kushanku

In year 1756, the Chinese expert of the Quan-Fa of Shaolin with the name of Kushanku (chin.: gōngxiāngjūn 公相君) known also as: Ku Shanku, Kosokun, Kung Hsiang Ch’ün, Kwang Shang Fu, Ku Shan Ku, Koshokun, Kwanku, Ko Sokun, Gong Xiang Fu; came to Okinawa, like emissary and aggregate in a delegation of the Chinese army of the Ming dynasty. One along with settled the "36 Chinese families" in the village of Kanemura until 1762, near the city of Naha.

It is known that Kushanku, was one of the experts in fighting art well known that time, being able to overcome strong and great opponents much bigger than him. When Kusanku went of Okinawa he left to a permanent legacy in the Island and several famous students among them Chatan Yara (chin.: běigǔwūliáng 北谷屋良 - 1740-1812) and Sakugawa (chin.: zuǒjiǔchuān 佐久川 - 1733-1815).

Kushanku gave a crucial influence in the development of the extensive art of Te. Nevertheless, the most important contribution was the mediation and introduction of a Kata, named to the traditional way with the name of the “carrier” Kushanku and that had a great influence to the Shorin-ryu and later to the different schools that of started off there.

“Tode” Sakugawa or Sakugawa Kanga (chin.: zuǒjiǔchuānkuānhè 佐久川寛賀 - 1733-1815) studied under the Chinese emissary, Kushanku, for six years. Sakugawa met Kushanku in an interesting manner. He came upon Kushanku one evening while Kushanku stood on a bridge looking out over the water. Sakugawa, acting as a young, rebellious young bully, attempted to push Kushanku off the bridge. As he moved to push Kushanku from behind, Kushanku suddenly sidestepped the attack and instantly grabbed him. He then gave Sakugawa a harsh scolding and a lecture about respecting one’s elders, the point being that karateka need to know “why” not only “how.”

At the time, Sakugawa was studying under Takahara Peichin. Thus, both Takahara Peichin and Master Kushanku influenced the development of Kusanku Kata. Master Kushanku died when Sakugawa was 28 years old. Sakugawa then developed the kata and named it in honor of his teacher. Sakugawa passed the kata to Soken Matusmura, who in turn passed it to Chotoku Kyan, from whom it was taught to Tatsuo Shimabuku.

Kusanku may be translated as “To View the Sky.” The kata is supposedly performed at night and uses many deceptive manoeuvres to confuse the attackers. Referred to as Kanku Dai in Shotokan Karate, it is also part of Shorin-Ryu and appears in both the Kobayashi and Shobayashi systems.

Kusanku is an intricate and lengthy kata. It consists of about 84 movements requiring about 65 seconds to perform. The kata enacts an encounter taking place in a large field at night with numerous opponents. It involves perfecting the ancillary senses of hearing and touch due to the difficulty of seeing clearly at night. Kusanku involves swift stance shifting, low defensive postures, as well as the development of the “sixth sense”.

Kusanku’s requirement of constant alertness and unpredictable combinations bind immediate applicability to kumite. It moves both on the ground and in the air. In the opening movement of the kata, the hands circle in front of the body in a wide arc. This arc symbolizes the moon because the kata was performed at night. It might also symbolize Yin and Yang and the shielding of the eyes from the blinding flash resulting from the splitting of the cosmos.

Through working with this kata and being worked on by it, the karateka develops a feel for oncoming attack, and understanding of distance, and a resourceful relative to response. An Isshinryu karateka proficient in Kusanku no longer over-reacts to threat nor adopts rigid defensive postures physically, psychologically, or mentally. Kusanku teaches the karateka to activate the senses, the employ the mind in sensing danger and devising strategy, and to adapt.

First published on October 9th, 2002