Kanku (Looking into the sky) Sho (minor) and Dai (major) are advanced kata in the Shotokan syllabus and practiced by many styles including those of Japanese, Okinawa and Korean karate. Kanku Sho (Performed above by Takayuki Mikami) is the younger of the two Kanku kata and was probably developed from kanku Dai and handed down as a part of Master Anko Itosu’s teachings.

It contains moves that are typical of Itosu kata, such as double punches and moves that are designed to control and or disarm someone with a stick. The older of the two, kanku Dai (Performed below by Hirokazu Kanazawa) is said to have been the favourite kata of Sensei Gichin Funakoshi and was one that he often used to demonstrate karate in Japan during the period when he popularised the martial art there in the 1920s.

According to Funakoshi, the kata has all of karate’s essential elements which was why he liked it so much. Originally called Kushanku but renamed in the 1930s by Funakoshi, his student, Masatoshi Nakayama stated that it represents modesty in karate, hence the humbling name, ‘Looking to the Sky’.

Kanku Dai is believed to have been first introduced to Okinawa in the 18th century by a Chinese diplomat and kendo expert named Kung Hsiang Chun, who passed it on to Tode Sakugawa of the Shuri-te school (teacher of Sokon Matsumura).

The same diplomat seems to have been of some importance in the history of the martial arts on Okinawa and may have also brought the original kata that the Heian kata were derived from, (it may even have been the same one), a kata called ‘Chiang Nan (Channan in Japanese). An alternative theory is that the kata was actually created by Sakugawa and named in honour of his teacher (Whose name is pronounced Ku Shan Ku in the Okinawan dialect).

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