Saturday, 17 October 2020

How to get the most from the 順路 (JUNRO) Kata

While I have written a lot about 順路 (JUNRO) in the past I’d like to expand a little more on them today. I would like to do this by explaining where I place them in my routine—for my own training—and certainly, more important for you (who are now reading this): HOW THIS INFORMATION WILL HELP YOU GET THE MOST FROM PRACTICING THE JUNRO KATA (plural).



So, to begin with, let me briefly recapitulate about Junro. Firstly, the name. The two characters to formulate the name of this series of kata are which means orderly, and which means path or road. If you come here to Japan when visiting say, a castle or famous temple, you will often see the combination of these two kanji. In these cases, Junro indicates the correct route you must follow when touring around the premises.


It is worth noting a couple of points here. When Asai Sensei was developing these five basic training kata he was trying to provide an orderly path of study (hence the name), which incorporated nekoashi-dachi, kizami mae-geri, tenshin (rotation), increased smoothness, single arm combinations and other important aspects as ‘core kihon’; furthermore, he wanted to do this at an earlier stage in the training of Shotokan karateka.


Also, as I’ve said before, one of Sensei’s favorite sayings in English was “Step-by-step”; nevertheless, he always liked to add a humorous extension of this, usually “Step-by-step-by…”


Lastly, each Junro had a core theme… In this regard, if you are interested, I encourage you to do a search on this site as there is already a lot information on this. So, let’s move on to the main point of this post: TRAINING APPROACH/METHODOLOGY…




Firstly, while the five Junro are kata, more than kata I teach them as ‘training tools’. They are kihon ‘drills’ which, when done properly, boost people’s foundational skills in addition to extra kihonwaza and principles that they work on.


To use Asai Sensei’s words they are also ‘REPETITION VIA STEALTH’. With Junro practice, in addition to the extra aspects they bring to the table, they are making you practice more kihon than you otherwise would. This explains the phenomenon of how they have greatly raised the level of so many people.

In particular, I have found this to be the case in regards to UNSOKU/ASHI-HAKOBI (footwork/leg movements) especially pertaining to using the jiku-ashi and sasae-ashi; furthermore, the correct utilization and variability of the seichusen.


Based on this understanding, it is still imperative to understand and practice the five Heian and Tekki Shodan as THE ESSENTIAL KIHON KATA. Without these kata, Junro has no base. Accordingly, to acquire the best results, use the Junro to bolster the execution of the core fundamental techniques. Taken as a whole, use them as kihon training ‘as needed’ (or ‘thematically’ as a coach—based on a point you are trying to teach/refine when teaching your classes). In this way, each of the Junro do not merely function as ‘just another bunch of kata’ but, rather, as specified tools to develop/improve karate skill. This may sound odd in text but, over the last two decades, I’ve consistently proven this approach to be highly effective for boosting my karate skill and, indeed, increasing the karate skill of numerous trainees.

However, the Junro journey was not a perfect one… In 2002 Asai Sensei put the Junro for the Gokyu (5th Kyu) to Ikkyu (1st Kyu) Examinations. This, however, proved to be too much for the majority of karateka at these ranks. One of the reasons was that Asai Sensei was functioning at such a high level and naturally found it difficult to understand the general masses. What some would call ‘Genius Syndrome’. Interestingly, his creation and spreading of Junro actually helped him to see this and, consequently, he revised this to the aforementioned ‘training tool’ methodology. Asai Sensei recommended “…Junro Shodan for the Shodan test and a free choice of any Junro for Nidan” which is the system I have followed for the International Karate Shotokan syllabus. Indeed, this does not mean we do not teach Junro at Kyu level; rather, we focus on standard Shotokan kata for the Kyu Exams. That brings me to how I use the Junro Kata… 


Here are two concrete examples of using the Junro Kata in my training or teaching:

a.    Self-training or teaching KOSHI NO KAITEN in relation to the SASAE-ASHI (support) leg. In this case, I might utilize Junro Yondan kata; Junro Yondan Kumite No Oyo; and/or Kihon sequences from the kata to work on this point.


b.    Self-training or teaching utilization of the SENAKA (back bone) in counterattacks utilizing DEAI. In this scenario, Junro Nidan is ideal as it really isolates pelvic control and moving the center from the central spine to deliver ‘two arm techniques’.


Again, these are just two examples. Moreover, one doesn’t NEED the Junro kata to do such practices… Nonetheless, from my experience, I have found that karateka get more motivated and practice more due to Junro; hence, their undeniable value. This also allows us to see why kata were constructed from a contemporary standpoint.

The last thing I’d like to mention, which is highly problematic, is the CORRECT EXECUTION of the five Junro. Again, sadly, even in their mainstream practice within Japan there are numerous incorrect actions. Like the Koten-gata, this has occurred mainly due to University Karate styled ‘Shotokanization’, which is largely steered by the standard JKF (Japan Karatedo Federation) ‘Shotokan-Ryu’ Kihon.


Unfortunately, until now, there have been no widely available materials that teach Junro as Asai Sensei taught; that is, with the correct technical form and understanding/application.


This is one aim of IKS (International Karate Shotokan). My aim is to clear up the incorrect practice of Asai Sensei’s kata. As already inferred, the best way to do this is by teaching the kata movements correctly in conjunction with the correct oyo (applications). Indeed, this not only applies to the advanced kata but also Junro. One fascinating thing here is that because Asai Sensei made these kata, we had the opportunity to learn the original applications firsthand. Common knowledge yet surprisingly, the majority of karateka here in Japan (including senior instructors) were not interested in them. Again, reflective of Japanese University Karate, which is inherently shallow as the prime focus is merely to win medals. It is for this reason that many movements have been taught incorrect as they are missing 'the key ingredients' to apply them in self-defense. In this regard, the eccentricities of Asai Karate were not only form, but the key functional points of the Oyo/Applications.


To conclude, it is literally impossible to follow an ORDERLY PATH when the path has been radically altered. In this way 順路 and the rest of Asai Tetsuhiko Sensei’s kata need to be taught and, sadly in many cases, retaught correctly. Otherwise, we will end up with nothing more than an emply shell of knowledge, and a series of kata which are nothing more than ‘Shotokan with different movement’s’. 国際空手道小松濤館  (International Karate Shotokan) will strive to avoid this scenario; furthermore, continue the growth of Budo/Bujutsu Shotokan from here in Japan and around the world. Let's keep 'the orderly path' together. Osu, André.

Kihon on the shores of Saganoseki, Oita.

© André Bertel. Oita City, Japan (2020).

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