Here is another article I originally wrote in 2003. This article was later (in 2005) slightly altered, and featured, in both English and Russian, on the internet. This was not long after Asai Sensei standardised the Junro kata (because between 1997 and 2003, he typically changed shodan and nidan perhaps half a dozen times!) The standardisation occured at the beginning of 2002 and manuals (written in Japanese with foot position diagrams) were produced.
I hope it motivates you to 'at least' study the first Junro kata, as I believe is it particularly valuable. And please remember, this value can only be found if we perform the kata with Asai style, as opposed to turning them into standard Shotokan. Happy training!
Asai Sensei emphasises that the neko-ashi dachi is an absolutely essential kihon-tachikata (basic stance) and must be practised by karateka no later than the middle kyu ranks. His reasoning is the need to create a powerful "spring" for explosiveness in combat. Elaborating on this, Asai Sensei explains that, when performed correctly, neko-ashi dachi is best classical stance for development of this power. Likewise he advocates that sanbyakurokuju-do kaiten (360 spinning) and gyaku-kaiten (reverse spinning) must be trained as a part of regular kihon-keiko for all ranks. If introduced early on, in ones karate career, the development of balance can be extraordinary, not to mention the increased precision of stances (rapidly landing in correct positions); exact posture (keeping the spine straight for pendulum-like usage); and the nurturing of natural tai-sabaki skills (training more circular strategies, as opposed to linear fighting). Another technique, not mentioned above, featured extensively in the Junro series is the kizami mae geri (lead leg "cutting" front kick) from neko-ashi dachi. This technique is very useful as a defensive measure, is hard for a highly aggressive opponent to read, and further develops kicking snap. Asai Sensei stresses that the kick may be aimed at the throat, chin, nose, solar plexus, testicles or shin of the your opponent, as either a kime-waza (decisive technique) or as a shikake-waza (set up technique).
The Junro kata are IJKA and JKS shitei kata
In addition to the obvious martial benefits of practising the Junro series it is important to also understand that they are shitei (mandatory) kata for kyu and dan examinations, and also in IJKA/JKS shiai (competitions). From now on, if competing at world level, if a draw occurs in the first round of eliminations, a random Junro kata will be requested by the head judge. This was implemented nationally at this years 2003 All-Japan Championships in Tokyo. Therefore, anyone wishing to compete must now prepare 15-shitei kata (all five Heian, Tekki-shodan, all five Junro, Bassai-dai, Kanku-dai, Empi and Jion) plus their tokui (favourite/specialised) kata for the final.
Likewise when attempting kyu shinsa with IJKA and JKS, the following system has been established by Asai Sensei: Gokyu (5th kyu) Junro-shodan; Yonkyu (4th kyu) Junro-nidan; Sankyu (3rd kyu) Junro-sandan; Nikyu (2nd kyu) Junro-yondan; and Ikkyu (1st kyu) Junro-godan. For dan-shinsa (IJKA/JKS 1st, 2nd and 3rd dan exams) Junro kata are requested by the senior examiner.
Lastly, I will briefly describe Asai Sensei's specific objectives for each of the Junro kata:
Junro-yondan: Junro-yondan has a large amount of spins forcing the development of refined koshi-kaiten (hip rotation). Only through keeping the hips level can the karateka develop maximum power and speed, whilst maintaining perfect balance.
Junro-godan: The final Junro kata trains basic unsoku (leg movements) namely the following: Aiyumibashi (bridge step); Kosa-aiyumibashi (cross bridge step); Yori-ashi (slide step); Okuribashi (sending step); and tsugi-ashi (flower cut step).
Besides the fact that the Junro kata are compulsory for both International Japan Karate Asai-ryuha (IJKA) and JKS exams/competition, I believe they give karateka of the new millennium an edge. From my personal practise of these kata, and teaching them to my kyu and dan grade students, I have found that they greatly increase peoples overall karate ability. As their name suggests, the Junro series is a "step-by-step" introduction to Asai Sensei's karate. They help karateka to isolate specific weaknesses in their technique and remedy them. Asai Sensei's innovative contributions to the art of karate, like the Junro kata, are further refining Shotokan as an effective bujutsu (martial art).
© André Bertel, Japan 2007