As a way to dust off the mat rust after having taken a sabbatical for half a year, one of the best ways I thought to get back into martial arts practice was to review the Tai Kyoku exercises. The Tai Kyoku exercises, which are believed to be more than 350 years old, can be translated to mean “first basic steps” or “body side forms.”
If you have trained with us in the past, “Tai Kyoku” likely rings a bell. Up until now, our students have been practicing a modified, condensed version of the Tai Kyoku exercises: Tai Kyoku Kumi. “Kumi” can be translated to mean group; I have mostly heard that term in reference to a “combination.” In other words, Tai Kyoku Kumi would be a grouping or combination of the first basic steps.
However, in an effort to adhere to Shuri-ryu standards, I have decided to reintroduce the Tai Kyoku exercises for our students.
There are three Tai Kyoku exercises. The first (Tai Kyoku Ichi) follows the I or H pattern we have in Tai Kyoku Kumi and consists only of low blocks and low punches. Middle blocks and middle punches make up Tai Kyoku Ni, and Tai Kyoku San features only high blocks and high punches. There are no kicks found in any Tai Kyoku exercise.
I have several goals for incorporating the Tai Kyoku exercises into our curriculum. One I’ve already mentioned, and that is to follow Shuri-ryu standards. Another goal is to stay simple. We should be less worried about which levels we are targeting (low, middle or high) and instead concentrate on whether the moves for each individual exercises were effective. Finally, these exercises are the introduction to kata. It is important to perform these exercises correctly in order to move on to more advanced kata.
“The Tai Kyoku exercises were created by Gichin Funakoshi and his son Yoshitaka (Gigo) as basic introductory movements in preparation for the more advanced Pinan (Ping an) (Heian in Japanese and Chan an’s in Okinawan),” writes Master Robert Trias in “The Pinnacle of Karate.” “It is believed they were introduced by Chen Yuen Ping in 1644.”
In other words, Funakoshi standardized the Tai Kyokus.
(The Pinan/Heian katas are not included Shuri-ryu, but are found in many other styles of karate.)
Writing a short biography on Funakoshi is beyond the scope of this article, although it is worth noting that Funakoshi founded the Shotokan style of karate in the early 1900s. One of Funakoshi’s top students, Makato Gima, taught Master Trias (who is credited as bringing karate to America, and was an instructor to Mr. Hawkey, my primary instructor). As I complete more research, I would like to share more about Funakoshi with our students. Until then, I would encourage all students to pick up a copy of his Twenty Guiding Principles of Karate.