Gojushiho Sho, an introduction
The Gojushiho Katas are both popular with tournament competitors because of the snapping movements and the fast actions, mixed in with the dynamic and dramatic slower movements and pausing in the Kata. All of which allow the athletes to show off both skillful acting and also athletic prowess. Gojushiho Sho is the softer or seen as having longer techniques and nicer lines nit eh movements. The Kata itself is a good representation of what advanced ideas the Shotokan Style has picked up from its roots.
The two Kata in the series look very much different and yet share the same movements and lines or patterns. The Sho version seems more advanced because of the longer lines and elongated moves, but I find that the Dai version is a greater challenge when it comes to physical performance. While the Dai version may challenge a student in different ways, the Sho version also has its challenges for any student that undertakes it. First off, because of the longer lines in the Kata it is harder to hide mistakes or weak points. So a student must make sure to practice the Kata diligently and make sure all weak points are worked on till the Kata flows naturally and with out any errors.
While the Sho version is more popular at tournaments I recommend learning the Dai version first then coming to this Kata to make sure that the body and specifically the legs are ready to train in the Kata and work as a base for the body to produce those long linear movements.
History of Gojushiho Sho
Both Gojushiho dai and sho are very close in presentation, more so than any other sho/dai combinations. They follow the same Embusen and virtually are the same timings at points. Gojusthiho Dai is more compact and uses shorter inside tension stances compared to Sho's opposite longer technqiues and stances. Compared to the flowing long and graceful movements of the Sho version of the Kata, the Dai is compact and powerful and uses many advanced and difficult hand movements.
Some references suggested that the Kata came from a form of Kung fu called Phoenix eye fist, but with stronger references saying that it is linked to the Kata Hakutsuru, a white crane Kata. The phoenix eye fist reference does not seem very likely seeing as it does not contain forms that resemble this and the origins of most of the Karate Kata and styles are very closely linked to White crane and little to no information links any styles to the Phoenix eye fist style, known as Yau Kung Mun. Some feel that Hakusuru is a follow up to the original Gojushioho so it would seem that ' 54 steps' is a Fukyuen Kata after all.
For those pointing to the origin in the phoenix eye style they say it originally name was Kaisan and that this form may have been shared with the crane style, to explain its connection in both styles these people say it is a sub style called Black Tiger which was incorporated into the white crane system and lost its independent identity. The Dai version of the Kata is a powerful version of the two with snapping hands and quick pouncing like moves all coming from a coiled like Cat stance. While the Sho version seems to show the grace of the crane in the use of hit wing like arm movements in the blocking and then spearing the attacker.
Allot of sources point to the original Gojushiho or Useishi as being a white crane form however and skip the idea or discard the idea of a link to the Phoenix eye style. The idea of the black tiger style being involved in the creation of this Kata are not discarded. the Black tiger style was a style that was brought into the Crane style and used to balance the systems out. Black tiber was the counter balance to the cranes light and softer movements, bringing a harder and faster style to bear on the new amalgamation. Useishi was the original name of the Kata as it was taught in Okinawa.
The elegance of the Sho Kata is very striking when compared to the Dai version. The first movements is aptly named to convey the elegance 'Ryo Un No Uke' or ' Back of the flowing cloud', which shows that the movements should be smooth and flowing. The modern day Sho is derived from Mabunis interpretation of Ueishi and was more than likely part of the Kata exchange that the JKA had with their Shito ryu hosts at the event that Funakoshi requested with the Shito group.
The modern day 'Sho' is derived from Mabunis Useishi and was more than likely part of the Kata exchange that the JKA had with the Shito ryu group. The origins of Useishi seem to be Arhat Boxing or monks fist. This style includes Useishi as one of its forms along with Jitte, Sanchin, Seipai and other familure Kata. Arhat is one of the styles that has had contact wtih the Fukin or Shaolin temple and borrowed from the crane forms found in that area. The Original Gojushiho, Useishi, also appears in the ancient text "the Bubushi" an ancient note book on Kung fu and styles that has been passed down for many generations.
Their is often some confusion about which Kata is Sho and which is Dai. Kanazawa Sensei uses the reverse from the Mainstream JKA organization and some groups don’t see two Gojushiho Kata at all but choose to do only one as the original was split into two Katas by the JKA. It seems that the flowing Gojushiho Sho is actually the base Kata that the compact Dai was created from.
Gojushiho Sho has a much longer and linear feel to it than the Dai version of this Kata. Some suggest that the Sho version was the JKA or Gigo Funakoshis attempt to Shotokanize the original version tehy used. The Sho version uses much longer stances and arm movements but follows pretty much the same Embusen line. Along with a few minor changes in the Kata, the Sho version of Gojushiho follows the typical Shotokan theories and ideals.
One instructor I trained with suggested that Gojushiho sho was the female version of the Kata and was not just to be done with longer movements but also a lighter more feminine spirit. While the Dai version was male and was to be done with a more physical presence and the energy put into the Kata should be more robust.
Gojushiho sho is a very dynamic and dramatic Kata. The timing and feel of the Kata should be like waves crashing on the rocks. Sometimes very furious and other times relaxed as power is building for the next wave to crash in. The history and roots of the Kata may suggest some affiliation with various animal styles of Kung fu, but one should not focus on that aspect of its history. Treat it as an interesting tid bit to be read, enjoyed and forgotten. I think that the history in this case may cloud the actual beauty of the Kata.
It will take time and devotion to master this Kata, not just due to its length but because of its difficult techniques and unique timing. The first time I was introduced to this Kata was during seminars were Tammy Dingman, Now Heibert, taught us the Kata and showed us several applications. While I was impressed with the applications, I fear that the Kata itself has a bit of a cultural image of being very advanced and many of us did not take up training in this Kata due to that image. This is sad because it is a very nice Kata to train in.
For those that train in this Kata it is very important to start off with good basics, work into the Kata slowly and make sure that you do not create any technical mistakes that need fixing. The more you do the Kata correctly the more you will get out of it. Gojushiho sho is a beautiful Kata and should be done in such a way that shows off the nice lines of the Kata.