Kata | The Martial Way (2023)

What is Kata?

In Shōtōkan Karate, Kata is a sequence of pre-arranged movements. When performed to it’s maximum ability, the student’s Kata will show precision and attention to form and technique. There are Five Characteristics of Kata.

The principles of Kata can not only be applied in martial arts, but in many processes that we do in everyday life when learning something new.

For example, when initially learning to drive a car you have to be consciously aware of when to press the brake, when to shift gears or how far the steering wheel needs to be turned to move the car in a particular direction. With repetitive practice however, you can shift into “Auto-Pilot” and co-ordinate all these processes simultaneously while also multi-tasking.

In the same way, Katas are used to help learn and remember fundamental movements and techniques in Karate. As one grows more proficient in the Karate style, the habit of thinking and acting that sequence of movement becomes involuntary.

Shōtōkan Katas

Some Katas may not be part of your Shōtōkan club Kata syllabus. Counts and Kiai areas are as per JKA. Click on Kata name for more information. Material provided is purely for guidance purposes only. Consult with your JKA certified instructor first.

Kata NameKanjiKiai #1Kiai #2CountMeaningKata Groups
Taikyoku Sho-dan 太極初段 8 16 20 First cause - first level Modern
Taikyoku San-dan 太極初段 8 16 20 First cause - second level Modern
Heian Sho-dan 平安初段 9 17 21 Peaceful mind - first level Heian
Heian Ni-dan 平安二段 11 26 26 Peaceful mind - second level Heian
Heian San-dan 平安三段 10 20 20 Peaceful mind - third level Heian
Heian Yon-dan 平安四段 13 25 27 Peaceful mind - fourth level Heian
Heian Go-dan 平安五段 12 19 23 Peaceful mind - fifth level Heian
Tekki Sho-dan 鉄騎初段 15 29 29 Iron horse - first level Tekki
Tekki Ni-dan 鉄騎二段 16 24 24 Iron horse - second level Tekki
Tekki San-dan 鉄騎三段 16 36 36 Iron horse - third level Tekki
Bassai-Dai 披塞大 19 42 42 To penetrate the fortress - big Sentei
Kanku-Dai 観空大 16 65 65 To look at the sky - big Sentei
Jion 慈恩 17 47 47 Named after the Temple Jion-Ji Sentei
Empi 燕飛 15 36 37 Flying swallow Sentei
Jitte 十手 13 24 24 Ten hands Advanced (Funakoshi)
Gankaku 岩鶴 28 42 42 Crane on a rock Advanced (Funakoshi)
Hangetsu 半月 11 40 41 Half moon Advanced (Funakoshi)
Kanku-Sho 観空小 6 48 48 To look at the sky - small Advanced (Nakayama)
Bassai-Sho 披塞小 17 22 27 To penetrate the fortress - small Advanced (Nakayama)
Chinte 珍手 28 32 32 Incredible hands Advanced (Nakayama)
Nijushiho 二十四步 18 33 34 24 Steps Advanced (Nakayama)
Sochin 壯鎭 30 41 41 Preserve peace Advanced (Nakayama)
Unsu 雲手 36 48 48 Hand of a cloud Advanced (Nakayama)
Gojushiho-Sho 五十四歩小 57 64 65 54 Steps - small Advanced (Nakayama)
Gojushiho-Dai 五十四歩大 59 66 67 54 Steps - big Advanced (Nakayama)
Meikyo 明鏡 32 - 33 Mirror of the soul Advanced (Nakayama)
Wankan 王冠 24 - 24 Crown of a king Advanced (Rare)
Jiin 慈陰 11 35 35 Named after the Temple Jion-Ji or the saint Advanced (Rare)

Kata Groups

  • MODERN
  • HEIAN
  • TEKKI
  • SENTEI
  • ADV. (Funakoshi)
  • ADV. (Nakayama)
  • ADV. (Rare)

Mordern

These modern Kata were created in the 30's by Gichin Funakoshi and his son Gigo. They are the most basic Kata, feeling more likekihon. They were made to simplify the teaching of Karate to large groups of students. By today's standards they are considered overly simplified and most instructors view them as obsolete. However, although these Kata do not form part of the 25 Kata of JKA Shōtōkan Karate, Taikyoku Shodan is a required Kata for early kyu exams at several dojo, including thehonbudojo in Japan (as listed on the JKA website).

Heian

The fiveHeianKata (orPinanin Okinawan) were developed by Gichin Funakoshi's teacher, Yasutsune Itosu, to facilitate the teaching of Karate to large groups of students. The wordHeianis a combination of the wordheiwa, meaning "calm" or "peaceful," and the wordantei, which means "easy" or "stable." Therefore,Heiancould be translated as "Peace and Stability." Gichin Funakoshi uses the translation "Peaceful Mind" in his bookKarate-Do Kyohan.HeianKata are taught to beginner and intermediate students. It is through practice of theHeianKata that the student learns the basic skills of Karate.

It should be noted that, originally,Heian ShodanandHeian Nidanwere taught in reverse order, with names reversed as well. Gichin Funakoshi switched their order to give a better indication of their respective difficulties.

Tekki

Tekki(alsoNaihanchiorNaifanchi) is usually translated as "Iron Horseman." This is because, aside from crossing the feet inkosaposition a few times, all movements in the threeTekkiKata are performed in horse stance. Theembusenfor allTekkiKata is a lateral straight line (i.e. there are no forward or backward stepping motions). The idea when performing these Kata is that you are defending against assailants with your back to a wall. The practice ofTekkiis excellent for developing a strong horse stance, sharp hip vibration, and stealthy lateral movement. Sokon Matsumura is believed to have learnedTekkiduring his excursions to China. It was Yasutsune Itosu who modified and expanded this Kata, creatingTekki NidanandTekki Sandan.

Sentei

Senteimeans "selection." The four "selection Kata" exemplify Shōtōkan Karate. They are very strong yet humble Kata. Usually taught at the brown belt level, it is from these four Kata that a 1stkyubrown belt must choose atokuiKata for their black belt exam. ThetokuiKata is the Kata chosen as one's favorite or best Kata. Also, all black belts are expected to know the four SenteiKata for tournament since these Kata are used during the elimination rounds. Although the SenteiKata are taught after learning theHeianandTekkiKata, it should be understood that the former Kata predate the latter.HeianKata were created after, in an effort to simplify the learning of the SenteiKata.

Advanced (Funakoshi)

Not really a separate grouping of Kata, these three Kata represent the more advanced Kata taught by Gichin Funakoshi. These advanced Kata, although not necessarily more difficult than other Kata, require deeper understanding of breathing, muscle contraction/expansion, and timing. Although Funakoshi taughtTaikyokuKata andTen No Kata, he only taught 15 out of the standard 26 Shōtōkan Kata taught today. These included the 5Heian, 3Tekki, 4Sentei, and 3 advanced Kata.

Advanced (Nakayama)

These nine Kata were labeled as "Advanced Kata" in Masatoshi Nakayama'sBest Karateseries, still one of the most comprehensive resources in the study of JKA Shōtōkan Kata. These Kata require greater agility, as many of the movements are quite extravagant, requiring jumping, falling, high kicks, etc. Most of these Kata were borrowed from other styles of Karate and stem directly from the five animals of Shaolin kung fu. These Kata tend to be more exciting, for the performer as well as the spectator, and are usually tournament favorites.

Advanced (Rare)

These two Kata are also considered as advanced, with only one difference. These Kata were the only Kata never described in Nakayama'sBest Karateseries, which left these Kata shrouded in mystery. In order to rectify this, the JKA has includedWankanin its newer series of Kata books whileJiinhas actually been removed from the JKA Kata syllabus.

Bunkai

break down

Bunkai in the Japanese language is made up of two charters. The first character is Bun and the second is Kai. Bunkai means to “break down” [bun] and “solve” [kai]. So, Kata Bunkai means to break down the movements of the Kata and study its practical applications.

Kata | The Martial Way (1)

Bunkai is a very popular discussion topic amongst martial artists today as it can be very subjective, and each marital artist may make a different interpretation of its meaning and thus how it would be used in a real life scenario or demonstration.

After a few years of training, most Karate students will know several Katas. However, there is a world of difference between being able to perform the movements of the Kata, and truly understanding the meaning and interpretation behind the technique.

Kata without the knowledge of bunkai has no fight at all. Only through a proper study of bunkai under supervision can Kata actually be used for self-dense. When you begin to study bunkai, you will see applications everywhere. Consistent and rigorous training is required to achieve and execute high level bunkai applications.

The traditional practice had been to learn the Kata and when it was of a sufficient standard (and the student had gained the master’s trust) the applications would be taught. However, it now became the norm to teach the Kata for its own sake and the applications might never be taught (as is sadly still the case in the majority of Karate schools today).

Brief History on Shōtōkan Kata

Kata has always been an integral part of Karate practice. In Okinawa, where Karate originated, the founders of Karate created the Katas in order to teach the techniques and skills required to protect a person from violent assault by inflicting devastating pain upon an aggressor.

Kata | The Martial Way (2)The recording of information through physical movement is probably as old as mankind itself. Ancient cultures often used sequences of physical movements as a method to pass on their culture to the next generation. Part of this culture would undoubtedly be the fighting and hunting techniques that the group had refined and found to be most successful. Since combat is a physical activity, there can be little doubt that the most effective way for an individual to learn the combative skills of the group would be to copy the physical movements of those who were more experienced. The elders would demonstrate the various combative movements and the younger members of the group would try to emulate them. These skills would eventually be further refined and then passed on to subsequent generations. It is in this way that the first ‘Katas’ would have been created.

Funakoshi transformed Okinawan Karate into a Japanese art by infusing it with concepts taken from Japanesebudo (literally, martial ways). Funakoshi further changed the names of the Kata for reasons of his own and he recognised Karate terms in conformity with kendo, Japanese Fencing.

The application of the Kata in modern times has changed. While the practice of the Kata now still contains all the principles and methods of the original fighting art, it’s main purpose now is to show accuracy and precision with form. Being able to demonstrate a Kata effectively is also crucial requirement in passing each grading.

Practising the Kata can however also provide the Karateka with many other benefits including improved health, greater mental and physical control, a greater understanding of self, enhanced self-confidence, discipline etc.

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