Kata is the formal exercise and primary training tool of karate. Kata consists of a prearranged series of movements designed to provide the student with a tool for practicing the basic karate techniques and combinations of techniques through repetition.
Since most karate schools use kata in their training, it provides a common ground between styles and systems. Though most common usage of kata focuses on solo or one-person forms, two-person and three-person kata also exist within certain styles and systems.
All karate styles and schools are founded on the use of basic martial arts techniques. These techniques include punches, strikes, blocks, kicks, and other movements depending on the school and style. These basic techniques are the "alphabet" of karate-do. Most schools teach the basic techniques and include repetitive practice of them on a regular basis.
Early karate teachers linked these basic techniques into prearranged series (kata) to support many teaching objectives including: development of combinations, simulation of combat against multiple imaginary opponents and/or another venue for practice of a particular technique or series of techniques. Many feel that the kata are reenactments of former battles. Regardless of intent, these series of movements became the dictionary of karate. The early kata forms have been identified with many past karate teachers and schools and are the kata many modern day schools throughout the world include as part of their curriculum today.
It is thought that most karate kata originated in Okinawa, when in fact, many of the early kata were named after Chinese kung-fu experts who taught the Okinawans their art. This historic linkage or "hand-holding" of kata development to China is strong.
Many of the forms used today appear to have origins in China and then were formalized in Okinawa between 1600 and 1950. One can speculate that Chinese martial artists traveled to Okinawa and continued to do their daily practice of their art. The Okinawans watched these forms and tried to copy them. After many years of development they were organized and formally handed down from teacher to student, in many cases, father to son.
At the time when karate kata was being developed in Okinawa, kata was the primary means of instruction. Knowledge of the martial arts was transmitted from generation to generation and training was done in secrecy. No written records were kept and kata were taught selectively to a chosen few. The security of the village was dependent upon the men of the village and their ability to defend it against attack. Therefore, the karate and its kata were closely held and became unique to the region where it was taught. It is important to understand that a single kata was practiced for years and a particular teacher may have only been proficient in a few kata. Many of the great masters traveled from teacher to teacher to learn several of the kata.
Prior to the 1700's, little formalization of kata existed and even the concept of a karate dojo was unknown. Many of these forms were finally organized between 1750 and 1900 through teachers such as Karate Sakugawa (1733-1851) and Soken (Bushi) Matsumura (1797-1889). Though a large number of kata were directly brought from China, some were created by the Okinawan masters themselves. Modern karate kata can be traced back to three primary Okinawan schools: Shuri-Te, Tomari-Te, and Naha-Te. These schools are classified as such because of the village from which the schools or styles originated: Shuri, Tomari and Naha. All of these villages are located on the southern tip of Okinawa. The later section on kata history will trace the three Okinawan schools, their masters and their traditional katas.
Around 1900, karate and these Okinawan kata migrated to Japan. Largely due to Gichin Funakoshi (1868-1957), many of the basic katas from Okinawa were taught in Japan, initially at the collegiate level. These kata were modified for better acceptance by the Japanese and saw widespread growth in Japan during the 1940's. Funakoshi presented the Japanese with a karate with a formalism not usually seen in early Okinawan dojos. The Japanese embraced this karate and soon other teachers from Okinawa, such as Kenwa Mabuni ((1889-1953), came and taught in Japan. Mabuni was a student of Yasutsune Itosu (1830-1915) and Hagachiona, and a friend of Funakoshi. Mabuni developed his Shito-Ryu style based on many katas from both of these systems and taught these to the Japanese. At the end of World War II, United States military personnel began learning these karate styles during their occupation of Japan. Many soldiers carried what they learned back to the United States and the spread of practitioners grew in the United States and now covers the globe. Many kata are common to both Okinawan and Japanese styles and the decendants of those styles. A table on the following page, lists alphabetically many of the common karate in use today, listed by both their Okinawan and Japanese names. Included in the table are interpretations of the kata's meaning. In many cases, the forms have been named after their originator.
Okinawan Japanese Meaning of Title Chinte Chinte Mysterious of Bamboo Hand/Calmness Chinto Gankaku Fighting to the East or orig. (Chinto) /Crane on Rock (Gankaku) Jiin Jiin Temple Ground Jion Jion Temple Sound Jitte Jitte Ten Hands Kusanku Dai Kanku Dai View the Sky - Long/orig. Kusanju Kusanku Sho Kanku Sho View the Sky - Short/orig. Kusanku Naihanchi Shodan Tekki Shodan Fighting Holding Your Ground 1/Horse Riding (Tekki) Naihanchi Nidan Tekki Nidan Fighting Holding Your Ground 2/Horse Riding (Tekki) Naihanchi Sandan Tekki Sandan Fighting Holding Your Ground 3/Horse Riding (Tekki) Niseshi Nijushiho 24 or twenty four steps Passai Sho Bassai Dai Penetrating Fortress - Long Passai Dai Bassai Sho Penetrating Fortress - Short Pinan Godan Heian Godan Peaceful Mind 5 Pinan Nidan Heian Shodan Peaceful Mind 2 Pinan Shodan Heian Nidan Peaceful Mind 1 Pinan Sandan Heian Sandan Peaceful Mind 3 Pinan Yondan Heian Yondan Peaceful Mind 4 Rohai Meikyo White Heron or Vision of Crane (Rohai) /Polishing Mirror (Meikyo) Seisan (Seishan) Hangetsu 13 or wo/Half Moon (Hangetsu) Sochin Sochin To Move Into Battle or Preserve Peace Unshu Unsu Cloud Hand Useshi, Gojushiho Gojushiho 54 Steps Black Tiger and use of White Crane Fist (Oldest Okinawan) Wankan Matsukaze Kings Crown (Wankan) / Pine Tree Wind (Matsukaze) Wansu (Wanshu) Empi Flying Swallow (Empi) or orig. Chinese Envoy (Wanshu)History
Kata, as with martial arts in general, has a lineage from China. It doesn't really matter whether the transfer of knowledge was through Okinawan martial artists traveling to China and studying kung-fu or by Chinese masters visiting Okinawa. There is strong evidence that many of the kata were in existence in China prior to the 1600's. One of the few written accounts of kata brought from China is the text of Bubishi. The book, Bubishi, meaning "Martial Art Spirit", recorded the Fukien style of kempo. Several of the Okinawan kata are discussed in Bubishi including Gojushiho and hakutsura (white crane form). The Bubishi may have been introduced to Okinawa through any one of many theories and supported the development of early kata.
Kata development in Okinawa included those kata taken from the Chinese and those developed by Okinawan masters themselves. Since no written records were kept, kata served as a perfect way for transferring the knowledge from generation to generation. This is much the same way ancient people used rhymes to remember things. In most cases, the teaching would be based on a family tradition of martial arts skills and be taught by the head of the family or village elder. This was a form of "village karate" as opposed to "dojo karate" as we know it today.
Around the mid-1700's, three key individuals seemed to form a melting pot for the birth of modern karate kata: Shinjo Choken, Karate Sakugawa (1733-1815), and Chatan Yara (c. 1750). Choken was one of the earliest practitioners of Shuri-Te. Both Sakugawa and Yara traveled to Fukien Province in China and probably studied martial arts and weaponery while there. Both studied under the Chinese envoy, Kusanku, either in China or while Kusanku was in Okinawa. Kusanku was reported to be an expert in the martial arts and had learned his abilities from a Shaolin monk. From this combination of individuals in the mid-1700's, karate kata began to focus.
The original Okinawan karate
forms were developed during the 19th century under two major divisions of styles:
Shuri-Te (Shuri Hands) and Naha-Te (Naha Hands). Though they were both derived
from similar Chinese forms, each developed differently based on location and
social position of the developers. The Shuri-Te was practiced in and around
the city of Shuri where the king and members of the nobility lived. Naha-Te
was practiced in and around the coastal city of Naha which was a large trade
center. Another style developed which is closely related to Shuri-Te, which
was named Tomari-Te. Tomari-Te was practiced in the Tomari village populated
by farmers and fisherman. The three styles have differences which can be traced
back to the social-economic position of the practitioners. At the bottom, was
the worker class studying Tomari-Te. The middle level was merchant class students
studying Naha-Te. The upper class noblemen were then studying Shuri-Te in and
around the capital.
The kata development of Shuri-Te traced similar lines as to its teachers. The primary student of Sakugawa was Bushi Matsumuura and he carried on the Kusanku kata, while also adding to it the Naihanchi, Passai, Seisan, Chinto, Channan, Gojushiho and Hakutsura kata. This marked the most significant changes to the Shuri-Te system and its kata.
Soken (Bushi) Matsumura grew up in Yamagawa village of the city of Shuri, Okinawa. He was of the warrior class and spent over four years studying martial arts under Karate Sakugawa. He was recruited into the service of the Royal Okinawan Sho family and became the chief martial arts trainer for the king and eventually became the head bodyguard to the Okinawan King. During this period he spent time in China and received additional training in the Chinese martial arts. In recognition for his abilities and accomplishments, the Okinawan King gave him the title of Bushi, meaning "warrior." Bushi Matsumura created the Shorin-Ryu style of karate. This later gave birth to Shotokan Ryu, Kobayashi Ryu and Shito Ryu styles.
The following table lists the kata practiced by each of these primary Shuri-Te styles. The kata development started with a few kata and slowly grew over the years to include many more. Each new style which grew from the Shuri-Te included its own versions of many of the comman kata. One of the most stylized of kata is Kusanku which has versions in Maysumura Seito Ryu, Kobayashi Ryu, Shotokan Ryu, Shito Ryu, Matsubayashi Ryu, Isshin Ryu, and Shobayashi Ryu systems.
SHURI-TE SHOTOKAN SHORIN-RYU KOBAYASI SHITO-RYU Ananko Chinte Ananku Chinto Chinte (brought from Taiwan - Kyan) Aoyagi Chinto Chinto Kusanku-Dai Chinto Chinte Jiin Fukyugata-Ichi Kusanku-Sho Gojushiho (made by Nagamine) Chinto Jion Fukyugata-Ni Naifanchi- Jiin (altered by Nidan Gekisai-Ichi) Jiin Jitte Gojushiho Naifanchi- Jitte Sandan Jion Kusanku-Dai Kusanku-Dai Naifanchi- Jion (Chatanyara- Shodan no-Kusanku) Jitte Kusanku-Sho Naifanchi- Passai-Dai Kusanku-Dai Nidan Jyuroko Naifanchi- Naifanchi- Passai-Sho Kusanku-Sho Nidan Sandan Kusanku-Dai Naifanchi- Naifanchi- Pinan-Godan Naifanchi- Sandan Shodan Nidan Kusanku-Sho Naifanchi- Passai-Dai Pinan-Nidan Naifanchi- Shodan (Tomari-no- Sandan Passai) Naifanchi- Niseshi Pinan-Godan Pinan-Sandan Naifanchi- Nidan Shodan Naifanchi- Passai-Dai Pinan-Nidan Pinan-Shodan Niseshi Sandan Naifanchi- Passai-Sho Pinan-Sandan Pinan-Yondan Passai-Dai Shodan Passai-Dai Pinan-Godan Pinan-Shodan Passai-Sho Passai-Sho Pinan-Nidan Pinan-Yondan Pinan-Godan Pinan-Sandan Rohai Pinan-Nidan Pinan-Shodan Wankan Pinan-Sandan Pinan-Yondan Wansu Pinan-Shodan Rohai Pinan-Yondan Sesan Rohai Sesan Sochin Sesan Usechi Unsu Sochin (Gojoushiho) Useshi Unsu Wankan Wankan Wansu Wansu
The Tomari-Te style was started through the efforts of Karate Sakugawa (1733-1815). The intital kata used was a version of Kusanku. The teachings of the style were carried on through Makabe Chokin (c. 1785). Infuences from South China (Chinto) and students of Chokin expanded the forms used by the Tomari-Te school. The unique kata Wansu, Rohai and Wankan appear to have existed solely in the Tomari-Te system until the 1870's. Yasutsune Itosu (1830-1915) is said to have developed the Shodan, Nidan, and Sandan versions of the Rohai kata. One of the later day teachers of the Tomari-Te style is Shoshin Nagamine (b. 1907). His Matsubayashi Ryu style encompasses many of the Tomari-Te versions of Shuri-Te kata, as well as, the unique Tomari-Te kata including: Pinans, Wankan, Ananku, Gojushiho, Rohai, Wanshu, Passai, Naihanchi, Kusanku and Chinto.
The lineage of the Naha-Te style to China can be seen through the Crane Chinese Boxing styles and their kata. Dragon Boxing uses Seisan, Peichurrin (Suparenpei), Saam Chien and a kata mentioned in Bubishi called Eighteen Scholar Fists. Tiger Boxing also uses Saam Chien, Sanseiru, and Peichurrin, among others. Dog Boxing also uses Saam Chien and Sanseiru among others. Arhat Boxing, also known as Monk Fist, uses Saam Chien, Seisan, Jutte, Seipai, Ueseishi (Gojushiho), and Peichurrin among others. Lion Boxing uses Saam Chien and Seisan among others. These kata can be seen in various versions in the Naha-Te and Ryuei-Ryu styles.
The following table lists some of the kata used by these two Naha-Te styles.
Gekisai-Ichi Sanchin Gekisai-Ni Sanseryu Sanchin Sesan Tensho Kanchin (made by Kanei Uechi) Saifa Kanshiwa (made by Kanei Uechi) Seinchin Seryu (made by Kanei Uechi) Shissochin Kanshu (made by Saburo Uehara) Sesan Sechin (made by Deiki Uehara) Sanseru Sepai Kururunfa Suparenpe
There were several other styles which do not use these orthodox katas of the Shuri-Te, Tomari-Te, and Naha-Te. Some examples include the Motobu-Ryu, which was developed by that family located in Shuri; Kojo-Ryu, which was developed by an old family in Naha; and Ryuei-Ryu, which was established by the Nakaima family of Naha. These styles all use unique kata directly imported from China. Although some were heavily modified, some retained the flowing, sometimes graceful movements more indictive of Chinese. The following table lists some of the kata used by these styles.
MOTOBU-RYU RYUEI-RYU KOJO-RYU KOJOSHO KEMPO Motode Sanchin-Sesan Shoshingata Tora Te Niseshi Fudogata Tsuru Torite Sanseru Chinpugata Hebi Toritekaeshi Seyunchin Jumonjigata Taka Uragaeshi Ohan Unryugatak Ryu Gassente Pachu Aikigata Shika Ogamite Ananko Segangata Hyo Kaeshide Paiku Domyogata Saru Karamite Heiku Techigata Kuma Mukite Paipo Suikagata Kokaku Nagete Ichimonjigata Jayo Ajikatanomainote RyurokuSolo Kata Description
Solo kata can be divided into two broad categories. One group are those that are focused on physical development. The other group consists of kata which develop fast reflexes and the ability to move quickly. All kata require and foster rhythm and coordination.
Kata should be performed with intensity and focus, but also with humility. There is a theme associated with each kata that the karateka wishes to exhibit to the viewers. This should be done with exactness, power and speed and always done with good basic techniques. The performance of the kata should not be arrogant and must always display the courtesy required of a karateka. One expression of this courtesy is the bow at the beginning and end of every kata. The stance is an informal attention or ready stance. After the bow, one moves into the opening of the kata, relaxed, but eyes forward and the body ready to respond to any attack. The kata is then performed, usually starting with a block and performed along a line or series of lines. An example of this is Pinan Shodan (Heian Shodan), in which the performance is done along a series of lines which trace out a capital "I" on the ground. The form is started at the lower intersection of the vertical and horizontal lines and, as with all forms, ends in the same position that it starts. A good check of a well done kata is to note the beginning position and ending position of the practitioner, it should be the same. Kata should always include good basic techniques and strong focus on celebration points and places where the kiai is done.
The following are descriptions of many of the kata in alphabetical order, using the Okinawan names and the Japanes name in parathenthesis. The descriptions include history of the kata and brief highlights of the form's movements.
The kata emphasizes both offensive and defensive moves from a deap forward leaning stance (front leg bent). Strong punches and double-punches occur throughout the form.
The form begins in tranquility, becomes powerful and ends in calmness. One rare technique in this form is the two-finger spear hand to the opponents eyes. This is a very good defense for those lacking strong muscular development.
Matsumura studied with the famous Karate Sakugawa who spent significant time studying martial arts in China. It was Sakugawa that brought many kata to Okinawa and initiated many kata such as Kusanku. He is also credited with introducing the dojo concept. Matsumura is credited with integrating the Chinese Chuan Fa with the Okinawan Te creating Tode (1750) which evloved into Shuri-Te (1830) which evolved into Shorin-Ryu (1870). Gichin Funakoshi (1868-1957) took Chinto with 15 other forms to Japan.
The Chinto form was most likely introduced through Tomari, but was adopted into the Shuri-Te system. There are over five versions of Chinto. The Tomari-Te version has a Chinese flair to it as opposed to the Shuri-Te version, which is more simplistic.
The Chinto form follows a straight line of movement and should be executed with powerful techniques. Characteristic of this form is the one-legged stance occurring repeatedly, which resembles the splendid sight of a crane poised on a rock and about to strike down upon its victim. It also uses various flying kicks which distinguishes it from other katas.
The Jitte (Jutte) kata along with Jiin and Jion are classified as Shuri-Te kata though historically they may have originated with the Tomari-Te system and Matsumura.
The Jion kata along with
Jiin and Jitte (Jutte) are classified as Shuri-Te kata though historically they
may have originated with the Tomari-Te system and Matsumura.
Around 1906, Anko Itosu quite possibly used the Kusanku forms along with a forgotten kata called Channan, to create the Pinan forms. Many movements from the Pinan forms can be seen in Kusanku.
The distinctive feature of this form is the posture. The horse (straddle) stance is kept low and wide, placing the weight of the body on the hips and legs. The idea is to draw all of one's strength up from the abdomen; drawing power to the center. It is this horse riding stance that was used to derive its Japanese name, Tekki, meaning "horse riding".
The shorter (Sho) version of Passai was developed by Yasutsune Itosu (1830-1915). This version stresses the use of the hips in generating power and changing positions quickly. It teaches how to protect oneself by shifting so as not to expose the vital areas. Other techniques contained in this kata are used for night fighting and defense against the bo (wooden staff). The defense against the bo is performed with the open palm and, as often for this purpose, require strength. Passai Sho should be practiced after mastering Passai Dai. The two kata form a series differing in the point that Passai Dai outwardly shows power and solemnity while Passai Sho, in the calmness of its techniques contains an inner strength.
The five katas follow a sequence designed to introduce the beginner to kata and to progressively introduce more techniques as the student advances. The series incorporates almost all of the basic stances and many of the basic techniques of the various Okinawan systems of karate, thereby making the Pinans suitable for beginners and intermediates. Mastering each form requires years of practice in order to understand the finer points of each movement. Although the Pinans do not contain symbolic movements often seen in more advanced kata, there are a variety of combat interpretations for several of the basic techniques included in the forms. Understanding the techniques and their usage against the attacker will help the student to take away a practical application from the Pinans.
Seisan is said to be the oldest kata still in use. The kata translates to the number "13" or "30" and its roots can be traced back to China. The unique thing about this kata is that there are two quite different versions. The Naha-Te version of Seisan favors the Chinese style and the Shuri-Te version had its own evolution. The Shuri-Te version can be traced back to Bushi Matsumura and includes techniques repeated in combinations of three, open-handed blocks and a defense against groin kicks.
As with the Ananku kata, Seisan incorporates the pivots and head turning action. Toward the kata's midpoint, there is a set of three double blocking maneuvers that can be interpreted as side blocks combined with center blocks. The follow-up movement of the center block is one of the unique features of Seisan. The two interpretations are of a two-finger spear thrust to the eyes, or of an arm grab. The hidden movement would come with the arm grab which would be an overhand punch with the other hand. The foot movements in the form are always useful in getting inside the opponents legs, attacking and destroying his balance.
The Japanese translation of the form, Hangetsu, means half-moon and is derived from the Sanshin stance and hand movements in the form. The stances and hand movements include semi-circular paths.
The kata includes a distinctive upper level attack followed by the defender grasping the opponent and drawing him inward, simultaneously jumping in and attacking again. This movement resembles the up and down and flipping away flight of a swallow.
The form emphasizes speed and contains a throwing technique. Towards the end of the form, there are a series of moves in which the karateka picks up the attacker and dumps him to the ground. For this reason, Wansu kata is known as "the Dumping Form". Because the form emphasizes very strong vertical punches, it is also know as the "Strong Arm Form". Tatsuo Shimabuku referred to Wansu as the "Dragon Boy" form due to the strong movement of the downward strike or block from the T-stance, which feels like a sweep of a dragon's tail.
The primary technique of
Wansu is the vertical punch. The "hidden" punch is the second vertical punch
of each series which is executed while drawing the opposite hand to the neck.
In some systems, this punch is delivered as a fore-knuckle punch.
Two types of multiple-person kata have been developed. The first is basically an introduction to sparring employing one or two movements between an attacker and a defender. The second consists of a flowing series of movements between two or more participants investigating the timing, distance, and intercection of proper technique.
Ippon Kumite or one-step sparring practices a defense against a single attack. An example would have the attacker lunge punch to the mid section while the defender middle blocks. A counter-attack may also be added to the defenders technique, block-then-punch. Nippon Kumite or two-step sparring is similar but with the addition of a second attack.
The Kojosho two-person and
three-person forms are examples of more flowing forms which investigate motion
and interplay between combatants.
The common kata discussed
earlier are used throughout many styles of karate. The following table lists
several of the styles and the kata used by them. It is easy to see why several
of the kata used by the Kojosho system were chosen, partly by their wide usage
and partly by their good introduction of basic posture and stances. The Pinan
kata are good examples of basic kata which are used throughout much of karate.
These forms provide a strong basis for students to be able to recognize and
participate in kata at many other schools and styles.
Japanese Okinawin A B C D E F G H I J K L M Heian Nidan Pinan Shodan x x x x x x Heian Shodan Pinan Nidan x x x x x x Heian Sandan Pinan Sandan x x x x x x Heian Yondan Pinan Yondan x x x x x Heian Godan Pinan Godan x x x x x Bassai Dai Passai Sho x x x x x x x x Kanku Dai Kusanku Dai x x x x x x x Bassai Sho Passai Dai x x x x Kanku Sho Kusanku Sho x x x x x Chinte Chinte x x x Empi Wansu x x x x x x Gankaku Chinto x x x x x x x x Gojushiho Useshi, Gojushiho x x x x Hangetsu Seisan x x x x x x x x x Jiin Jiin x x Jion Jion x x x x Jitte Jitte x x x x Meikyo Rohai x x x Nijushiho Niseshi x x Sochin Sochin x x x x Tekki Shodan Naihanchi Shodan x x x x x x x x Tekki Nidan Naihanchi Nidan x x x x x x x x x Tekki Sandan Naihanchi Sandan x x x x x x x x x Unsu Unshu x x Wankan Wankan x x Key A - Cerio's Kenpo (AmericanKarate) B - Budokan Karate (Australian Karate) C - Chito-Ryu (Japanese Karate) D - Goju-Ryu (Japanese Karate, Chojun Miyagi System) E - Kyokushinkai (Japanese Karate, Masutatu Oyama System) F - Isshin-Ryu (Okinawan Karate, Tatsuo Shimabuku System) G - Naha-Te (Okinawan Karate, Pre-1900 Shorei-Ryu H - Shorei-Goju (Okinawan Karate, Robert Trias System) I - Shorin-Ryu (Okinawan Karate) J - Matsubayashi-Ryu (Okinawan Karate, Shoshin Nagamine System) K - Shuri-Te (Okinawan Karate, Pre-1900 Shorin Ryu) L - Tomari-Te (Okinawan Karate, Pre-1900 Shorin-Ryu) M - Kojosho Kempo