Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Wankan: the crown jewel of Shotokan or abandoned child!

Wankan, an introduction

Wankan is a very interesting Kata. It has only one Kiai point in it were you shout extremely and it is also one of the shortest Katas in the Shotokan Syllabus. Secondly it is barley in they syllabus. Many schools do not teach it and many only acknowledge that it is in the syllabus at all. In fact I had been training in Karate for about 20 years before I learned this Kata. We never trained in Wankan as it was rather obscure and most instructors brushed over it, if at all. One year we went to summer camp and Saeki Sensei had us learn this Kata along with Chinte.
I have come to enjoy Wankan a great deal, It has some unique movements in it and it shows a different side of Shotokans character. Its use of the knee destroying movements is very interesting and the movements are strangely interesting and not uniform to the Shotokan "norms".

History of Wankan

Also known as 'Okan' in Okinawa, this Kata's history a relative mystery. The Kata is known to be an ancient Kata and the original version of this kata originated in Tomari village along with Wanshu and Wanduan. It is a common Kata in Matsubayashi ryu, Shorin ryu and was a popular Kata in Shotokan for a while. It has fallen out of favor with Shotokan practitioners due its brevity, however.
The RyuKyu royal family originally practiced Wankan and this is said to have gained its name from this lineage. Originally it was thought to have been introduced long ago to Kodaka Island and then to Okinawa and Tomari village by a Chinese practitioner who used the name Wankan while in Okinawa, this is said to have been Wang Ji. Wankans base system was likely Hakkyokun Ken, White Crane fist. Kodaka Island is the ancestral home of the Ryukyu royals and this system or Kata may have been influenced by its being introduced as a royal family Kata.

Wankans other version 'Okan" is also known by a third name of Matsukaze. Matsukaze is a very popular Kata in other Shuri based styles such as Matsubayashi ryu. The changes in Shotokans Wankan makes it very different from the original and Okan/ Matsukaze or 'pine tree wind', which are both longer and more complex. Gigo Funakoshi was in charge of adopting Wankan to Shotokan and many feel he made the kata short on purpose and some think it is unfinished since he passed on. One such instructor is Balzarro Sensei of Italy who has shown what he calls the unfinished section of Wankan and made the Kata twice as long. This development, while interesting is not widely accepted as accurate.

While the Shotokan version of Wankan is shorter and unique the Shito ryu version is more like the Matsukaze/Okan of Matsubayashi and does suggest that this was not an exchange Kata learned when Funakoshi sent his head students to train under Mabuni. The idea that Gigo was modernizing or 'shotokan-izing' the Kata and did not finish before his death is reinforced by the length of the old Kata and the suggestion that this is what happened by Master Kase.

This Kata or rather Katas have gone by several names over the years, Wankan in the Shotokan family had been re named both Hakko, Hito, Hotaku and finally Shokyu and none had stuck. Shiofu is another name associated but Shiofus Kenji can also be pronounced ' Matsukaze'. Hito means 'wave of flight'. Some of these names were also suggested for other Katas in the Shotokan syllabus when Funakoshi Sensei was changing the Katas names around as well.
Shotokans Wankan has a great amount of knee joint manipulation, catching techniques and unusual movements and stepping patterns. it is very unique from the other more orthodox Shotokan forms and may have been a Kata introduced to show different, non orthodox movements that Gigo was working on.

Notes on Wankan

Wankan is nearly extinct in many Shotokan Dojos. Much like Giin, it was not included in Nakayama Senseis famous works the Best Karate Series. The Kata itself has few movements but still has a lot of lessons that it teaches in that brief time. At one point the Kata appeared to be making a bit of a "come back" and was being taught in seminars and international camps. But the nature of the Kata and the fact that it is not widely available in print made it hard to teach to new students. It has since become a minor Kata in the system again.

End notes

Wankan is one of those unique and obscure Katas that does not get a lot of training time. It is not very popular in the tournaments and it is usually not a staple of any dojo training. Interestingly many instructors that do the Kata also have variations that they have put into the Kata. Kanazawa sensei performs the Kata with no back stances in his Kata series, it is all Neiko Ashi Dachi and no Kokutsu at all. His Kata looks very different from Tanaka Senseis version of this Kata.
Wankan was originally a Kata that was performed with Royalty in mind, if not by Royalty themselves. It should look Regal in its presentation with slower flowing motions mixed in with the odd very fast technique. Wankan does not need a lot of room to perform and so it is a good Kata to pick up if you want to train in a very little area. Its message is also one that is a bit different than the other Shotokan Kata. It teaches a fair number of grappling techniques along with a great deal of hip motion and use of the body for power when not moving.
Wankan is a Kata that is well worth picking up and practicing by anyone that is Shodan or higher. Prior to this level the techniques may not appeal to many and the message may be lost.

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