Tonight’s article is on my favorite kata, Okan. I first learned this kata as a 5th Kyu in Yamashita Shorin-ryu. It is one of the older katas in Shorin-ryu and as such, has very little written record concerning it. It is also not part of Sensei Nakazato’s Shorinkan curriculum. I am not sure of its original source, but will talk more about that in a moment.
The Name of the Kata
In the process of writing this article, it has come to my attention that there is a lot I do not know about the origins of this kata in the Yamashita Shorin-ryu system. Sensei Yamashita always referred to the kata as Okan. I had read that the difference in naming is a dialectic change between Okinawa and Japan. The Okinawans named the kata Wankan and it would appear that the Japanese changed it to something more familiar to them, “Okan”.
The translation of Wankan and Okan both are commonly accepted to mean “King’s Crown”. I have understood the explanation to be in reference to the third move in the kata. The karateka slides forward into Zenkutsu Dachi (Forward Stance) and performs Juji Uke (Cross Hand Block) and then slides both hands to a chambered position next their hips. I was told this was symbolic of taking the king’s crown off of his head. Admittedly, this is probably a baseless bit of folklore.
As I had mentioned, there is a lot I do not know about the origin of this kata. I was doing a quick google check to make sure I had the translation of Wankan correct (would hate to make a simple mistake like mixing up the translation of the name), and stumbled upon an article about two sets of katas that evolved into other katas. Sensei Tony Annes explains his theory on the evolution of a kata called Matsukaze into Wankan. Both katas originate from Tomari Village’s Tomare-Te (the smallest of the three branches of Okinawan Karate).
Matsukaze in his example bears a near identical resemblance to my Wankan, whereas his Shotokan version of Wankan does not. Both kata share a similar “T” shape ideogram (pattern). They both start with two moves, one left and one right, followed by a few moves forward and then a turn left. They both end moving away from the direction the karateka started and then turning around for the last moves.
This version of Wankan was originally taught to me with a move referred to as “Hangetsu”. While there are many references to Hangetsu on the internet, my understanding of it was to slide both feet towards each other, creating a higher stances while punching. The quick change would result in a more powerful strike (and in practice this held true). Most references I can find to this stance are about the Shotokan stance (and kata) that is drastically different.
All of this together means that the kata I learned under Sensei Yamashita, is referred to by a name mainly used in Shotokan, but shares the same pattern as Shito-ryu and Matsubayashi-ryu’s Matsukaze. There are movements in the kata that share a name with Shotokan stances that are not taught in Yamashita Shorin-ryu. Finally, it is worth noting that Sensei Nakazato does not teach this kata. So who taught Sensei Yamashita? Where did it come from? Questions that someone with far better relations with him might know. Maybe one of the senior Yamashita Kyoshi who have visited here may be willing to enlighten us.
After seeing all three of them. It is hard to deny this is most likely a misnamed Matsukaze. Anyone perform one of the three katas that has more information on them?