IMG_1090The following are parts II & III of an article from Sifu in reference to his views on standards for promotion and/or standards for more equitable judging in tournament competition.


Rather than treating Categories II & III separately, it became increasingly clear with development that it would be more expedient to let them unfold together.

When your author began his 56 year association with the Oriental Martial Arts in 1957, it started with 6+ years and a Black Belt in Shotokan, the earliest and largest of the Japanese karate styles–now over 20 in number (some sources say over 70).  Shotokan is the parent style of the founding father of Japanese karate, Gichin Funakoshi, and was established in 1917 – a history obviously less than 100 years old in sharp contrast to the evolution of kung-fu which could exceed 3,500 years in formulation!  Despite books written to the contrary, kung-fu did NOT originate at the Shaolin Monastery in Honan Province in N. China coincident with the arrival of an Indian Kshatriya class Chan Buddhist monk named Bodhidarma (circa 481-557 A.D.) and known to the Chinese as Pu-Ti-Ta-Mo (short to Tamo/Damo, etc.).  In point of fact, rudimentary elements of kung-fu may well exceed 35 centuries of continual development as its oldest system, Shuai Chiao, has grappling techniques depicted on turtle shells that early!

The stark contrast in the time of origination between the Chinese systems and that of the karate styles accounts for both the great quantity and variety differential that exists, as well as the prominent and unusual ‘stylizations’ so characteristic of only kung-fu–the latter due in large measure to basing the design of hundreds of fighting forms on a wide cross-section of animal life (so that mantis looks nothing like crane, snake looks nothing like tiger, monkey looks nothing like dragon, etc.–alone a facet which accounts for manifold distinctions in the components [basics] of the Art).

The actual scope of the vast difference between the manifold dissimilarities intrinsic to kung-fu as opposed to the commonalities evident in the karate styles is hard to envision until either long term training has been received or an extensive investigation is conducted to form the concept from study.  The quantitative issues are easy to perceive – i.e., every style of karate can tabulate the number of katas or exercise programs it has available for teaching, whereas the larger kung-fu systems would find this problematic at best, totally impossible at worst!  All of the karate styles put together probably don’t have more than 150-200 original katas between them; conversely, kung-fu’s Choy Li Fut, for example, has that many forms by itself, not to consider that the number of formal sets in the Chinese systems generally are literally innumerable – certainly, there are many thousands!

As a further representation of this, Shotokan has only 20-30 individual pieces of formal material in total, and even then chooses to emphasize the five katas in the Heian series. Despite this paucity of fighting forms, it still exceeds in number what is available for teaching in most other karate styles regardless of national association (Korea & Okinawa).  A typical case in point, Okinawan Isshin-Ryu, has fewer than 20 katas, but primarily focuses on 8 key empty hand sets and regards sufficient mastery of those as the main basis for promotion to Black Belt. Likewise, Korean Tae Kwon Do, while frequently considering ‘karate’ as a negative epithet, nevertheless shares the same mechanics and technique of the broad range of karate styles, and, like the latter, has a limited quantity of formal material despite claims to a much older historical heritage.

Before discussing qualitative differences, there are two quick ways to acquire a solid, working concept of the obvious commonalities indigenous to the entire world of karate: (1) Attend one or more major tournaments where multiple styles are represented – you won’t be able to identify one style from another without a scorecard!  (2) More convenient, there was a an excellent DVD produced in recent years called “Masters of the Martial Arts” which describes itself as “The most complete collection of historical footage of masters in the martial arts ever compiled.”  When it comes to the broad range of karate styles which is what it emphasizes (judo & aikido are included to a lesser extent), it lives up to the hype. Purposely not designed for instructional purposes, it is composed of snippets of varying lengths identifying and honoring (usually in performance) over 80 of the greatest masters in history, even including old film fragments of the legendary founders such as Gichin Funakoshi [Shotokan], Jigoro Kano [Judo], Morihei Ueshiba [Aikido], etc..  The DVD includes the highest ranked, most well known, and/or most widely publicized practitioners in Shotokan [Nishiyama, Nakayama, Okazaki, Kanazawa, et. al.], Wado-Ryu, Goju-Ryu, Shito-Ryu, Shorin-Ryu, Isshin-Ryu, etc..  If this comprehensive documentary is watched carefully, even an untrained eye can easily discern the overwhelming similarities; in fact, the resemblance is so close that only experienced students could perceive any nuances of difference.  Indicative of this, two frequently expressed remarks from kung-fu students analyzing the DVD are: “Why are they all doing the same thing?” and “Why don’t they perform any of their ‘advanced’ material?”  The answer to these has already been alluded to – i.e., the fighting styles that have no close Chinese association lack both the variety and complexity so characteristic of kung-fu.

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