Friday, 10 January 2014

Kodoryu Karate and Kobudo Research Group

The Kodoryu group is dedicated to researching the original functions of the antique kata inherited from China as well as examining the history, culture and traditions that gave birth to the methods and ideas of encoding martial arts and practices in forms.

The research conducted by Nathan Johnson and assisted by Kodoryu (formally Zen Shorin Do, Chan Dao ) members past and present began over 25 years ago looking into the Naihanchi kata and Sanchin in its various forms. As the research has shifted course and moved with growing evidence and discoveries Johnson has published several works detailing his findings. The research continues and has expanded into examining other kata such as Seisan and Kusanku which we look forward to presenting in the near future.

It is often commented that the original functions of kata are lost and so there is no point in speculating what they might have been used for, with Karate kata enthusiasts being better off immersing themselves in creative interpretations of the movements which suit their own personal practice and preferences. The obvious question in response to this idea is why not just make up your own kata? which would allow for a fuller expression of personal experience and skill development specific to the developmental lines of the desired function and context. Instead of forcing experience, skills and ideas into movements and shapes originally synthesized for a different purpose. 

It may be true that we will never know exactly what the original meaning of all the techniques in each kata were but the same could be said of ancient languages, an example is Egyptian hieroglyphs, there is fierce debate about the meaning and ambiguity of many of the glyphs and how they should be read but the point is tireless research has given us a very good understanding of a large body of the glyphs which can only be built on and improved. The antique kata did have an original function and it was this function that was the basis for collecting together various skills and techniques in the forms. Once the underlying function is understood the process becomes a matter of working out each movement (technique) within the context and function.

The key to recognizing the underlying function requires a multi-faceted approach, asking a series of questions, many repetitions of the kata itself so the form is literally known inside and out, experimenting with the possibilities of the movements in isolation and in relation to the other movements with compliant and non-compliant training partners. As the information and understanding develops and experimentation continues it is possible to arrive at a breakthrough or series of breakthroughs revealing the function of the form. This process requires the same dedication as any other type of academic research and may take many years to yield results. The hypothesis will evolve as the body of information and evidence grows. It can be a painstaking process, mistakes will be made and it is possible to go off on tangents that lead in completely the wrong direction. I know this from my own experience of researching the kata Kusanku, the direction has changed many times over the years I have been attempting to decode this form which is intensely frustrating and at times daunting. Finally having a group of seniors and peers to critique and put to the test findings and ideas keeps research moving in a positive direction with fresh insight and advice always at hand.

The process itself is incredibly rewarding and worthwhile, providing a constant demand for learning and development. As well as giving a fascinating glimpse into the antique Martial arts of China and the Ryukyu kingdom. For anyone interested in our group and the research we would like to extend an open invitation to come and experience the evidence for yourselves!

Please contact us with any queries, questions or most importantly for training, email Tom Maxwell at

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