In his “Best Karate” series of volumes, Nakayama Sensei described kata as “logical arrangements of blocking, punching, striking and kicking techniques in certain set sequences”…… a basic definition which Enoeda Sensei, in his text “Shotokan Advanced Kata”, subsequently extended to “a form or exercise in the Japanese martial art of Karate-Do. The performance of a sequence of complex karate techniques in a precise and regulated manner, in order to meet and repulse the imaginary attack of multiple assailants. A method of teaching self defence through the use of karate, a way of exercising and developing the body”.
However, as Enoeda Sensei was at pains to emphasise, such a definition did not even hint at the importance or the significance of kata, going on to explain that, in the historical sense, the very “art of karate itself was handed down….from ancient times, largely in the form of kata, each of which had been refined and perfected over the centuries by the practical experience in combat, and the dedicated practice of long dead karate masters”.
In his seminal text “Karate-Do Kyohan : The Master Text”, Master Gichin Funakoshi, the founder of Shotokan Karate, explained that all kata fell broadly into two classifications, namely those of the Shorei-ryu (Shorei school) or the Shorin-ryu (Shorin school). The former emphasised primarily the development of physical strength, muscular power, direct techniques and forcefulness (e.g. Tekki, Jitte, Hangetsu, Jion and Sochin, among others), the latter being more concerned with fast, light and evasive movements (e.g. Heian, Bassai, Kanku and Empi). Neither school was seen as taking precedence over the other. Rather, both were seen as means of developing the mind and body in tandem.
As emphasised by Nakayama Sensei, “training in kata is spiritual as well as physical. In his performance of the kata, the karateka should exhibit boldness and confidence, but also humility, gentleness and a sense of decorum, thus integrating mind and body in a singular discipline. As Gichin Funakoshi often reminded his students, ‘the spirit of karate-do is lost without courtesy’ “.
Taking up this point, Enoeda Sensei reiterated that “etiquette is of the utmost importance in karate-do, and must be maintained at all times. Therefore, whenever you practise, do so with modesty but not timidity. Be ready at all times to express yourself through the kata you are performing by bringing together your mind, body and the movements of the exercise. Avoid, however, at all costs becoming preoccupied with the rules and method of the performance of the kata to the exclusion of the fighting methods that they contain, the learning of which were, and are, the principal purpose of these important and exacting exercises”.
As currently constituted, the Shotokan Kata Syllabus contains the following Kata, with a brief description of the origins/meaning of each.
Heian (Peaceful Mind)
There are five Heian forms, Shodan (21 movements), Nidan (26 movements), Sandan (20 movements), Yondan (27 movements) and Godan (23 movements), which, collectively, contain a great variety of techniques and almost all of the basic stances. In Master Funakoshi’s analysis, in mastering these five forms the karateka could be confident of being able to defend him or her self competently – thereby engendering a peaceful state of mind.
Tekki (Horse Riding)
There are three Tekki forms, Shodan (29 movements), Nidan (24 movements) and Sandan (36 movements), which are so named because of the stance employed, with the legs set in a strong straddling position.
Bassai (To storm a castle)
There are two variations of Bassai : Bassai-Dai (52 movements) and Bassai-Sho (45 movements). As defined by Master Funakoshi, the Bassai katas contain repeated switching of blocking arms, representative of the feeling of shifting from a position of disadvantage to one of advantage, implying a will similar to that needed to break through an enemy’s fortress. Enoeda Sensei highlighted the strength of mind and body required to overcome the position of an entrenched enemy, further stating that, when properly performed, the Bassai kata depict the determination of the karateka to destroy the will of his enemy to fight.
Kanku (To look at the sky)
There are two variations of Kanku : Kanku-Dai (67 movements) and Kanku-Sho (54 movements). The kata gets its name from the opening movement of Kanku-Dai, where the slowly rising hand position of the karateka is seen to track the rising sun, before exploding into action. Enoeda Sensei describes Kanku-Dai as “a magnificent kata which expresses the togertherness of heaven, earth and oneself as you fight imaginary enemies attacking from all sides. Both kata are lengthy and demanding, with Kanku-Sho laying more emphasis on chudan level techniques than Kanku-Dai, where the focus is more jodan based.
Empi (Flight of the swallow)
This kata is so named because of the similarity of its sharp, snappy movements to what Enoeda Sensei calls the “joyful flight of swallows”, adding, further, that the kata is “unusual in that the performer deliberately creates ‘unguarded moments’ or weaknesses in his defence in an attempt to induce his enemy to attack”. (46 movements)
Gankaku (Crane on a rock)
As elucidated by Enoeda Sensei, “the two characters with which this kata’s name is written, are the Chinese ideograms for a rock and the bird known as the crane. Combined, they allude to the crane standing in its characteristic one-legged stance on a rock, from which comes the name Gankaku. Imagine this beautiful and seemingly harmless bird standing on one leg, confronting his enemy and preventing his attack by projecting an aura of immense superiority. Imagine also as he concentrates all his power into his legs, wings and beak, in preparation for his own attack”. This should be the karateka’s focus when in this characteristic one-legged position. (48 movements)
The distinctive salutation at the beginning of this Kata (right hand enclosed by left at chin height), which is also evident in the kata Jiin (see below), has its origins in the manner in which the monks of the Jion Temple (Jion-Ji) in China greeted and made themselves known to each other. In Enoeda Sensei’s analysis, this kata “hides powerful attacking techniques within harmonious, peaceful movements, and is a most suitable exercise for mastering advancing and turning together with correct and effective foot movements”. (53 movements)
As noted above, this kata shares its opening stance and salutation with Jion, with which it also shares an emphasis on the mastery of forward movements and turns. (39 movements)
Jitte (Jutte) (Ten Hands)
The idea implicit in this kata’s name (ju – ten: te – hand) is that mastery of the form should enable the karateka to perform the actions of (i.e. be as effective as) ten men. Nakayama Sensei highlights the kata’s suitability for teaching techniques to deal with weapon attacks, particularly stick (bo) attacks.
Hangetsu (Crescent/Half moon)
This kata is so named from the semicircular movements of the hands and feet, which are seen to have particular effectiveness in fighting at close quarters. Incorporating both fast and slow techniques, the combination of breath control and the emphasis on tension and contraction of muscles as techniques are performed are designed to develop muscle, strength and stamina. (46 movements)
Chinte (Extraordinary hand)
This kata derives its name from the two Chinese characters indicating “extraordinary” and “hand”, linked to the unique techniques employed in the kata, such as tateken (hammer fist strikes) and nihon-nukite (two-finger spear hand). (38 movements)
This kata takes its name from the “Sochin-Dachi” stance which features prominently. Also termed “Fudo-Dachi” or Rooted Stance, it is central to the performance of this kata that, as Enoeda Sensei stressed, the karateka does not raise or arch the soles of the feet, but grip the floor as firmly as possible, with movements alternating between the tense and the explosive. In Enoeda Sensei’s view, Sochin was one of the most difficult katas to perform properly. (43 movements)
Nijushiho (Twenty four steps)
As suggested above, this kata’s name derived, originally, from the number of foot movements required for its completion. Nakayama Sensei stresses that the techniques employed in this kata must flow smoothly and in an unbroken manner, one into the other. (35 movements)
Gojushiho (Fifty four steps)
There are two variations of Gojushiho : Gojushiho-Dai (64 movements) and Gojushiho-Sho (67 movements). What they have in common, as emphasised by Nakayama Sensei, is the requirement that the karateka has attained a high level of technical skill in order to perform them effectively. Only then will their subtleties and complexities be properly understood.
Unsu (Cloud hands)
As explained by Nakayama Sensei, “clouds undergo incessant transformations, though these are not always visible or evident to the naked eye. So, too, does this kata, which takes its name from this phenomenon. In response to the moves of adversaries, there are high and low jumps, feints and provocations, using all parts of the body as weapons, and developing, especially, lightness and quickness, timing, rhythm and strategic skills”. (50 movements)
Wankan (King’s Crown)
This kata gets its name from the first six moves, which are supposed to form the shape of an Okinawan crown. The kata is unusual in that it is relatively short (24 moves), has only one kiai, and is the only Shotokan kata that begins on a diagonal line. There is some speculation that the kata’s brevity results from the fact that Master Funakoshi’s son, Yoshitaka, who was in the process of importing and modifying the kata from another style, died prematurely. Like Jiin, Wankan was rather ignored for a long time, since it was not included in Nakayama Sensei’s “Best Karate” series, The Japanese Karate Association has tried to redress this by including it in their modernised series of books entitled “Karate-Do Kata”.
Rohai (also known as Meikyo)
“Rohai” translates as “vision of a heron”, with “Meikyo” most often translated as “bright mirror” or “polished mirror”. This latter is interpreted as perhaps alluding to the position adopted at the beginning of the kata, when the hands are held up in front of the face as if looking in a mirror. Despite its relative simplicity, it is seen as an advanced kata, whose proper execution is evidence of progress made by the karateka in the correct execution and understanding of techniques first encountered in the Heian kata. (35 movements)
Innovative Practice at Budo Karate Club
It is a feature of his approach to teaching that Gavienas Sensei constantly seeks to introduce fresh and challenging elements to the training schedule.
Drawing on his long experience of Shotokan and other styles, Gavienas Sensei has developed, thus far, five new sets of extended combinations which can be viewed as kata forms to supplement and complement the formal kata which are part of the Shotokan syllabus and are detailed above. These forms are specific to the Budo club, will not be experienced elsewhere, and reflect Gavienas Sensei’s determination to bring something unique and developmental to the training experience of those committed to the principles and ethos of Budo Karate. Within the Kata context, as in all areas of training, Gavienas Sensei seeks to emphasise all relevant aspects. While acknowledging the importance of technique, Gavienas Sensei places similar emphasis on posture, strength, speed, power, transitional movement, timing, focus, stances and breathing. Without all of them being present and practised, true Kata within a Budo framework will be absent. Without these components, without spirit, there is no Budo. In this regard, Gavienas Sensei’s view reflects completely that of Sensei Mikio Yahara, world renowned karateka, who is on record as saying that without spirit, karate is not Budo, just movement.
The first of these – which has been named Sougou Suru, the Japanese term for “To Synthesise” – offers students the opportunity to experience some of the movements more commonly seen in the Sankukai style, incorporating slow and fast techniques, strikes, blocks and kicks, with a particular emphasis on correct breathing throughout.
The second exercise – which has been named Isso Suru, the Japanese term for “To Sweep Away” – has its origins in the Shotokan kata Unsu. The form is so named to reflect the variety of sweeping blocks and strikes which lie at its heart.
The third exercise – which has been named Tekki Budo – utilises the linear embusen of the Tekki form, but incorporates a range of blocking, striking and punching techniques in combinations peculiar to the Budo club, designed to encapsulate Budo spirit and awareness.
The fourth exercise – which has been named Kudakeru Nami, the Japanese term for “Crashing Wave” – in addition to fundamental Shotokan moves, also encapsulates a series of combinations derived from strikes and blocks more usually encountered in other Karate styles, particularly Gojo Ryu’s “hard-soft” style. The form is so named to reflect its gradual transition from a slowly building beginning to an explosive ending, a rolling wave crashing all along the beach.
The fifth exercise – which has been named Issho Kenmei, can be translated as “Committed for Life”. Gavienas Sensei has developed a unique combination of strikes, blocks and transitions which emphasise the importance of responsiveness, breathing and commitment. “Issho Kenmei” was considered to be a Samurai term which, in the Budo training context, means that one executes every movement with all that one has, without fear of being hit or error…with all one’s spirit. The idea is that the karateka devotes himself or herself completely to what is being done at that moment. In so doing, they are valuing every moment of their lives, both within and outwith the Dojo, and it is the cumulative effort of all these moments which mark out one’s journey on the Way. In a related vein, “Issho Kenmei” indicates a commitment for life to the study and practice of Karate, as well as a commitment, through friendship and respect, to your fellow karateka.
Finally, within the context of Kata, consider this. No Kata within the Shotokan syllabus begins with an offensive move. All begin defensively. Of course, the subsequent move might well be responsive, but the initial move is never aggressive. Reflect now on the second of Master Funakoshi’s Twenty Precepts (to be found in the Articles page on this site), and one may understand better the meaning behind “There is no first strike in karate”.