurs many times in the Kata, it requires a great deal of balance and body connection to properly perform this Kata. The Kata is also very dynamic and uses a number of unique techniques that gives Gankaku its distinctive characteristics.

The history of the Kata is a big questionable as it is rather sensational in its presentation. I highly doubt that Matsumura would have been sent out to confront a thief, seeing as he was a court officer and also security for the royals. That would have been left up to the military and or the police, and to send an individual to do that job is also strange. Then for a Noble retainer to train with a Chinese criminal would be very unique. It is more likely that Chin Tao was a sailor that crossed paths with Matsumura and the exchange occurred. Gankaku has not been the most popular Kata for Tournaments. The reason is the balance and body control required. with the single leg stance a single miss step or balance issue will make the whole Kata look sloppy or will bring attention to the issues that a student may have. It still remains dynamic but you do not see it used as a tournament Kata often. In order to guarantee a good performance of the Kata a student can not speed it up as is customary in many tournament performances.

End notes

Gankaku is a very regal Kata, the postures emulate that of a crane standing on a rock observing a threat! The Kata is filled with long lines, lots of single leg stances and a large number of turns and spins. The Nidan Geri is a difficult kick to perfect as well. Some say that Gankaku is built for taller people with long limbs, I would tend to disagree and say that Gankaku is built for people with long limbs and the ability to use their body sharply but with a light feel. The person I think has done this Kata the best that I have personally witnessed is Brian Dingman Sensei of Manitoba and his lines are near perfect and his technique about as sharp as it comes, but he is not a very tall person, so the idea that you have to be tall to do the Kata well, probably would not agree with that. The Kata is perfect for any student that has good balance or for those looking for a light Kata that has sharp techniques but showcases poise and agility.

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