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Positional Coincidence?

In some styles of Karate, such as Matsubayashi-Ryu, it is said that the kata begin and end on the same spot (referred to as "positional coincidence"). Matsubayashi-Ryu founder Shoshin Nagamine wrote about this in his first book, The Essence of Okinawan Karate-Do. I have heard that failure to end on the same spot is a reason to fail a student who is testing for rank in some schools.

I have wondered whether this is true -- that kata are meant to begin and end on the same spot. After speaking to some seniors in various styles I believe that it is not necessarily the case. While kata generally end near the same spot, it is unlikely that they were all designed to end on exactly the same spot.

I believe that some sensei, such a Nagamine Sensei, might have been influenced by Okinawan dance principles. In Karate, I do not believe that it is necessary for there to be identical beginning and ending points. This might make it easier to give demonstrations, but has no relationship to actual self defense and fighting which require free flowing adaptability.

It is sometimes argued that positional coincidence reflects the balance of the kata. It is true that modern kata tend to be symmetric. Nagamine Sensei's Fukyugata Ichi is a good example of this. But older kata -- arguably the best ones -- are asymmetric. Kata like Rohai, Passai, Wankan, and Chinto (the Tomari versions), are all asymmetric. As such, it should not be expected that they would necessarily begin and end on the same spot.

It is possible to manipulate the ending point of any kata by taking a larger or shorter step here or there. But is this really necessary?

I believe that kata teach us applications -- or are the embodiment of applications. I do not believe that there is any metaphysical significance to kata. They are meant to be useful -- not perfect. What matters most is that the student understands the kata -- how to move and what each movement means -- not that he ends at the exact beginning point.

I performed a kata once at a friend's dojo. It was Gojushiho (not my favorite kata). Anyway, I got confused during the kata and somehow ended up facing the opposite direction from when I started. This was awkward since I would have had to bow with my back to the audience.

Could it be that this type of problem influenced the design of kata? I think so, particularly when Karate became public. It would not look very good to bow with our back to dignitaries. But again, in a real self defense situation such concerns are irrelevant.

I respect that great sensei such as Shoshin Nagamine may have understood something about positional coincidence that I have yet to learn.

Respectfully,

Charles C. Goodin