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SHORIN-RYU FUKYUGATA ICHI
by Charles C. Goodin

Nagamine Sensei's Fukyugata Ichi:   Click here to view a video of Fukyugata ichi

It is the first kata taught to a new student of Matsubayashi-Ryu and usually the last kata to be performed in rensoku (without count) manner by the entire class at the end of each training session. Consisting of just twenty-one movements, the kata known as "Fukyugata Ichi" was developed in 1941 by Grand Master Nagamine Shoshin (1907-1997), Hanshi, 10th dan, and the founder of the Matsubayashi-Ryu style of Shorin-Ryu. Although it is the most basic of the eighteen kata practiced in the Matsubayashi-Ryu system, to many it is also the most cherished.

I was very fortunate to conduct an interview of Nagamine Sensei about this kata, the only one he developed during his seven decades in Karate-Do. I was assisted by Kuniyoshi Shinyu, 5th dan, of the Nagamine honbu dojo in Naha, Okinawa, who translated and presented my written questions. Mr. Kuniyoshi and I also consulted Nagamine Sensei's son and successor, Master Takayoshi Nagamine, Hanshi, 9th dan. The interview was completed just a few weeks prior to Nagamine Shoshin's death on November 2, 1997 at the age of 91.

"Fukyu" means promotional; something to be spread or shared. "Gata" is simply an alternate pronunciation of "kata" (the letter "k" changes to "g" when the character is preceded by another word or term) or form. Fukyugata therefore, may be thought of as a basic, promotional kata.

Master Shoshin Nagamine image

Master Shoshin Nagamine

Nagamine Sensei chose to create an entirely new kata, one firmly rooted in basics. After a few months of considering the existing kata and careful design work, he developed the kata now known as Fukyugata Ichi. According to Nagamine Sensei, he "drew in his mind a basic and an easier kata so that any beginner may start Karate with ease." The kata was accepted and ratified by the Special Committee in June of 1941. It should be noted that Nagamine Sensei states that the date of the kata was 1940 in The Essence of Okinawan Karate-Do. He clarified in his interview that the actual date of ratification was in 1941. It may have been that the special committee was convened in 1940 but completed its assignment in 1941.

As with all the kata in Matsubayashi-Ryu, Fukyugata Ichi begins and ends at the same spot (referred to as "positional coincidence"). It consists of twenty-one movements covering the eight cardinal directions. I asked Nagamine Sensei whether there was any Buddhist or Zen significance to those numbers (21 movements and 8 directions) and he answered that there was not. The numbers were simply arrived at based upon the balanced sequence of movements in eight directions.

In the first movement of the kata, the student steps to the left and executes a hidari gedan barai in hidari zenkutsu dachi. Nagamine Sensei stated that there was no significance to the fact that this first movement is to the left. He mentioned that other kata (Ananku, Wankan, Naihanchi Shodan and Naihanchi Nidan, for example) begin to the right. Direction does not matter. On a personal note, I am right handed and found that starting this most often practiced kata with a block to the left has helped me to develop my weaker side. In addition, I always begin makiwara training with my left hand since it is weaker.

In the last movement of the kata, the practitioner steps back with the left foot to the starting position. In Fukyugata Ni (Gekisai Dai Ichi), the last movement is a step forward with the right foot. I understand that the other kata in the Goju-Ryu system end with a step back. Describing Miyagi Sensei's rationale for this forward step given the prewar social conditions of Okinawa, Morio Higaonna writes:

The kata that Kanryo Higaonna had brought back from China always concluded with a step backward. In Gekisai Dai Ichi the student ends the kata by taking a step forward. Miyagi Sensei felt that this would portray the feeling of movement forward and he taught these kata both at Naha Shogyo Koko (high school) and at the Police Academy.

With respect to Fukyugata Ichi, Nagamine Sensei stated that there was no significance to the backward step at the end of kata:

Normally in practicing kata (form), a man or waman, whoever may be be, is supposed to be on the same spot where they started. So if the first movement is a step forward, the final movement is to be finished by a step backward. So there is a vice versa.

Master Shoshin Nagamine image

Master Shoshin Nagamine performing Fukyugata ichi

Fukyugata Ichi is basically symmetric. A movement to the left is usually mirrored by a movement to the right. All of the blocking and striking movements are performed with closed hands. Aside from the opening and closing positions, it features only two stances (zenkutsu dachi and shizen dachi); three strikes (chudan-zuki, gyaku-zuki, and jodan-zuki); and two blocks (gedan uke and jodan uke).

Unlike Fukyugata Ni which has two kicks (mae geri from shizentai dachi), there are no kicks in Fukyugata Ichi. Compared to many other styles, Matsubayashi-Ryu generally emphasizes more hand techniques than kicks. Nagamine Sensei said:

...Fukyugata was composed and created as an easier kata (form) for the beginners of Karate. Kicking shall be used skillfully with prudence and caution.

As with most of the kata in the Matsubayashi-Ryu curriculum, a standardized bunkai is practiced for Fukyugata Ichi. An interesting characteristic of the bunkai concerns the eleven punches present in the kata. The punches are thrown in response to a punch by the attacker. For example, if the attacker throws a right punch, the nage immediately responds with a left punch aimed to the attacker's centerline (solar plexus or face). The attacker's punch is slightly parried by this action. This is in keeping with the Matsubayashi-Ryu maxim that a strike can be simultaneously used as a block and a block can be simultaneously used as a strike.

Technically simple and straightforward, Fukyugata Ichi is exactly what Governor Hayakawa requested. As a Matsubayashi-Ryu instructor, I can honestly say that Fukyugata Ichi is much easier to teach than Fukyugata Ni or any of the Pinan or ancient kata. It probably takes two or three times as long for a student to feel comfortable with the movements of Fukyugata Ni. Perhaps this is why it was designated as the second kata. This does not detract at all from Miyagi's contribution or composition. The two kata must be viewed together. After learning Fukyugata Ichi, the student should be ready for the challenges of Fukyugata Ni.

Despite its technical simplicity, Fukyugata Ichi is by no means an easy kata to properly perform. Anyone can leisurely walk through the movements, but executing them with proper timing, focus, balance, power, etc. requires years of dedicated practice. Students find themselves constantly relearning the kata. Just when they think they may be catching on, new and deeper levels appear. Perhaps this a testament to the greatness of Nagamine Sensei's design. He developed a kata which has withstood the test of time and the experiences of countless thousands of karate students worldwide. It is truly a kata to which nothing could be added and nothing could be subtracted.

Fukyugata Ichi is definitely one of the kata most cherished by Matsubayashi-Ryu students. In 1980, over 1,500 Okinawan school children gathered in Onoyama Koen (Park) to perform Fukyugata Ichi and Ni before the Emperor of Japan, Akihito Hirohito. Nagamine Sensei was present at the historic event. In the weeks prior to the performance, senior instructors from many systems had gathered at Nagamine Sensei's Naha dojo to practice the two kata under his watchful eye. In various forms, the kata are now practiced in several styles.

Nagamine Sensei developed Fukyugata Ichi in 1941 and continued to teach karate until his recent death in 1997 at the age of 91. Fukyugata Ichi is the only kata he developed during his over seventy years in karate, and it must be remembered that he did so upon the request of the Governor of Okinawa. He developed the kata to promote the art rather than himself. Nagamine Sensei often spoke and wrote about the perils of learning and practicing too many kata. Quality counts infinitely more than quantity. A traditionalist in the truest sense, Nagamine Sensei worked tirelessly to preserve the classical kata in their original forms. In Tales of Okinawa's Great Masters, he wrote:

Historically, it remains clear that "kata should never be changed, it is inappropriate." If someone wants to create their own kata, that is that person's own business. However, I believe that it is wrong to consciously alter a classical tradition just to meet the needs of a different culture, or for any reason for that matter." Page 94.

Impact of the Fukyugata Kata:

The Fukyugata (promotional) kata were expressly designed and adopted to make it easier for beginners, such as Okinawan school children, to learn karate. After the war, a new group of students appeared at the doors of dojo such as the Nagamine Kodokan--US servicemen. Although the members of the Karate-Do Special Committee could not have envisioned it at the time, the Fukyugata kata indeed made it easier for foreign servicemen to learn karate. Rather than grueling for months and years on the movements of long classical kata, the servicemen could learn the movements and sequences of the new kata in days or weeks.

Returning to the United States with the karate basics, the Fukyugata kata, and perhaps the Pinan kata, the servicemen began to promote and spread the art. The transition begun by Itosu during the first years of the century to lift the veil of secrecy surrounding karate, which was continued by Miyagi Sensei and Nagamine Sensei through their "promotional" kata, bore fruit in the postwar dojo that sprung up in the United States, Canada, South American and Europe.

There is a special place in the heart of every Matsubayashi-Ryu instructor and student for Fukyugata Ichi, the only kata developed by Nagamine Shoshin. Each time we practice the kata, whether in private, in the dojo, or in public demonstrations, we remember the legacy of Nagamine Sensei and the contributions of the members of the Karate-Do Special Committee to the history of our art.

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Courtesy Charles C. Goodin Hawaii Karate Seinenkai

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