The “other” Gojushiho Kata: A Nakamura lineage contribution to Okinawan Karate

Say It Ain’t So

There has been some written material  in the martial arts literature with regards to the “Gojushiho” katas known in Okinawan, Japanese karate, Korean martial arts.

Okinawa Kenpo of Oregon

Um…not that kind.

Upon first glance, you think “yeah sure Gonzo, one is a short version and the other is a long version- [Dai and Sho].” Variations of these Gojushiho Sho and Dai kata are also known as  “Ueseshi,” “Sushiho” “Hotaku” and “O Sip Sa Bo” among other variant form names.  You can see some  variations  on You Tube here.

Okinawa Kenpo of Oregon

Oh no! No more weird stuff with kata– let me be ignorant in peace!

In addition, you can read in the martial arts literature and on informational sources that this kata means the “number 54” written like this: 五十四歩

All of this information is correct.  Unless you are talking about the kata forms by the same name in Okinawa Kenpo. In fact, the discussion about tournament karate with JKA (Japan Karate Association) referees does not apply to this conversation or topic.  The kata known as Gojushiho Ichi (aka Gojushiho Koryu) and Gojushiho Ni (Gojushiho Chu) have a completely different connotation in Okinawa Kenpo. This is the story of a kata by any other name…

The entire pretext of Gojushiho forms have a unique contribution found ONLY to the “old school” Okinawa Kenpo practitioners.  Now, before you get confused any further, ask your self this question. Do you feel lucky?  Do you feel brave enough to read on?

Okinawa Kenpo of Oregon

See?  All I wanted them was to do Gojushiho Koryu!

There is another kata we call Gojushiho. And it looks NOTHING like the common variation  we see and know in all of the Japanese, Okinawan and Korean art forms.

In Okinawa Kenpo, we have “two” Gojushiho kata like all systems do- however- it is not an issue of semantics or classifications of which came first or more importantly their relation to each other.  Nick Flores, 10th Dan in Okinawa Kenpo relayed to me a clear message when we were discussing the origins of kata in Okinawa Kenpo Karate Kobudo:

“Back in the old days of Okinawa Kenpo we were training for us Marines.. we did not care about the origin of the kata name. We only cared if we were doing the form in order to develop our self defense tactics.  This was during the Vietnam war, this was not for a tournament or trophy. It was for survival.”

Okinawa Kenpo of Oregon

Just another day at the dojo.

What has been termed commonly as “Gojushiho Ichi” (Gojushiho #1)  and “Gojushiho Ni” (Gojushiho #2) are not the Sho and Dai versions of other systems.  The “Ichi” and “Ni” (meaning #1 and #2) are not variant forms of each other- like you would see with the common use of Gojushiho Sho and Dai.

Let’s put it this way for folks who are not familiar with the Gojushiho katas that we do in Okinawa Kenpo:  It’s like saying -Gojushiho #1 and #2 is like saying that Naihanchi #1 and Seisan are the “same “forms. These two forms have as much as in common like fish have in common with bicycles.

Okinawa Kenpo of Oregon

I know there is a saying about fish and bicycles..

To clarify things: The Gojushiho kata I refer to will be referred to there more traditional names- Gojushiho Koryu (this being listed Gojushiho #1) and Gojushiho Chu (this being listed Gojushiho #2). More importantly, I am referring to the empty hand kata syllabus handed down from Shigeru Nakamura  and the Nakamura family.  This is quite an intriguing task I had taken on to figure out the “mystery” and origin of the other Gojushiho kata that we do in Okinawa Kenpo.

If you are a martial arts nerd like myself- and like to read about history, martial arts, military or otherwise- I  want to broaden your horizons a little more.

Okinawa Kenpo of Oregon

A Sai designed by Taketo Nakamura, Grandmaster of Okinawa Kenpo.

In the system of Okinawa Kenpo Karate Kobudo- transmitted  by Shigeru Nakamura (1894-1969), there are the “12 empty hand forms” embedded in the Okinawa Kenpo Renmei’s curriculum.  We know these exist in all variations of Okinawa Kenpo. The empty hand katas taught to direct and indirect students of Seikichi Odo, (1926-2002) also included a number of other kata.  These kata were thought to be “outside” the teachings of Shigeru Nakamura.  The forms that were considered “outside” were certainly outside a curriculum at one point in Okinawa Kenpo’s history, but they are certainly not outside the parameters of Nakamura’s family system of Ryukyu Ti.

Okinawa Kenpo of Oregon

Seikichi Odo, my teacher.

There are many reasons that I will not get into here at this time that those 12 forms were selected as the syllabus for Okinawa Kenpo’s  curriculum of 12 non weapons hand forms.  The Gojushiho #1 (now on referred to as Gojushiho Koryu) that we practice is NOT a teaching outside of Nakamura’s transmission.

In fact what we know as Gojushiho Koryu is a “Nakamura family form.”

But before we go into this discussion, I want to share my obsession with this kata with you. Gojushiho Koryu has been on mind for a long time. (To be precise, I think since 1977.)

Okinawa Kenpo of Oregon

What were you doing in 1977?

I have traveled to the Shaolin temple to demonstrate this kata in front of the martial art historians (who were chief instructors of San Sho boxing, White Crane Boxing, Hun Gar and Chin Na curriculum at the Shaolin temple in China),  to ask them where are the roots in this form.  I have asked Northern and Southern Chinese martial arts practitioners while visiting China on my medical rotations.  These teachers were from cities in China that included martial arts experts in Shanghai, Shandong, Guangzhou, Anhui, Shan Xi and other provinces of China. I have been “all over” Okinawa to demo this kata to over a dozen Okinawan senior sensei.  Sadly most of them have passed away in the last 10-15 years.  These sensei were attempting  to help me figure out what “style” this kata originates.

Okinawa Kenpo of Oregon

This is the late Shimpo Matayoshi, a member of the Okinawa Kenpo Renmei.

Most of the time after finishing the form, in true Okinawan fashion a heated discussion would ensue that had nothing to do with the kata form and everything to do with what ever happened to the roots of Okinawan karate and it’s culture.While these discussion over tea, sake’ or some interesting other alcoholic beverage were great, it was always the answer was always same. “You should ask someone like ..” Which usually would flow into a conversation if this elderly individual who they referenced was still alive and when was the last time they visited them.

Taketo Nakamura, Grandmaster of Okinawa Kenpo finally helped me understand the “Mystery of the Gojushiho,” both providing me insight to a deeper understanding of Okinawa Kenpo as a lineage system but also Okinawan Karate and how much has been lost.

GoJuShiHo Koryu

This is an example of the Gojushiho kata. I like the video because it also has a fantastic background to do kata in.  Wonderful imagery. You can see the video by clicking here.

Okinawa Kenpo of Oregon

The Traditional Flag of Okinawa

Notice this is RADICALLY DIFFERENT than the other karate kata form(s) known as “Gojushiho.”  Taketo Nakamura says that every town or village at one time had three or four different Gojushiho “types” of kata.  He continues by saying this is what they called these unique Gojushiho forms.  According to Taketo Nakamura, the meaning can be said to be that Goju (剛柔) means “hard and soft” and ShiHo (四方) means “four directions, or “all directions.”  This means that the “hard” techniques were “strikes” and soft techniques were “grabs.”  The illustration of the four directions were multiple attacks from a 360 perimeter around the person.

The GoJuShiHo concept is about attacks from any direction, under a multiple opponent environment.  Many forms that have been named as such have been lost to antiquity more so in this case war torn Okinawa.  Nakamura sensei stated that he knew of seven or eight types of Gojushiho when he was growing up in the north, (Nago, Okinawa.)  We are lucky to have a surviving Gojushiho Koryu form in Okinawa Kenpo.  Our goal is to continue to spread this tradition to bring karate to it’s rightful place as an art of life protection.

6 responses to “The “other” Gojushiho Kata: A Nakamura lineage contribution to Okinawan Karate

  1. Thanks a lot for the teaching Sensei. Osu

  2. Hello, Mr. Flores! I discovered your blog through a posting in the Okinawa Kenpo Information Exchange through Facebook. I really enjoyed this post as I am also an Okinawa Kenpo practitioner and have always wondered why our Gojushiho kata are different from the other main styles of karate. Thank you for sharing your knowledge; I really learned a lot about the origins of these kata.

    Also, I was pleasantly surprised to see the link you posted to the video illustrating Gojushiho Ichi was my video that I uploaded on YouTube! Thanks for referencing it. It’s one of my most favorite kata.

    I look forward to reading all your other posts and also look forward to more posts in the future.

  3. Could you provide some deeper analysis corresponding with Taketo Sensei’s assertion that this is a family form? You mentioned previously that Mitsuo Kakazu and Kinjo Seiko confirmed that information, so it would be useful to know more about how/when it was discussed.

    The bulk of Shigeru Sensei’s (first name used for clarity) family practice appears to have occurred earlier on in his life. Was this something he picked up that early, or did he remain connected with other family members who also trained and learned it later in life?

    Also, Dean Stephens suggested that the form may have been passed down by Shinkichi Kuniyoshi (information he gained during a discussion he had with Taketo Nakamura Sensei). Do you believe Kuniyoshi Sensei was involved at all in it’s development? Conversely, why do you suspect Odo Sensei reported that he learned this kata from Matayoshi Shinpo? Is it possible Matayoshi learned it from Nakamura, who then passed it on to Odo Sensei?

    Thanks for your continued exploration of this unique kata!

    • Hi Matt, thanks for your feedback. Taketo Nakamura’s information was confirmed by four independent sources: interviews I conducted with Mitsui Kakazu; interviews I conducted with Kinjo Seiko; interviews I conducted with Tetsuhiro Hokama, (the “Okinawa Karate Museum” guy) and an interviews with Seigo Nakamoto, a contemporary of Shigeru Nakamura. I remember we brought Nakamto sensei to the dojo in Agena during one of the chief instructor meetings- my dad was the only gaijin who attended those meetings and on several occasions. Nakamoto lived in Naha. I discussed topic of origin of Gojushiho Koryu at length with both Dean Stephens and the late Larry Gradolf. Taketo Nakamura says that his grand uncle Toichi Nakamura was the one who taught this form to many Okinawan sensei from all over the island as island as well as people who lived on Hama Higa Ji and as far south as Zamami Ji. I know Toichi Nakamura traveled to China as well as Manchuria during the 1880s and has some connection to several exchanges both financial and martial arts. He had helped a number of martial artists leave China during the time leading up to the Boxer Rebellion the late 1890s. I know that Kuniyoshi knew Toichi Nakamura, Keichi Nakamura and Shoji Nakamura and knew of their kobudo expertise. So who knows? I know that it is more than likely Nakamura taught Matayoshi and Matayoshi taught Odo sensei. I know it is not a Matayoshi family form (from Kakazu sensei, even though Kakazu Sensei knew Gojushiho Koryu and did a demo for me- way cool on that for me in 2001.) I interviewed several Matayoshi family members in 2010 in Okinawa and they were very gracious on their knowledge of certain kata family forms. To the best of their knowledge, they had several animal forms most which they did not teach to the public (read: no foreigners). They did teach Gojushiho Koryu and did not recognize it as a family form and they regarded it as a Nakamura form. That is what I know to the best of my knowledge so far. There is a similar form originating in Cheng Du Province but it has weaponary associated with it with identical movement. So I teach that as part of my KiTe- Kishigi and Bunkai applications.

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