Article by Emanuel Giordano 

In an article published in the Ryukyu Shimpo on 15 July 1999, in which an interview with Miyahira Katsuya sensei (my teacher's teacher) was transcribed, and in particular in the paragraph entitled "Secret techniques of Shorin-ryu", was mentioned a technique still practiced in our school, the Shidokan Shorin-ryu, i.e. the age-zuki. Although the name is the same used in the Shotokan style to describe a typical movement of the Enpi kata, as we will see, it is a different and little-known technique. The poor understanding of this technique was one of the causes - according to Miyahira sensei - which led to the exchange of the Pinan shodan with the Pinan nidan kata in some styles of Japanese Karate, in which today they are known as Heian nidan (formerly Pinan shodan) and Heian shodan (formerly Pinan nidan). We will also examine the kihon kata Shiro kuma of Motobu-ryu, where this technique is also present, although in a less evident way.
In the Enpi kata of the Shotokan style, known as Wanshu or Wansu in other styles, there is a peculiar movement known as age-zuki. Unlike the choku-zuki, the age-zuki is not a straight and direct blow (straight line between point A and point B), but rather must be performed as an upward "parabola". Precisely because of its nature, it is an anomalous tsuki-waza, since despite its name (tsuki = thrust), its "rising" movement makes it more similar to a blow aimed under the opponent's chin, or atta to intercept and lift the jodan-zuki thrown by this latter. It is no coincidence that this last description appears among the bunkai of the Enpi kata, that is, an age-zuki used to defend oneself from an opponent who attacks us with a jodan-zuki. However, this movement, although it makes it a simple technique to perform, does not allow it to be used as a simultaneous defense and counterattack. When used as a defense, a second movement is in fact necessary to be able to hit the opponent with the same hand used to defend, or at least a change of trajectory before finishing the movement, which leads to an inevitable loss of impact/penetration power. Another possible solution is to use it simultaneously with a defense technique performed with the other hand (see drawing), so as to be able to use it as a mere blow.
Much more faithful to the name tsuki, however, is the age-zuki of the Shidokan Shorin-ryu. Also known as age-te, or by the Okinawan name agi-chichi (source Maeshiro Morinobu sensei), this technique respects the typical movement of tsuki-waza, being in fact a thrust. A technique present in the Pinan nidan kata, it seems to be a normal jodan-zuki, except that, in practice, it is a contemporary defense and counterattack technique. As taught to me by my master Maeshiro Morinobu sensei, it must already be trained in the kihon kata ni, created by Chibana sensei and typical of our school, and used to intercept the opponent's arm with a direct movement and, without changing trajectory, thrust towards the face of this latter. Simply put, it is a technique used to deflect the opponent's jodan-zuki and hit him in the face at the same time. Compared to the age-zuki of the Shotokan style, it is a more difficult technique to master, but also more effective. Before you can use it correctly, a lot of work is required with a training partner, to learn the use of distance, timing and trajectory.
The technique was described in the same way by Miyahira sensei in the interview cited at the beginning of this article, and also appears among Motobu Choki sensei's kumite exercises (see photo). Since Miyahira sensei also studied with Motobu sensei, both in the latter's Okinawan dojo and when Motobu came as a guest in the dojo of Chibana sensei, to whom he was related, in the past it has been hypothesized that this technique was typical of Motobu Choki, but the origins are probably to be found elsewhere, as we will see shortly.
As already mentioned, the technique is present both in the Pinan nidan kata of Shorin-ryu and in the Shiro kuma kata of Motobu-ryu. In both kata, however, it is "hidden" within simpler techniques, although it is more evident and functional in the Pinan nidan kata than in the Shiro kuma kata. Before continuing, however, I would like to explain what the Shiro kuma kata is. Over the years, everything has been written about this kata, creating an aura of mystery that could have easily been eliminated if those who knew the truth had spoken publicly, or if they had shown the kata. Unfortunately, some Karate schools still tend to hide informations, keeping them as secrets, rather than opening up to historical and technical comparison with others. When the information is then brought into the light of day, it is often discovered that they were not peculiar secrets of the school at all, but rather techniques also present in other lineages, or even techniques present in the video of some youtuber... This does not mean that I want to say that there are no "secrets" in Karate, but only that many of the things that are passed off as such, in reality, are not. Returning to Shiro kuma, this kata was taught, and probably created, by Motobu Choki sensei, to introduce Karate at Toyo university. Here it was learned and passed down by Genjuro Takano. The kata is present in a text published by a Motobu-ryu instructor. This is an extremely simple kata, similar to a taikyoku kata / kihon kata, or an extremely simplified Pinan nidan (Heian shodan). This is the translation of the introduction in the aforementioned book:
The Shiro Kuma kata: is the original kata taught to Takano Genjuro by Choki [Motobu], and consists of basic Karate movements such as chudan-zuki, jodan-zuki and jodan-uke. The gedan-uke is performed so that a sheet of paper can be inserted between the fist and the knee, and the soto-uke is [performed] by passing over the fist of the front hand. It is common to the 4th movement of Udun-di [Motobu Udun-di] kassen-te. Furthermore, the jodan-uke is not uke, but an age-zuki.
As is easy to understand from the text and photos in the book, there are three age-uke (also known as jodan-uke) in the kata, whose application is, however, the age-zuki we talked about.
As for the Pinan nidan of Shorin-ryu (Chibana sensei's lineage), there are various jodan-zuki in it, the true application of which is age-zuki. Consequently, unlike Shiro kuma, the movement made during the execution of the kata is the same as that made during the application.
According to Miyahira sensei:
The form was created by Itosu Anko sensei, but during the process of transmission to the mainland [Japan] the shodan and nidan [Pinan shodan and Pinan nidan] were exchanged […] The kata [Pinan] nidan was misinterpreted as easier than the [Pinan] shodan kata. The original Pinan nidan is a kata for practicing age-zuki [...] an advanced technique that cannot be mastered without repeated training through actual kumite. In other words, Pinan nidan was designed so that even a single person could practice such advanced techniques. Pinan nidan is now interpreted as jodan-zuki instead of age-zuki, and has completely lost its meaning.
From these words it is clear that since the true meaning of the kata was lost, it must have seemed too simple to be practiced as a "second kata", which led to its downgrading to "first kata", i.e. to "kata for beginners and children”, i.e. the Heian shodan of the Shotokan style.
Again according to what was expressed by Miyahira sensei, it also appears evident that the origin of this technique is to be found in the master who actually created this kata, namely Itosu Anko sensei. The fact that this technique was also practiced by Motobu Choki sensei makes sense, as he (and his older brother, Motobu Choyu) studied for many years with the famous master.
  • "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)