The first step of Tekki is to the right but why to the left side with Heian kata? (Part 1) 第一挙動の謎: 鉄騎は右方向・平安形は左方向
Many Shuri-te practitioners may have wondered about the mystery of Tekki (or Naihanchi) kata. In fact, there are two main mysteries. One is that the Tekki’s enbusen is a horizontal and straight line. The other is the first step of all three Tekki kata is taken to the right side (photo below).
I have already written a couple of essays regarding these mysteries of Tekki and shared my understanding and hypothesis. If you are interested you can find these in my books; Shotokan Myths and Shotokan Mysteries.
Today, I want to bring up another puzzle. The first kata for the Shuri-te (such as Shotokan, Shorin ryu and Shito ryu) practitioners are the five Heian (or Pinan) kata. Have you ever wondered why the first step of all these kata is taken to the left side (illustration below)? Another interesting point is the first move is not taken to the front but rather to the left side.
You may not consider it a big deal but I believe there was a well thought out reason for this. Some people have guessed that Master Itosu, the creator of Heian kata, has chosen the left side simply because the first step for Tekki kata was to the right side. Also the direction is to the left side instead of front is because of the Tekki enbusen.
I am writing this essay because I do not think it was from such a simple reason. I wish to share a deeper reason why Anko Itosu created this kata with the first step of all Heian kata to the left side. Before we jump into this subject, I wish to also mention that starting to the left side does not matter in the end. This is because the Okinawan masters have taught us that we must practice the mirror side once we become familiar with the kata. This teaching starts with Heian then on to Tekki. Believe it or not, this will continue with other kata such as Bassai (or Passai), Kanku (or Kusanku), Enpi (or Wanshu), etc. If you have learned all 26 Shotokan kata, you can practice 52 kata when you include the mirror sides.
Despite starting to whichever side will not matter in the end if you practice both sides, I believe there was a good reason why Itosu chose to make the first step of all Heian kata to the left side. With modern sports science, we have learned a lot of facts about our body. One of them is we have a favorite or better side. Even though our body, viewing from the front, may look symmetrical. If you study a little of anatomy, you begin to find that our body is not symmetrical externally and more so when you view it internally (internal organs).
One determinant is our heart, an extremely important organ and we have only one. Our heart is located on the left side of our body rather than right or in the center. This may be one of the reasons why we have more right handed people than left handed. When we shake hands for a greeting, we extend our right hand. Of course, it came from the etiquette in the time of knights. The right hand was the hand that held the swords, thus by extending right hand meant “I have no weapon” or a sign of friendship. Even though there are many who write with their left hand, right hand writing is much more prevalent.
As the right side is the favorite side for most of us, thus the right leg is the favored one. In Tekki kata (Shodan and Nidan), we move the left leg first. The right leg, the favored leg, is used to support the body weight. Of course, there is one exception, Tekki Sandan. In this kata, the first move is the right leg with the left leg being the supporting side (illustration below).
The body mechanism here is opposite from that of Shodan and Nidan. This is an interesting subject to research why Tekki Sandan has a different body mechanism in the first move. Though we will not go into this subject in this essay, I wish to add that many karate historians believe that the original form of Tekki was one long kata and it was simply separated into 3 different parts; Shodan, Nidan and Sandan. If this idea is correct, the only starting move of Tekki was that of Tekki Shodan.
On the other hand, if the creator of Tekki, indeed, made this kata intentionally into three different kata then we need to figure out why Tekki Sandan’s first move is based on the opposite body mechanism from Shodan and Nidan. In this case, we must not say that the difference is meaningless or it was created like so by accident or non-intentional. The creators of these karate kata, I believe, must have spent much time in figuring out each and every move to make it the most efficient and effective move, because the kata is the condensed form of fighting techniques that are infinite in possible numbers.
Interestingly, in Heian or Heian kata, we move our left leg first and we use our right leg to support the body weight. Thus, the fundamental physical movement is based on the similar sequence (move left leg first and use the right leg for support). Even though on the surface, Tekki kata seem to start to the right side and Heian kata to the left side, they are done with the same mechanism. Therefore, I conclude that Itosu knew this fact. He intentionally formatted the same physical movement, but with a superficial difference in the direction of the body starting to the left side with Heian.
Also, we may want to pay attention to our brain and the nervous system, as well, to understand our physical functions and mechanism better. As you know our brain consists of two sides (left and right). Each side has its own controlling functions. The left hemisphere controls the muscles on the right side of the body while the right hemisphere controls those on the left. This is why damage to the left side of the brain, for example, might have an effect on the right side of the body.
Full article from SpartaScience
It is clearly evident that there are two parts: right side and left side, of the brain. However, it is also true that there are other parts of the brain that perform some critical functions as well. In addition, even though we have discovered and learned a lot about our brain in the 20th century as well as the early part of this century, it is sadly true that there still exists many mysteries about the exact functions of the brain. We hope that more study and research in the future will teach us more about these fascinating mechanisms of our brain.
Despite that we do not know exactly how our body and our brain work in harmony, there remains the final question. Regardless of the cause or reason, if the right side is the favored side, then why didn’t the creators of Tekki and Heian have the right leg move first? Here is my hypothesis. Both Tekki and Heian are so called practice kata rather than the actual fighting kata such as Bassai and Kanku. For this reason, the creators must have planned for us to use the less favored side, left leg, first so that we can focus on our weaker side.
After Heian and Tekki, the next kata we learn is Bassai. The first foot movement is right leg and you will also use the right arm in its first move.
The points I brought up may sound insignificant and to some people, maybe, almost meaningless. Many people mistakenly believed or still believe that all the mysteries of karate have been answered. This misunderstanding not only makes karate less exciting but also harmful. When we do not improve something, it tends to degenerate and worsen as time progresses.
Therefore, I feel strongly that it is our responsibility to dig deeper and try to understand more of how these kata were created as well as their objectives. Unfortunately, those creators have already left us a long time ago and only a few written documents are available or were left behind. This means we must depend on our intuition and understanding of our anatomy and kinesiology to reverse engineer to discover the wisdom and true teaching from the valuable treasure, kata, that have been handed down for many centuries. To be able to reverse engineer means a great deal of responsibility is left to us. It means we must excel in both our physical skills in karate and the intellectual understanding of human anatomy and kinesiology.
So far, I have reached this level of understanding that you read in this essay. I hope my essays will be a springboard or at least a start for the readers so that they can reach to the deeper level of the truth and better understanding of the wisdom of karate in the future. I am sure there is more to be found and discovered. I look forward to continuing my karate journey. I invite the readers to join me in this exciting journey.