The Crane Phenomena

It seems in the karate world of today that the Crane Kata has become a phenomenon, it appears that everybody is Crane kata crazy. With each passing day, month and year we see more and more Crane kata’s come to surface, and everybody is claiming that they are true authentic and real.

I ask you where did they come from? Why was it that no one had ever seen a Crane Kata being preformed at a karate tournament before the 70’s. Back in the 50s, 60s, and even into the beginning 70s no one ever saw a Crane Kata preformed at a tournament.

The Chinese systems of martial arts were the only ones that had the name “Crane” even mentioned within their system: an example would be the Chinese systems based a lot of their forms after the animal kingdom, such as the snake, monkey, Crane, Dragon etc. Only after Hohan Soken, late 60s and early 70s became such a renowned name and known karate master of Okinawa to the world did the Crane kata appear. After that it seems like almost every Okinawan form of karate has a Crane kata! The so-called grandmasters (ha) in today’s karate have tried to portray that having or knowing a Crane kata was and is the highest and best knowledge to have. This is totally false! Well over 90% to 98% of all of the Crane Kata being taught are in fact made up with in the past 20 years or less. If in fact the Crane Kata were so important, why were they never shown before in the early years? The plain and simple answer is, most did not exist! In our system of Matsumura Seito Shorin-ryu, the system of Hohan Soken, there is but one Crane kata “Hakatsuru” which was Hohan Soken’s highest kata within our system. This kata was extremely guarded and if anybody learned it? it would be only Fusei kise. (his protégé at the time) possibly Arakaki whom was before Kise sensei.

These so-called grandmasters of the world that are trying to claim that knowing or teaching a Crane kata makes them something special, or have some special high level knowledge or skill is just a plain lie, it’s almost a joke, wake up people. Lets be realistic, knowing a Crane kata does not give you any high-level special training or knowledge…. Hell most of the people performing these kata are clowns, they can’t fight using the Crane techniques which they claim to be so reverent and important. Again my opinion is that it’s just a joke. If a teacher has in fact a real legitimate Crane kata? (Which all will claim they do) Does it have importance and value? Of course it does, if it’s real, just like any real fighting kata has true value. A lot of these so-called Masters performing these kata make the claim that they have researched (the keyword here is researched) and found that the kata they teach are in fact real, claiming they go back as far as the 17th century.

Now I ask you this…. How can they verify that a kata they are teaching is in fact real? Hell we can all make claims, but that doesn’t make it real. In fact there is no way that I can truly claim or make the statement that the kata I teach today are as they were taught hundreds of years ago. I can only go by what my two teachers Hohan Soken and Fusie kise have taught me and told me that these are the true and original fighting forms/kata. Let the truth be known that during the “Second World War” Okinawa had almost all of its historical karate related documentation, and history destroyed. Therefore 99% of all of the karate history that we have today came from the remaining true karate masters that were still alive after the war had ended. Such as Sensei Hohan Soken, Nagamine, Nagazato, Nakamura just to name a few. Plus most of them have now passed.

Those that claim to have “real” crane kata will say….my teacher taught it/them to me, so that makes them real, just like Sensei Coffman says his teachers taught his kata to him. However there is a major difference from what Soken, Nagamine, Nagazato, Nakamura and even Kise taught back 50+ years ago compared to what the self claiming 10th Dan’s claim today. It has been proven time and time again that most of these so called “Crane” kata have been made up in the passed 20 years both here in the States as well as on Okinawa. I just don’t get it! What’s the big deal? It’s almost like the 10th dan explosion….. Useless!…… Could the Crane kata phenomena be just another money making scam? Could be.

James H. Coffman
Shorinji Ryu 1960 – Present
Matsumura Seito 1961- Present
7th Dan-, Jikideshi
Hohan Soken’s first American student