Gankaku, or “crane on the rock” for its distinct pose that evokes the image of a crane defending against its enemies whilst standing on one leg, was originally called Chintō, a name that belongs to the Shorei style. It is one of the most ancient kata belonging to the tradition, and as such its origins are unknown.
It has been perfected over the years by various masters, and the most recent form was developed by Ankō Itosu. It is a kata that has balance and power at its core. The ability for a karateka to encompass the kime required for the simultaneous yokogeri-uraken whilst standing on one leg is paramount to delivering a good rendition of Gankaku.
The Tale of Chintō
One legend of the kata’s origin relates the tale of a Chinese sailor named Chintō. When his ship crashed on the coast of Okinawa, Chintō was stranded. To survive, he stole crops from a nearby village. Matsumura Sōkon, a master of karate and the chief bodyguard of Ryukyuan king, was dispatched to confront Chintō. In the ensuing fight, Sōkon realized he was equally matched with Chintō, and decided to learn the style and techniques of the stranded sailor. Thus, Sōkon developed what is today Gankaku. Chintō translates to “fighter to the east”, perhaps alluding to its origins of the confrontation between Chintō and Sōkon on the Okinawan coast. It is sometimes said that this kata should be practiced whilst facing eastwards.
Gankaku has many advanced techniques: its opening is dynamic, with the exponent pulling his attacker’s hand towards his hip, then pivoting to dislocate the attacker’s shoulder. Its enbusen, or movement pattern, was adapted by Gichin Funakoshi. It consists of a single vertical line, which belies the kata’s incredible dynamism and inherent power.