Budo Sai - Information on Kata

Kata translates to Rigid Form – Flexible Form

'Form', 'position', 'single'. Encompasses many interpretations, depending on the written kanji, including 'rigid-form', and/or 'flexible-form'. Generally refers to the 'formal exercises' practised within Japanese martial arts. The nearest english word for Kata is 'form'.
The kanji meaning for Kata is made up of three simple characters. The one in the upper left means 'Shape'. The one on the upper right means 'Cut'. The one on the bottom means 'Ground'. So therefore a Kata is a shape that cuts the ground.
The Kata is an artistic presentation in which all movement is defence and counter attack, and put together in a refined manner with no wasted effort. It is a sequence of movements, which are both defensive and attacking, performed as a result of several attacks.

A Karate Kata is a set number of basic techniques arranged in order. Each Kata has its own character. Some Kata have a very heavy, solid, and robust feeling to them. While performing them you can imagine that you are ploughing through the enemy like a bull that cannot be stopped. Other Kata have a quick, light feeling to them and require acrobatics. When performing these Kata you can imagine yourself moving about from enemy to enemy so quickly that you never even get a good look at whom you are fighting. Some are more graceful and flowing in nature, and others are performed very slowly with great muscle tension. Each and every technique is executed as if it were the only technique to be performed and maximised to its fullest. Rather, it is the shape of the techniques, the speed at which they are performed, and the rhythm of the Kata itself that lends it character.

Karate Kata can be split into three schools:

  • SHURI-TE: Pinan (Heian) Shodan, Pinan (Heian) Nidan, Pinan (Heian) Sandan, Pinan (Heian) Yodan, Pinan (Heian) Godan. Naifanchi. (Tekki) Shodan, (Tekki) Nidan, (Tekki) Sandan. Passai (Bassai) Dai, Sho. Ku-Shanku (Kanku) Dai, Sho, Shiho-ku-shanku. Ji-tte (Jutte). Ji-in. Ji-han (Jion). Gojushi-ho Dai, Sho.

  • NAHA-TE: Sanchin. Tensho. Gekisai-Dai-ichi, Gekisai-Dai-ni. Saifa (Sai-hawah). Seisan. Seipai. Sanseiru. Shisochin. Kururunfa (Kururun-hawah). Seienchin. Suparinpei.

  • TOMARI-TE: Chinto (Gankaku). Rohai (Meikyo). Wanshu (Enpi, Empi). Wankan (Matsukaze). Others; Niseishi (Nijushi-ho). Sochin. Ananku. Unsu. Seishan (Hangetsu).

The above-mentioned Kata have some variations. For example, Passai Kata has not only Dai and Sho, but also Matsumura no Passai (Passai of Matsumura), Tomari no Passai and Ishimine no Passai. In Uechiryu, although a Naha-te style, they developed a different series of Kata. These include Sanchin, Kanshiwa, Seishan, Seirui, and Konchin.

Karate Kata which possess numbers as names are considered originally of Chinese and/or Buddhist origin, and passed into the Okinawan-te systems during the 1800's. The numbers have been referred to as many interpretations and factors in modern martial arts, either as the amount of steps or techniques etc.
However, it has been said that that they have their history within the original teachings of acupoint striking within the Kata. For example, there are considered 36 'killing' points on the human body (Sanseiru). Many of the 'numeric' Kata have their foundations within the original Chinese acupoint striking system practised in the mid 1500's. It was considered the original method of 'numeric strike-point' combat was created by the Chinese Shaolin martial artist Feng-Yiquan at that time. Other Chinese martial artists who studied this form of combat included the famous Xie-Zhongxiang.
These 'numeric' Kata also include; Suparimpei (108), Gojushi-ho (54), Sanshiru (36), Nipaipo (28), Niseishi/Nijushi-ho (24), Seipai (18), Seishan/Seisan (13), etc., and are all believed to be linked to the acupoint science.
In Buddhism, however, numbers hold great symbolic importance, specifically referring to the
108 desires of man. This is very interesting as many of the Kata hold factors of 108, as: Suparimpei (108), Gojushi-ho (54), Sanseiru (36), Seipai (18), etc.

Karate Kata lineage can be based on the following:

    • Aragaki - Ni-sei-shi, Sochin, Unsu.
    • Chatanyara - Ku-Shanku.
    • Gokenki - Hakucho, Nipaipo, Papuren.
    • Higaonna - Kururunfa, Saifa, Sanchin, Sanseru, Seienchin, Seipai, Seishan, Shisochin, Suparinpei.
    • Ishimine - Bassai.
    • Itosu - Pinan Shodan, Pinan Nidan, Pinan Sandan, Pinan Yodan, Pinan Godan, Bassai-dai, Bassai-sho, Chintei, Chinto, Gojushi-ho, Ji-tte, Ji-han, Ji-in, Kosokun-dai, Kosokun-sho, Naifuanchin Shodan, Naifuanchin Nidan, Naifuanchin Sandan, Rohai Shodan, Rohai Nidan, Rohai Sandan, Shiho-kosokun.
    • Mabuni Kenwa - Aoyagi, Juroku, Miyojo.
    • Matsubayashi - Annanko.
    • Matsumura - Bassai, Seishan, Rohai.
    • Matsumora - Rohai, Wankan (Matsukaze), Wanshu.
    • Miyagi - Gekisai-ichi, Gekisai-ni, Tensho.
    • Mabuni/Ueichi - Shinpa.

A further note regarding 'numeric' Kata. All of the Kata that are named with numbers, for example; Niseishi (24), Seis(h)an (13), Sanshiru (36), Suparimpei (108), Nipaipo (28), Seipai (18), Gojushiho (54) etc., were practiced in China and passed to Okinawa in the 19th century and earlier.
However, historians debate the significance of numbers as Kata names. There are several theories, the simplest being that the number was the number of movements in the Kata when it was created.
However, in ancient China, a charting system was created numbering the vital points on the human body and sets of movements were created to attack these points. As with most cultural phenomenon in China, there is a definite Buddhist influence on some Kata names.

Please remember that in many cases, kanji representations of Kata names are often very recent. Many Kata names were unwritten until late in the last century. Prior to this, Kata names were often passed through oral tradition alone. When Karate-ka wanted to write the kanji down, it may have been the case that the writer didn't know the meaning, and used kanji that he thought represented the Kata in some sensible way (phonetic sound of the Kata name is an obvious possibility), it may not be the original name at all. Because of this, there can sometimes be different kanji for the same Kata, or incorrect kanji altogether.

Main Features of Kata

  • Good for all ages.
  • Builds the body and helps the practice of self defence in areas such as speed, focus, awareness, mental concentration, spirit, strength, and stamina, etc.

A Kata may be regarded as an integration of offensive and defensive techniques, but it is more than that. One should try to understand the spirit of the master Karate-ka who created the Kata, for it has a life of its own and requires many years to be mastered. Due to changes that may have taken place within the Kata over many years, in technique etc., the underlying spirit (even though their general layout has not changed considerably), the technical rhythm and speed may have been modified.

The basic 'principles' of Kata practise-

    • Ikita-Kata - Performing a Kata as a real fight.
    • Inen - Performing a Kata with real fighting spirit.
    • Chikara-no-kyo-jaku - Variation in hard and soft technique.
    • Waza-no-gankyu - Variation in quick and slow movement.
    • Ki-soko-no-donto - Controlling breathing.
    • Kinto - Balance.

Kata Hitetru Sannen
Means Kata requires three years of practice to understand and perform properly.

Gary Swift, 8th Dan.

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