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Kusanku Kata Meaning

Kusanku, also called Kankudai (translated as gazing heavenward, viewing the sky, or contemplating the sky), is an open hand karate kata that is studied by many practitioners of Okinawa and Japanese karate. In many karate styles, there are two versions of the kata - Kusanku sho and Kusanku dai. The name Kusanku/Kosokun, is used in Okinawan systems of karate, and refers to a person by the name of Kusanku, a Chinese diplomat from Fukien who is believed to have traveled to Okinawa to teach his system of fighting. In Japanese systems of karate, the kata is known as Kanku after it was renamed in the 1930s by Funakoshi. Due to its difficulty, this kata is often reserved for advanced students. One of its distinguishing features is the jump, which incorporates two kicks.

Kusanku is a cornerstone of many styles of karate. It is personified predominantly in these styles by the use of very flowing techniques that have ties to White Crane Kun-fu as well as its wide variety of open handed techniques. In Matsubayashi-ryu karate, the kata is known for its flying kick and its "cheating" stance, which practitioners say robs the opponent of opportunities to attack by extending one leg along the ground and squatting as low as possible on the other (Zenkutsu dachi). This is the highest ranking and most complex kata in Matsubayashi-ryu and is said to take more than ten years to master. However, in some disciplines of Okinawan Kenpo, Kusanku is taught to intermediate level students.

In Shotokan karate, Kanku Dai consists of 65 movements executed in about 90 seconds, and symbolizes attack and defense against eight adversaries. It is a major form of the kata; its equivalent minor form is called Kanku sho. Kanku Dai was one of Gichin Funakoshi's favorite kata and is a representative kata of the Shotokan system. The embusen (path of movement) of Kanku sho is similar to that of Kanku dai, but it begins differently. It is a compulsory Shotokan kata and of high technical merit. The Heian kata contains sequences taken from Kanku Dai, as a result of Anko Itosu’s efforts.

In 1756 a Chinese military envoy named Kusanku was sent to Okinawa. He was a skilled Kempo master famous for his fighting skills. (2) Although Kusanku never taught this kata, his best techniques were combined into this kata by his followers. There are two main lineages for the kata called Chatan Yara No Kusanku and Sakugawa No Kusanku. Sakugawa No Kusanku was developed by Karate Sakugawa based on his instruction from Kusanku. Sakugawa taught this version to Soken “Bushi” Matsumura. This lineage was further divided into two other forms of the kata, Kusanku Dai and Kusanku Sho. Chatan Yara developed his own version based on his training with Kusanku. He instructed Yara Peichin who in turn instructed Chotoku Kyan. Tatsuo Shimabuku learned this kata from Kyan. Kusanku kata is considered part of the Shuri-Te lineage and may be interpreted to mean “To view the sky.”


Kusanku is a very long and complex kata. It is the longest Shuri-Te kata. It utilizes speed techniques executed at many levels including ground, kneeling, standing, and flying double straight forward kicks. It uses a variety of techniques including: deception with a foot stomp at the beginning of the kata, a flying crescent kick, twisting and evasive techniques, kneeling blocks, kneeling elbow strikes, simultaneous back fist and front kick, palm heel blocks, simultaneous palm heel strikes, and a twisting shuto strike. There are several stance shifts executed swiftly throughout the kata. The deceptive maneuvers employed by this kata may be because this kata was thought to be performed at night against numerous opponents. The stances include seisan, cat, crane seiuchin, and zen kutsu dachi. There are two kias, one just before the first kneeling elbow strike and one just before the last elbow strike.

There are many interesting similarities between Kusanku and Chinto Kata. Both katas use a rapid shift to a kosa dachi stance. This is the cornerstone for Chinto Kata, but it’s interesting to see this same shift repeated so many times in Kusanku.

Kusanku Kata is one of Isshinryu’s most difficult to perform. The transition from its kneeling stances back to upright are difficult to perform with balance and grace while delivering the next technique with power. In addition, this kata contains a stretched out hiding posture on the floor which is difficult for most students. Kusanku is further complicated by a flying double front kick which all but the finest of athletes will find difficult to execute with good form.

Master Shimabuku used Kusanku Kata as the foundation for one of Isshinryu’s weapons katas called Kusanku Sai. This kata is unique to Isshinryu and the movements are almost identical to Kusanku Kata except sais are used to do the blocks, punches and other strikes. Master Shimabuku did two versions of this kata. The earlier version of the kata contained all the kicks, and later he removed the kicks.

Kusanku kata has traditionally been called the "night fighting kata." (3) Recently however, this assumption has been challenged by several prominent martial artists. They maintain that the "night fighting" designation is basically a myth, perpetuated by misinterpretation of the name or techniques. There are several good arguments to support this position, but it is obvious that Kusanku kata does contain techniques well-adapted to fighting at night. While the inclusion of these techniques might be purely a coincidence, The authors believe is doubtful that the kata is also coincidentally called the "night fighting kata." He suspects that night fighting techniques were intentionally included in Kusanku kata.

It should be noted that not all versions of Kusanku kata are the same, especially with regards to night fighting techniques. Shotokan's version, called Kanku, contains far fewer techniques for fighting at night than Okinawan versions. On the other end of the spectrum is Isshin Ryu's version, which despite being even newer than Kanku kata, contains far more night fighting techniques than the original Okinawan versions. Perhaps, Isshin Ryu's founder Tatsuo Shimabuku expanded on the night fighting tradition of the original kata. Although this is pure speculation, it is rumored that Shimabuku Sensei strongly believed in Kusanku's night fighting techniques. In addition, the tradition of the "night fighting kata" is quite strong in Isshin Ryu Karate.

One thing is certain. The origin of Kusanku is foggy at best. Tradition states that Kusanku was an 18th century Chinese military envoy stationed in Okinawa who taught martial arts to Tode Sakugawa. Some believe Kusanku taught the kata known as Kusanku, but most believe Sakugawa Sensei created the kata and named it in honor of his teacher. Still others believe Kusanku was a culmination of several Chinese officers.

As for the origin of Kusanku kata's night fighting tradition, that is even harder to establish. According to historian and researcher Joe Swift, "no references to night fighting are found in the primary references coming out of Japan and Okinawa" which has led him to conclude that "such interpretations were contrived to fit movements that are not very well understood." His extensive research provides perhaps the best argument against the night fighting tradition. Still, there is the fact that many of the techniques in Kusanku are well-suited, if not specifically designed, for fighting at night.

Fighting at night might seem like a disadvantage, but it usually is not. Unless one suffers from night blindness, the only disadvantage would be knowing less about fighting at night than one's opponent. Obviously, difficulties presented by fighting at night impact everyone equally. Unfortunately, while the average person does not know how to fight at night, most experienced criminals do. This knowledge gives criminals a tremendous advantage over the average person. Luckily, the basics of night fighting are all included in Kusanku kata.

The most important technique for fighting at night is to view the sky. When Gichin Funakoshi created a new name to describe Shotokan's version of Kusanku, he chose Kanku, which actually means "to view the sky." While Kanku kata might contain fewer night fighting techniques than Okinawan versions, its name actually describes the single most important night fighting technique.

Kanku also includes the remnants of the most obvious night fighting technique, dropping to the ground after the crescent kick. Many consider this move, which vaguely looks like the stretched out starting position of a sprinter, to be completely useless. Obviously such individuals have limited experience fighting at night. Others consider it to be a sweeping technique, but it is rarely performed in this manner. Javier Martinez, in his excellent book Isshinryu Kusanku Kata Secrets Revealed, claims this is a "hooking the front and sweeping the back throw" from Chinese Wrestling. While this interpretation of technique is intriguing and effective, this technique also allows one to disappear into the darkness while simultaneously locating opponents.

Even on the darkest night, the sky is lighter than the ground. By dropping low to the ground, opponents are silhouetted against the sky. While some believe the name "to view the sky" comes from the circular opening move, the name is more likely basic instructions for locating opponents at night. Isshin Ryu's version of Kusanku kata contains six instances where the karateka drops down low. Not only does this allow one to locate opponents by viewing the sky, it also effectively allows one to disappear into the darkness.

When Ninjutsu pioneer Stephen Hayes first started training in Japan, he found it impossible to defend against opponents that seemed to be able to see in the dark. Already an experienced martial artist, he became frustrated by opponents he couldn't even see. Eventually, they told him the secret. By lowering his stance, he was able to see his opponents silhouetted against the night sky. It was that simple.

The second most important technique for fighting at night found in Kusanku kata is using exaggerated sweeping movements. This serves two purposes. First, it provides additional protection against strikes. Second, it helps locate opponents by touch. Even if one can see an opponent's silhouette, it might not be possible to see their attack. Hand techniques are typically hidden by the silhouette itself, while kicks are hidden by the darkness of the ground. This makes standard blocking techniques almost useless. Standard blocks rely on precision and timing to intercept the attack. This is impossible if the actual attack cannot be seen. The solution is to modify the blocks to cover a greater area than normal.

By watching the silhouette, it is possible to determine when the attack is coming. Twisting of the torso indicates which hand is attacking and shifting of weight can telegraph movement or a kick. With practice, it is even possible to read the speed and target for many attacks from subtle movements of the silhouette. In fact, learning to read silhouettes in this manner is one of the best ways to develop the ability to read an opponent's intention, regardless of lighting conditions. Still, darkness is going to hide much information that is usually taken for granted when blocking. Exaggerating the blocks provides protection against a wider variety of attacks.

A prominent feature of Kusanku kata is the extensive use of the guard position. While advancing, the karateka sweeps their hands from side to side. Proponents of the night fighting tradition describe this as feeling in the dark for your opponent while listening for sounds like footsteps and breathing. While this is not the ideal way to locate an opponent, unlike viewing the sky, it can be used in complete darkness.

The final night fighting technique, using sound to misdirect your opponent, is found only in Isshin Ryu's version of Kusanku. After assuming a low leaning stance to locate an opponent, the karateka stomps the ground to misdirect the opponent. The opponent assumes the karateka to be standing where the sound originated, but the leaning stance keeps the karateka out of reach. This technique can work like throwing a rock to distract an opponent, but that isn't the real intention. Ultimately, this technique is used to precisely locate an opponent by dictating where they move.

Kusanku contains many techniques that are essential for fighting at night. While many have recently dismissed the "night fighting kata" as pure myth, the techniques themselves reveal the truth.


1) http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chinto_(martial_arts)
2) http://www.isshinryu.com/kusanku1.htm
3) http://ezinearticles.com/?Kusanku-Kata---Is-It-Really-for-Fighting-at-Night?&id=81024