Meikyo, an introduction
Meikyo’s name as a mirror reference is a telling reference. First off the mirror is a special item in Japanese mythology and stories. It is suggested by studying what one finds in a mirror one can develop better character and become a better person. it can also refer to repeating special techniques to seek improvement in the Karate techniques and threw hard work, personal impotents can be had, again with the mirror reference. Meikyo was Nakayamas favorite Kata and he said it had reminded him of a folk dance he knew of, the dance was used to entice the sun goddess Ameterasu to come out when she was hiding.
History of Meikyo
The Kata Meikyo is a combination of the three Kata series Rohai, 'vision of a heron', practiced in the shorin system of Okinawa. Meikyo has aspects of all three Kata, which were similar to start with. The Rohai Katas were a Tomari te style Kata. The Katas were often called Mastumura Rohai after Kosaka Matsumrua, the head instructor and creator. After Matsurmur a passed his Kata on to Anko Itosu, Itosu created two new Rohai kata, Rokah Nidan and Sandan. Some styles, such as shito ryu use all three Kata. Others like Wado ryu only use one or two. Shotokan merged all three and created a new Kata based on the three.
Rohai has been noted to share allot of characteristics with Passai/Bassai and Wanshu/Empi, and it is thought to have been a new example of Matsumuras Karate development. Some Okinawan Historians feel that Matsmura did not create the Kata and that he was passing along the kata from Monk fist boxing (arhat). Kinjo akio and Takashiki Iken feel that perhaps Rohai was a 'Okinawan" way of pronouncing "lohan", the Chinese style of boxing. 'Lohan' is another way of saying 'Shaolin'.
Much of the Meikyo we know and do in Shotokan was taken from Itosus Rohai Nidan and not the original Rohai. Matsumuras Rohai was altered by Itosu as well. In fact it would appear that the Kata matsumura passe down as his Rohai looked more like Chinto than Itosus Rohai. Itosu appears to have altered the Kata and removed several techniques he may have not liked and then created his two additional kata. Gechin Funakoshi, and more than likely his son Yoshitaka Funakoshi, Took the Rohai Nidan and mixed in a bit of Rohai Shodan and Sandan and then created Meikyo. It is more likely that Yoshitaka and the JKA exchange group gathered Rohai from Mabuni and did the changes at that time. The Chinto like one leg position was removed as it was in Gankaku, so it is not out of the realm of reality to think Gichin Funakoshi also did some changing of the Kata.
Matsumura Rohai had several unique techniques, such as the side turn one leg stance and block, and an apparent double punch to an opponent on the ground. Most JKA Kata have removed the Sagaishi Dachi (Heron stance) and not one of them have the Kiba dachi Osai Zuki (downward punch in side stance), that the Original Rohai has. The exception is a variation of the Heron / crane stance in Gankaku and Chinte, perhaps pointing to a link with Wang-Ji and Sokan Matsumrua. When Meikyo was taken and created from the original 3 Rohai of Itsou the crane/Heron stances were completely removed to further change the kata from its original form.
In Meikyo the series of repeated movements done at the start of the Kata, block and punch, are done differently than in some organizations. The original used Gedan barai and Uchi uke. Kanazawas group uses all three blocks in the series, prior to an oi-zuki in succession, Gedan barrai, Soto Uke and Age uge). Gichin Funakoshi used two down blocks and an inside block on the blocks for the sequences. Funakoshi Senseis way seems to have been the adopted JKA way.
Old film of Funakoshi doing Meikyo suggest it was not his son alone who adopted the advanced Kata into the system, but the father. Funakoshi’s version on tape was slower and methodical showing control and use of power. Modern Competition use more dynamic and dramatic techniques to garner points. Another exponent of Meikyo was Taiji Kase. Kase also did not appreciate the exaggeration and theatrical techniques that often crept into Meikyo when done for tournaments. He performed the Kata with economical movements, but stronger and smoother than Funakoshi did. In the old videos Funakoshi showed a light Kata that was more free and flowing, Kases version was heavier and more powerful but did not put emphasis on explosive moves or on overly dramatic movements. Many say that Kase Senseis Meikyo demonstrated techniques of a master and technically superior Karate Ka.
The Kata has many uniquely specific techniques and aspect to it. The use of proper angles is difficult to master and if they are not the Embusen and start point will not end well. The triangle jump is also a very difficult but strategically useful technique, allowing one to move from a position of disadvantage to one of advantage while using shock and surprise as well as an assault to the attackers temple or face.
Some organizations and instructors teach this Kata a bit different. The first block and step in punch to the angles is a down block, and the next two change the down block then inside block for a inside block then the last group a rising block. The JKA however sticks to what Funakoshi Sensei himself did. Do not be surprised if an instructor changes which blocks they are expecting during the Kata. It is very common and one should just flow with the choices, the Blocking after all is arbitrary in this case and can be applied to any thought or situation one can think of being in.
I have always liked Meikyo and loved watching the soft power that was exhibited in the Kata. Funakoshi’s version is light and yet you know he had great power in his movements. Kase sensei, while older and not in the best of health, showed grandeur and power in his Kata. I also like the version I saw in Ottawa were Imura Sensei demonstrated the Kata with precision and a sense of pointed ness with each move. He did not overly exert, but he was not completely with out power in his movements. One had the impression that he was completely relaxed and at the same time would do great damage with his blocks or his punches.
Meikyo is a very difficult Kata to do and look good. It takes many years of training in Kihon Waza and accumulating physical knowledge to make the Kata look proper. It is well worth practicing and working on to learn different key elements of Shotokan Karate, and its uniqueness makes it very interesting as well.