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Gojushiho Dai and Sho: The Solution of the Confusion

The naming of the Gojushiho Kata differs between associations. Some call the longer Gojushiho Kata “Dai” and the shorter “Sho”. Myths emerged about the reason for this confusion. Some revolved around JKA Chief Instructor Ueki Masaaki. Today, Peter Crawford is going to shed light on the history of this paradox and he is going to give us an answer that seems to solve the Gojushiho Riddle. By Peter Crawford

The Ueki Masaaki Legend

The first time I encountered the legend about Ueki Masaaki mixing up the names of the Gojushiho kata he was performing and the JKA subsequently changing the names to spare his blushes was back at the end of the last century. Rob Redmond, on his sadly long-gone website “24fightingchickens” wrote:

“It is rumored that in a JKA tournament some years ago, a now very high-ranking Ueki performed the Dai kata while accidentally calling out the name “Gojushiho-Sho!” in the last round of competition on National Television in Japan. 

According to this story, the judges were befuddled, since the performance was perfect, about what to do with Ueki and his misnamed kata. Their solution: give Ueki first place, and switch the names of the two kata. So, today the karateka who outrank Ueki generally call the more basic kata Dai. However, most people in the JKA, and the Best Karate series of books refer to the more difficult kata as Dai and the easier kata as Sho. Is the story about Ueki true? Maybe not.”

Despite the obvious caveat, this story gained traction, more often than not masquerading as “the truth”, as people copied and pasted bits of this article into their own websites. Until last year, the Wikipedia article on Gojushiho also presented this story as fact.

The Truth about the Different Naming of Gojushiho

However, the truth about the naming disparity between SKI and the other Shotokan organisations is quite easily discovered. When Kanazawa Hirokazu formed his own SKI organisation after being expelled from the JKA, he decided to change the names around as he felt that the smaller, more subtle kata deserved the “sho” designation so that the Gojushiho pair would align better with Bassai and Kanku. Since then, Kanazawa sensei has been asked many times at seminars and dinners why the SKI kata names are different to everyone else’s. I have heard him recount his decision on a number of occasions, and way back in 2003 Traditional Karate Magazine published an article by David Lewin, a senior with SKKIF in the UK, where he writes the following account of a weekend course he attended:

“One particularly interesting explanation Shihan gave was the reason why on founding S.K.I.F. he swapped the names of the two katas (Gojushiho Dai and Sho around). He explained that as with the Bassai and Kanku katas, the first one studied was usually the Dai form a kata. The Dai form is usually the longer but less complicated of the two forms. The instructors at the JKA were already practicing the JKA Gojushiho Dai form (i.e. the one with the ippon nukite techniques) before the JKA Sho form (the one with the shihon nukite techniques) had even been introduced into the JKA. Once the new form had been introduced, it was clear that the old kata was the more complicated and so should have been the Sho form, and so Shihan swapped the names over.”

Why is the JKA naming “wrong”?

This hopefully clears up the issue of the difference between the SKI kata names and everyone else, but really brings up a larger question. Why is the JKA naming “wrong”? Why is the smaller kata “dai”, and the larger one “sho”?

Kanazawa provides some pointers here too. In his 2009 book “Karate: The Complete Kata”, he provides the following information about Gojushiho:

 “Through Master Kanken Toyama, the kata ‘Koryu Gojushiho’ […] was introduced into the Shotokan style…”

“The author believes that the ‘Sho’ and ‘Dai’ designations […] became reversed at the time of their introduction…”

I find this explanation very plausible. We know for example, that in his 1935 book “Karate do Kyohan” Funakoshi Gichin describes the fifteen core kata of the Shotokan system. Yet, by 1943, we also know that more kata had been added. In 1943’s “Karate Nyumon”, on pages 58 and 59, Funakoshi lists a number of kata that were being studied at the Shotokan, including one “Hotaku” (Hotaku, or “phoenix-peck”, was the name Funakoshi gave to Gojushiho). Both Kanku and Bassai are listed separately as dai and sho, but there is only one Hotaku listed.

Masatoshi Nakayama Introduced Gojushiho Sho to JKA

According to Nakayama Masatoshi, he was asked by Funakoshi to travel to Osaka and learn kata from Mabuni Kenwa. In addition, in Randall Hassell’s book “Conversations with the Master”, Nakayama is quoted as saying:

“Some of the kata have come into the JKA system because Master Funakoshi took me around Japan to visit and pay courtesy calls on some of the other old masters in Osaka, Kyoto, Okuyama and Hiroshima”

and

“…when we visited Master Mabuni, Master Funakoshi told me to learn Gojushiho and Nijushiho so we could study them more carefully. So Master Mabuni taught me these kata.”

We know that the JKA syllabus already contained one Gojushiho kata at the time Nakayama was asked to learn from Mabuni. According to what Kanazawa said, this second kata should be the JKA “sho”. Fortunately, we are able to compare the two Shotokan kata with the versions that Kanazawa claims are the originals.

The Original Gojushiho Names are reverse

Toyama Kanken published details and photographs of his “Koryu Gojushiho” in his 1956 book “Okugi Hijutsu Karate Do”. His kata is clearly the smaller kata which, according to Kanazawa, was introduced first.

The current Shito-ryu Gojushiho can, therefore, be viewed on YouTube and is obviously the larger kata that was introduced to the JKA second and given the “sho” designation as a result.

Hopefully this information clears up the mystery of the inconsistent naming, and will kill off the somewhat bizarre “competition myth” once-and-for-all!

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Increasing Life-Expectancy Will Lead To 11th Dan

The 11th dan in Shotokan karate has been a grotesque idea until lately. But the art has been already having 4 10th dan holders. Will the increase in life-expectancy lead to a 11th dan in the future? An analysis by Dr. Christian Tribowski

This year, Ueki Masaaki of the JKA received the 10th Dan. Together with Hirokazu Kanazawa, Teruyuki Okazaki, and Hiroshi Shirai he serves as the highest ranking Shotokan Karateka in the world and in history. Before those four, no living Karate master hold a 10th dan in Shotokan Karate. And nobody has ever hold a 11th dan either. Yet.

11th Dan Becomes Probable

The likelihood for the awarding of a 11th dan has increased. A simple reason leads to this. When the Federation of All Japan Karate-do Organizations (FAJKO, the predecessor organization of the JKF) established its dan promotion system in 1970 people dies earlier. The FAJKO decided to award a 10th dan only when an awardee had reached 70 years of age or higher (see table 1).

The FAJKO established a system for the awarding of dan ranks. An 11th dan was not intended.
Table 1: FAJKO age and experience requirements for dan gradings and honory awards. Thank you Chuck Coburn for providing us with this table.

Many things have changed since 1970 and so did the life-expectancy. In 1970, the average Japanese male died with round about 72. So, the amount of people, who reached the age requirement for becoming considered for a 10th dan, was much lower. Today, however, the average has grown tremendously. In 2017, the average Japanese male can expect to live 84 years according to data provided by the World Bank (Table 2). With his 80 years Ueki Masaaki Sensei, therefore, is still below the average. Due to his excellent fitness he can expect to reach 100 years of age. We, in any case, wish him good health and a long happy life.

Life-expectancy in Japan has increased and makes the awarding of a 11th dan more likely.
Table 2: Life-expectancy in Japan since 1960. Source: World Bank.

Adjustment of System or Inflation of Dan Ranks

If the system stays like this Shotokan will experience an inflation of higher 10th dan. Because even today, the life-expectancy rises. It rises slower than in the 1960´s or 1970´s. But it rises. 8th dan holders like Nobuaki Kanazawa, who is only 47 years now, have already a life-expectancy of 90 years. Thus, Kanazawa Sensei can practice Karate for another 40 years or longer. We wish him a lucky and long happy life, too.

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Video of Ueki Masaaki´s 10th Dan Promotion

The Facebook page, The Martial Way, published footage from the 10th Dan promotion ceremony of Ueaki Masaaki. According to rumors did the ceremony take place on April 10, 2019. The video was published 12 hours ago on Facebook.

Link to the video!

Videos an pictures of other Promotions also appeared on the internet. Yoshizo Machida, for instance, was awarded the 8th Dan. The Shotokan Times will keep you updated.

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Official Answer of the JKA-HQ about Ueki Masaaki´s 10th Dan

Ueki Masaaki Shihan might had become the the first 10th Dan holder in the history of the JKA, as we have reported last week. We came to this conclusion because the website of the JKA indicated the award. However, no public announcement was made.

Speculations About Awarding of 10th Dan to Ueki Masaaki

Right after our report speculations occurred. Some supposed that it was high time for Shihan Masaaki to receive the award because Hirokazu Kanazawa and Teruyuki Okazaki already had been awarded 10th Dan. They are the same generation like Ueki Masaaki. Thus, the award was only consequential.

Others asserted that the award was given because of internal promotions within the Shihankai of the JKA. Takeshi Oishi, for instance, was awarded the 9th Dan. In order to maintain the hierarchy within the organization the promotion of Shihan Masaaki was a necessary step.

Message to JKA HQ: Why Did Ueki Masaaki Received the 10th Dan?

We wanted to know it directly from the JKA-HQ. That is why we wrote an email to the headquarter and asked about a statement. Yesterday, we received the short answer. The JKA-HQ wrote:

“Shihan Ueki was awarded 10th dan by recommendation of Shihankai. The first and second chief instructors were given the award too.”

As the most of you have speculated, it was an internal decision. Why the JKA did not report about it, is still up for speculation. But it seems theoretically plausible that such a forced promotion due to hierarchical and/or seniority reasons is not deemed as prestigious and honorable by the JKA in comparison to a granting of a 10th Dan by the Kokusai Budoin like Hirokazu Kanazawa received.

Why Was Decided This Way?

One would expect the JKA to utilize and explain this huge step. Because it is an important selling-argument for such an organization and a decision that only takes place every few decades. In the history of Shotokan, only a handful of people have hold a 10th Dan. The awarding should therefore be something special and highly valued. Under those kind if circumstances it seems odd that the JKA did not announce the award. We again requested an official press release by the JKA in which they might explain the decision and to prove all speculations wrong. The answer is still pending.

However, for many JKA members this might also been sad. The social media response on our report showed that many had wished to celebrate the award with Shihan Masaaki. Some might also be disappointed because the JKA did not inform its members about the decision. That reveals a gap between the Shihankai and the members. Some members might have felt left out although they are strongly committed to the organization, its values, and their chief instructor. We hope the JKA finds a way to solve this issue.

If we receive further information we will report immediately.

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Shihan Ueki Masaaki of the JKA awarded 10th Dan?

It would be the first living 10th Dan in the History of the JKA. According to the JKA website, Shihan Ueki Masaaki was awarded the 10th Dan. When, why, and by whom the award was overhanded is currently unknown. The Shotokan Times has contacted the JKA Headquarter in Tokyo by email for further information. Perhaps, it might be a writing mistake. But against this hypothesis stands the fact that on two different pages of the JKA website the rank of a 10th Dan. This award would come as a surprise. Up to now, the JKA has not released an official statement in English that The Shotokan Times is aware of. When we have further information we will immediately report about the topic.

The picture shows the profile of Masaaki Ueki on the website of the JKA.
The picture shows the profile of Masaaki Ueki and other high ranking instructors on the website of the JKA.