It seems to me that most blossoming karateka do not pay the attention deserved to the less visually interesting kata. This is a shame, because my experience tells me that the more simple and straightforward a kata is the more applicable it is. Not that longer, more complex kata are useless; not by any means. However, these harder kata do often seem to be more specialized. Thus, the importance, in my view, of thoroughly mastering the kata taught at beginning kyu-levels. One such kata to which I refer is saifa
Saifa is a rather short kata and is thus rushed over by students. This is a mistake I too made when I first started learning karate. I wanted to get to the more exciting kata like kuruunfa and suparinpei. However, as time went by I grew a new appreciation for this kata, and research I did about its history lead me to a rather interesting discovery: saifa most likely originated in the lion style kung fu of Southern China.
There are a few lines of evidence which support this claim, besides the fact that saifa retained its original Chinese pronunciation. One is the double hiraken strike which resembles a lion seizing its prey and throwing it violently to the ground. Another is the mawashi uke which, in this case, refers to a lion opening and attacking with its jaws than a tiger (another name for mawashi uke is tora guchi – “tiger’s mouth”). A final bit of evidence that this kata is based on a lion are the stomping movements near the end which represent a lion’s powerful paws striking the earth.
This understanding of saifa‘s origins makes the most sense to me, and performing the kata with the understanding that it is in imitation of a lion just fits. Since I came to this realization, I have had more fun performing it. There is just something about imitating the movements of a noble, ferocious lion which really invigorates me martially. Keep that in mind next time you perform this brief albeit effective kata, and let the spirit of this mighty wild cat be with you!