Thursday, August 03, 2006

A walk through the Hangetsu kata with a beginner.

This posting is especially for Mat, my buddy.

I've seen your video of Sei San kata. ( I will comment on it directly on your blog ) I'm hoping to get a video of myself doing Hangetsu for you to see me in action soon.

Yes, your Chito Ryu kata does have alot of familiarity with the Shotokan Hangetsu kata.

I've been introduced to Hangetsu, and have performed it off and on for about a year now. I still feel like I'm just a beginner when I perform it. However, for your interest, I will share what I am thinking of as I perform this kata, and what I believe are the main goals of the movements.

The movement, and development of the stance itself is most important in this kata for me at this point of my training. I'm attempting to keep a strong inner tension similar to a Sanchin stance, and to keep my weight at 50/50 distribution. This is quite a challenge as I move slowly, quickly, shift forwards, and do my techniques during the kata. I found myself tempted more than once to place more weight to the front, or back, but I had to control that desire, and stay centered.. almost the same as if I was sparring. I like to keep my weight centered when I spar. Now the fact that the kata HAS those moments (near the end) when you suddenly go into a backstance makes it very challenging for me. I can feel myself struggling against the weight shift there... and I have to think "It's o.k. now.. I CAN put my weight on the back leg."

The opening movements of the shotokan kata are done slowly. First we take in a quick breath.. very quick! ... and then let out a long, slow, controlled breath with the tightening of our torso as we perform the block/punch sequence. The whole time we are building that rooting feeling, and focus to end with a full powered tension at the end. These moments seem to feel like time stands still. I feel relaxed, and yet totally tight at the same time. Everything slow, and smooth.. almost peaceful.. and then the Kiai point where you do a sudden twirl to face the opposite direction with an explosion of low knife hand block, and upper ridge hand. It reminds me of a sudden thunderstorm lightning strike. You know the moment when everything is quiet, peaceful, flowing, and then CRASH! The sky lights up, and the wind picks up, and the rain sheets in.. it's like that for me. The quiet slow breathing is over.. now the kata demands shifting, speed, and using both hands up front.

The last double punch leads into a balancing act of arms, leg, and body as I turn into a backstance with my leg, and arm up in the air. Even though almost 80 percent of me is perched on my one leg, I still have to feel that rooted down feeling inside to keep control of everything that is moving. Like a weathervane turning in the wind. Again, time stops as I move one foot slowly, almost sneaking it up past my support foot, and then CRASH! another lighting strike of action happens. Front snap kick, down block, reverse punch, and upper block. FAST, and fast as I can.. so FAST that my arms complain about how much I'm asking of them. I can't focus on my arms because my legs are demanding the most attention.. I keep reminding myself "Hangetsu stance, NOT front stance.. Hangetsu". This weathervane turning happens two more times, and then I'm nearing the end of the kata. A crescent kick brings me to the final movement where I slowly pull back into cat stance, and lower my hands into a double palm block. My breath going out slowly, and I can't help but picture the receding thunderstorm grumbling into the distance of the horizon.

I really appreciate this kata for it's focus on the inner tension.


[Mat] said...


I'll post what were supposed to be doing here later.

Busy busy!

[Mat] said...

By the way, before I make a full comment :
That lightning strike image will most definitely help me.

But in the sense that mine will be of waves.

supergroup7 said...

O.K... I'll wait patiently. I can totally understand what being busy is like..

[Mat] said...

OK, here I am, few hours later :)

1- seeing you in a video doing that kata would be great. I still am searching on various verions of the hangetsu/seisan/sêsan/seishan kata. Maybe the timing has changed in shotokan. no matter, I'd be very curious to see it.

2- Lots of similarities indeed between the two version. I believe the other versions with low kicks were born from naha-te instead of shuri-te (Or the other way around). Even between all those versions, you can still see some basics being the same.

3- a year is a lot! and at the same time, it's so little! Your "lightning strikes" have opened up a new thing for me, you have no idea how much so... I'll devellop that later.

4- The stance. Our version of the kata contains the seisan Stance. Which is the primary stance in Chito-Ryu. Zenketsu has been left somewhere around 1930 when Sensei Chitose began teaching for real. He thought it was unhealthy. Efficient, for sure, but unhealthy. I don't remember the specifics though... The seisan stance is the same in terms of tension too as sanchin. It's the first time I've seen hangetsu, but I think I get it. It's pretty much the same. But lower.

5- Being unbalanced while moving - I had the very same problem with seisan. I kept wanting to drop in a zenkutsu to keep things balanced. My trick is to move my ... Arrgghh english word.. wait.. NAVEL. I try to forget about weight distribution. I move the navel. The rest follows. Tell me if it does any difference for you. I can't fully describe it, but having the buttocks contracted while moving helps too. But mainly, The navel. I took that from Kendo. Move the navel.

6-Moves in both kata : Except the upwards block and timing, I believe they're pretty much the same... The point where you twirl - For us, we're blocking sand being thrown in our face. We're on the beach... Which leads me to my next point :

7- The lightning strike. I guess with shotokan roots, it's a very appropriate image, am I wrong in thinking that it is rooted in a forest or something like that? Thunder strike would serve the perfect element contrasting the peaceful forest wind. That opens my eyes a lot. In Chito-Ryu, that kata is supposed to be done on a beach, because Chito-Ryu emulates the ocean (or something like that) and I just got it. The timing in the kata has been changed to reflect that. Waves.

From cat stance: KICK, GEDAN BARAI! (big wave),
Gyaku-tsuki! (other big wave)
Block, little wave.

I'll have to run this by Sensei, but hey, I can't take it off my mind. It's like the puzzle came together.
Thank you very much!

8- "I still have to feel that rooted down feeling inside to keep control of everything that is moving." same here. The Navel. Chinese would say tanden. Maybe you already know that, sorry if you do. Once you wake it up, you can't help but feel rooted.

"Hangetsu stance, NOT front stance.. Hangetsu". I KNOW believe me!

10- "Double palm block"
I'd be very curious to see the bunkai of hangetsu, because I can see that it feels very different from Seisan. Yet, very similar. My head is bubbling! In the end, we block a yoko-geri to the stomach with both hands. In fact, we grab the foot and then turn/break it. Which could be preceeded or followed with a sweep.

Very very very interesting. Very very very very interesting.

Also: lightning stikes, I feel I'd have to picture them in me. The hangetsu stance is great in the way that your feet are. Because of the way you legs/hips are "free" to move. If you have a bag at your disposal, try hitting it from hangetsu and from zenkutsu. Picture your punch starting from your toes. Push your toes, contract on the way up, turn the hips, everything just "goes". you only have to push a little with you arm. The toes do the rest.

Or at least it's what I felt when doing it. I picture water (can be lightning too) moving inside me and leaving through my limbs when the movement stops. If anything's in the way of my fist while it's moving, the water goes in it. Or the lightning strikes. Wrong place, wrong time :)

All those hits/blocks are part of the same lightning strike. Like BBBBBRRRAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAA
(Front snap kick, down block, reverse punch, and upper block.)

You seem to have a very good comprehension of the kata.

I appreciated this very much, thank you :)

[Mat] said...


Seisan (Seishan) kata is named after a famous Chinese martial artist who lived on the island of Okinawa around 1700. It is said that he was one of the greatest karate men of that era. Seisan is associated with an astronomer and map maker called Takahara Perchin who was the first teacher of "Tode" Sakugawa. The kata is also known to have been performed by some of the greatest karate men in the history of the art including Bushi Matsumura, Yasutsune Itosu, and Chotoku Kyan. Seisan is used in many Okinawan systems shuch as Isshinryu, ShorinRyu, and Shurite. However, as with many other forms, the kata differs slightly between styles.

Seisan is said to be the oldest kata still in use. The kata translates to the number "13" or "30" and its roots can be traced back to China. The unique thing about this kata is that there are two quite different versions. The Naha-Te version of Seisan favors the Chinese style and the Shuri-Te version had its own evolution. The Shuri-Te version can be traced back to Bushi Matsumura and includes techniques repeated in combinations of three, open-handed blocks and a defense against groin kicks.

As with the Ananku kata, Seisan incorporates the pivots and head turning action. Toward the kata's midpoint, there is a set of three double blocking maneuvers that can be interpreted as side blocks combined with center blocks. The follow-up movement of the center block is one of the unique features of Seisan. The two interpretations are of a two-finger spear thrust to the eyes, or of an arm grab. The hidden movement would come with the arm grab which would be an overhand punch with the other hand. The foot movements in the form are always useful in getting inside the opponents legs, attacking and destroying his balance.

The Japanese translation of the form, Hangetsu, means half-moon and is derived from the Sanshin stance and hand movements in the form. The stances and hand movements include semi-circular paths.

supergroup7 said...

Yes Mat.. all karate originates from the tanden, hara, navel area.. I'm aware of that. Sometimes things are easier said than done. I have the understanding in my mind, but to I need to help my body understand, and be patient while it learns.

I was not taught by my Sensei that the kata represents a thunderstorm, or lightning. These are the images that are brought up in my own mind as I perform the kata. They aren't the only thoughts.. alot of the time I'm trying to figure out the bunkai, but at this point of understanding, my body is not giving me any answers, or hints as to what I'm doing. So I put the bunkai aside, and I tell myself "My heart is not proud, nor my eyes haughty, I will busy myself not with great things, nor with things too sublime for me, nay rather I have stilled my soul like a weaned child on it's mother's breast, so is my soul within me." ( One of my favorite quotes..) Then I focus on keeping the Hangetsu stance, and on my breathing as I perform the kata.

Thank you for sharing about the sand, waves, and other aspects of your art. I can see that being expressed in your Sei San Kata. I appreciate this window of revelation.

Also.. thank you for the history of the kata. That opens up so many thoughts.

lizzie said...

In Goju-Ryu, we have Sesan (Hangetsu or Seisan) too. I haven't learned it yet. I have only watched my Sempai preform the kata.

supergroup7 said...

Yes Lizzie, I've seen some online video of the Goju Ryu Seisan kata. The versions that I saw were much faster in executing the movements than my Shotokan version. Also, the stance didn't seem as "accented".

Ruth said...

I find this kata to be one of the most fascinating of all. I have seen it performed to near perfection by a 1st kyu (yeap: not a 6th dan, a 1st kyu). And I find that quite inspiring - with this kata, there is, somehow, "time" to reach for your inner strength. I have read that regular practice of this kata can, in itself, work wonders in toning your body - to say nothing of the peace of mind brought about by the breathing patterns required of it.

supergroup7 said...

For me, at this time, the kata that I find most fascinating is the Chinte kata. It has so many mysteries, and odd movements within it. It also has the title of being the "woman's" kata.

I can see how the Hangetsu kata would help tone, and firm the muscles. You sure do contract your body in odd directions as you attempt to do the movements.

I'm not surprised that a 1st kyu could perform a kata more strongly than a 6th Dan. This could easilly happen depending on age, health, amount of time spent training. But I'd bet you a huge amount of money that the 6th Dan understands the kata far better than the 1st kyu, and could explain the main points more clearly with knowledge.