Article by Emanuel Giordano

As already known, Funakoshi sensei made several changes to Karate which he imported to "mainland" Japan. Over the years, positions, kata, techniques and principles were changed, with the double attempt to make the Okinawan martial art simpler and more attractive by the Japanese, and to make Karate assimilate to Japanese Budo. Obviously this is a simplification of a more complex issue, but it gives a good idea. Having made several books, articles and videos over the years, it is quite simple to analyze the changes that were made to his Karate, as we have already seen with several articles, including the one related to the Naihanchi (Tekki) kata.

As can be seen from his first book, Ryukyu Kenpo Tode (1922), Funakoshi imported into Tokyo a Karate composed mostly of the kata taught by Itosu sensei, in particular those that were taught at the Shihan Chugakko of Okinawa. It is no coincidence that we find the five Pinan, three NaihanchiPassai daiKusanku-daiChintoJitteJionSeisan and Wanshu (the last two, in fact, were most likely learned from other sources). However, compared to what we know today about the kata taught at the aforementioned school, the Gojushiho is missing. Also, in comparison to the kata curriculum handed down by Itosu sensei, several forms are missing! Focusing only on the kata handed down later by Chibana sensei and other students of the famous master, in fact, the kata Passai sho and Kusanku sho are missing, which were subsequently imported most likely from Kenwa Mabuni sensei's Karate. Although this topic will be deepened in the future, it was necessary to make this premise to create the right comparison between Funakoshi's Karate and that of the other students of Itosu sensei.

UKIASHI-DACHI (to learn more click here)

There is a position in Shorin-ryu which is called both ukiashi-dachi and nekoashi-dachi (not to be confused with nekoashi-dachi Goju-ryu / Shito-ryu).

The stance is slightly longer and higher than that of the Shito-ryu, the feet form a more open angle (approximately 90°), and the hips are also more free to move. Furthermore, the position is more dynamic and less static, as thanks to the use of the legs and the variation of the center of gravity, it allows you to change your distance from the opponent without necessarily having to move your feet (video). Another big difference is the position of the front heel, which is much lower than the Goju-ryu / Shito-ryu nekoashi-dachi. Initially it is taught to keep it raised 2-3 cm from the ground, but over time this space is also reduced to a few millimeters. In some cases, the position can quickly turn into a "shiko-dachi", completely lowering the front foot, flexing the legs slightly more and distributing the weight 50% on both feet (instead of 70% behind and 30% in front). Someone will have already noticed that it is almost identical to two positions that Funakoshi shows in Rentan Goshin Tode-jutsu (1925): kokutsu-shisei (which does not exist in Shorin-ryu) and neko-ashi. To deepen the study of the positions, principles and techniques used in Shorin-ryu: "Shorin-ryu Karate: The legacy of the bodyguards of the king of Okinawa".

As for the changes of Funakoshi sensei, we must always start from his first work: Ryukyu Kenpo Tode. In this book we find only one position with the weight distributed on the back leg, which Funakoshi calls kokutsu-shisei, putting it in opposition to zenkutsu-shisei. It is not clear from the drawing whether the heel is raised or not, and in the description it is not mentioned at all (thanks to Maurizio Barattieri for his help in the translation). On the other hand, there is no trace of neko-ashi. In 1925 Rentan Goshin Tode-jutsu was published, which is often identified simply as an improved version of the first text, the matrices of which were destroyed in the great Kanto earthquake (関東大震災 Kanto daishinsai), which occurred in 1923. However, as already seen in the article “NAIHANCHI OF KYAN AND FUNAKOSHI: NEW REVELATIONS”, actually there are technical differences between the two documents.
As regards the topic of this article, it is worth noting the appearance of an additional position compared to the previous text: the neko-ashi. As can be easily understood from the position of the knees, hips and feet, this is not the neko-ashi of the current Karate JKA / "Shotokan" (which is the nekoashi-dachi Goju-ryu / Shito-ryu), but it is the neko-ashi of Shorin-ryu, even though the heel is slightly higher than it should. It is difficult to understand the reason for this difference between the two texts, which were published only 3 years apart from each other. Did Funakoshi perhaps use the position with the heel-down to train beginners, and then introduce the other as the technical level of the practitioners progressed? Answering this question is complicated, nevertheless it must be emphasized that in JKS / Shotokai kokutsu-dachi is taught with the heel raised a few millimeters from the ground, although in recent decades this practice has been abandoned by some practitioners.
Complicating everything is the photo accompanying the description of the kokutsu-dachi published in Karate Nyumon (1943), where the heel is raised, making it almost identical to the neko-ashi Shorin-ryu. Only three positions are explained in this book: zenkutsu-dachi, kokutsu-dachi and kiba-dachi (which replaces the previous naihanchi-dachi). Also note the change in terminology between -shisei 姿勢 and -dachi (tachi) 立 in the first two positions, as well as the appearance of Yoshitaka / Gigo Funakoshi in the photos. To recap: in this book neko-ashi disappears and kokutsu-dachi is performed with the heel slightly raised. As far as this point is concerned, it would seem a rapprochement with the Shorin-ryu style, where there are no two positions (one with the heel down and one with the heel raised), but there is only one. This book will have several editions, but also in the one published in 1988 by Kodansha Int., a position (deeper and longer) is shown with the heel slightly raised. Modern editions of this book are edited by JKS, but the original 1943 version was edited by Gichin and Gigo Funakoshi.
Finally we have the current Karate JKA (Shotokan) and JKS (Shotokai), which contrast on this point. In Karate JKA we find in fact the kokutsu-dachi with the heel lowered, and the nekoashi-dachi of the Shito-ryu / Goju-ryu instead of the one done by Funakoshi; in Karate JKS we find kokutsu-dachi with the heel raised, and no nekoashi-dachi (except for a similar movement in the last passage of the Hangetsu kata). For the record, it must be said that in JKS, however, nekoashi-dachi is used in Bo kata Shushi no kon.
  • "Shorin-ryu Karate: kata 2" (here)
  • "Shorin-ryu Karate: kata" (here)
  • "Shorin-ryu Karate: The legacy of the bodyguards of the king of Okinawa" (here)
  • "The legend of the masters of Okinawan Karate: Biographies, curiosities and mysteries"  (here)