Those who read many of the US Martial Arts magazines will know what I am saying when I say that the focus within the general Shorin Ryu community is on the Hakutsuru kata (Crane forms). This would be fine if this focus was directly proportionate to the place that Hakutsuru holds within our system. Because the Hakutsuru is the last kata within our system, it is unfortunately considered the ultimate, and that by studying this kata one will become advanced much quicker.
Well in my opinion this is trying to run before you can crawl.
Our system is made up of Naihanchi (2), Passai (2), Chinto, Rohai, Gojushiho, Kusanku, and Hakutsuru. All of these kata complement each other with concepts being learned within one kata, then reflecting through in the others.
I learned the ground gripping techniques (with the toes) from Naihanchi, and now practice this throughout the whole system. I learned many of the seated and ground work techniques from Gojushiho and Kusanku, which combined with the techniques of Naihanchi, Chinto, and Passai, are a great complement to each other. Our Hakutsuru is a kata that was formed from the best of our other kata, not the other kata as a preliminary to the Hakutsuru ONLY.
By training in a more advanced kata, your earlier kata should improve with the techniques that you learned in the new.
Nishihira Sensei says that we should not concentrate on the bunkai of an individual kata, but the bunkai of the whole system, which mixes and draws from our kata to achieve a limitless system.
Keep in mind that our Hakutsuru is from our other kata, and that the movements and methods learned within Hakutsuru will reflect back through the kata that formed it, while the theories that we learned in the earlier kata assist us in understanding the Hakutsuru.
Soken Sensei didn't learn kata first. He learned to step correctly, then kata. After training (twice daily) for 10 years he then began to learn Hakutsuru. Not after 10 years of casual practice, or even 20 years of causal practice.
How can we then expect to obtain the same degree of proficiency without the mastery of the kata that were drawn upon to create Hakutsuru?
We cannot expect to have a full understanding of Hakutsuru without a full understanding of our other kata.
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