Call to schedule your introductory class today!
(313) 312-5180

Kusanku (公相君)

Sho Dan (1st Degree Black Belt)
Techniques Learned:
  • Kusanku has been translated as, "to view the sky"
  • Kusanku has also been translated as "night fighting kata"

Kusanku (公相君) Kata Tree

Takahara Peichin - Kusanku -- “Karate” Sakugawa -- “Bushi” Matsumura -- Kyan -- Itosu -- Tatsuo Shimabuku


Kusanku was developed by Master Sakugawa (1733-1815) around 1762 after studying for nearly 6 years under a Chinese emissary named Kushanku, who lived in Nakashim-Yukaku, Okinawa. After studying under Peichin Takahara, his first instructor, Sakugawa accidentally met Kushanku by trying to mischievously push him off a bridge into a river. Master Kushanku quickly stepped aside and grabbed Sakugawa and shocked him with his tremendous speed and power. Sakugawa was then introduced to Kushanku by a younger student of his. Kushanku made the comment that Sakugawa needed to learn the "why" of the martial arts, not only the "how."

Sakugawa studied under Master Kushanku until he was 29 years old and his first instructor died. It was at this time that he developed Kusanku kata from a series of techniques he learned from Kushanku and Peichin Takahara and then named the kata in honor of Kushanku. Therefore, we can say Masters Peichin Takahara and Kushanku both influenced the development of Kusanku kata. Master Sakugawa passed his kata down to Master Matsumora and Master Itosu. Itosu then developed two versions of Kusanku: Kushanku dai and Kushanku sho and incorporated them into his own system of karate. A very well known student of Itosu's, Gichin Funakoshi became very well known for his mastery of these kata.

Master Matsumora is given credit for teaching this kata to Master Kyan who then passed it on to Isshinryu's Grand Master Tatsuo Shimabuku around 1926. Some accounts say Master Yara taught Master Shimabuku Kusanku kata, but facts show Yara taught him his own version of Kusanku known as Yara Kushanku.

About Kusanku (公相君)

Kusanku is one of the most complex kata of Isshinryu. It consists of a variety of offensive and defensive techniques executed at many different levels from the ground to the air.

The Japanese version is known as kwanku. Kusanku was originally written as KUSHANKU. Some other versions of the kata have been Yara Kushanku, shiho Kushanku, Kushanku dai and Kushanku sho. Kusanku sai, a weapons form that is required for 1st degree black belt, was developed from this kata. It is not certain who the originator of this kata was.

Kushanku is a fairly long kata consisting of approximately 84 movements. It takes approximately 65 seconds to perform this kata at full speed.

Kusanku symbolizes fighting up to fifteen different opponents in a large field of uneven terrain in the dark and makes use of "deception," which is demonstrated in the very first movements. The performer leans to one side and does a foot stomp to the other, drawing the opponent to the wrong side in the dark.

Kusanku introduces the advanced students to low kneeling defensive postures. After executing a flying crescent kick block (mikazuke uke) the performer turns 180 degrees and lands on the left knee with the right knee close to the chest, then he reverses this, facing the opposite direction. Kusanku also introduces simultaneous hand and foot attacks such as a front snap kick and backfist strike combination, which is used 5 times throughout the kata.

Kusanku uses 4 major stances: Seisan, cat, seiuchin, and crane. The performer will pivot from one stance to the other within seconds. Kusanku consists of a variety of blocks such as double open hand, middle level, low level, high level, palm heel, kneeling middle level, upper and lower x blocks. The major kick of Kusanku is the front snap kick. Kusanku employs many different strikes such as: kneeling elbow, hammerfist, spearhand, and double palm heel strikes.

Kusanku has 2 kiais. The first one is done on the first backfist-kick combination. Some schools teach the first kiai on the flying crescent kick block. The second kiai is on the fourth backfist-kick combination.

About Kusanku (公相君):
By: Joe Swift

Often described in Isshinryu as a "night fighting kata," this form was passed down from Kyan Chotoku to Shimabuku Tatsuo. Interestingly enough, no references to night fighting are found in the primary references coming out of Japan and Okinawa, leading this author to conclude that such interpretations were contrived to fit movements that are not very well understood.

In the year 1762, a tribute ship sent to Satsuma from Ryukyu was blown off course during a storm, and ended up landing at Tosa Province in Shikoku, where they remained for a month. The Confucian scholar of Tosa, (Tobe Ryoen 1713-1795), was petitioned to collect testimony from the crew. The record of this testimony is known as the Oshima Hikki (literally "Note of Oshima", the name of the area of Tosa where the ship had run aground). In this book, there is some very provocative testimony by a certain Shionja Peichin, describing a man from China called Koshankin, who demonstrated a grappling technique (McCarthy, 1995; Sakagami, 1978).

It is commonly accepted that this Koshankin was the originator of the Okinawan Kusanku kata, or at least inspired it. However, there are several unknowns in this equation. First of all, was Koshankin his name or a title, or even a term of affection towards him? Second, if it was a title or term of affection, what was his real name? Thirdly, what martial art(s) did he teach, and how do they differ from the modern karate kata of Kusanku? Most of these questions are still being researched by this author and others.

For now, suffice it to say that Kusanku is a highly important kata in the Okinawan martial arts, and has spawned many versions over the years. Some of them include the Kusanku Dai/Sho Itosu Anko lineage styles, the Chibana no Kusanku of Shudokan, the Takemura no Kusanku of Bugeikan and Genseiryu, the Kanku Dai/Sho of Shotokan, the Shiho Kusanku of Shitoryu, and the Yara no Kusanku of Kyan Chotoku lineage styles, including Isshinryu. Of course, there are numerous others as well.

Kyan Chotoku is said to have learned Kusanku in Yomitan under a certain Yara Peichin (Nagamine, 1975; 1976). It is unknown at this time whether there is a familial relationship between this Yara Peichin and the Chatan Yara who is believed to have studied under Koshankin during his mid-18th century visit to Okinawa.