Kyokushin: Topic Katas

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Kyokushin Kata

The word ‘Kata’ means shape or pattern. The ‘Kanji’ Kata is composed of the following characters:

kanji_katachi     Katachi Katachi meaning “shape” or “pattern”;

kanji kai cut     Kai Kai means “cutting”;

kanji tsuchi     Tsuchi Tsuchi meaning “Earth” or “Soul”.

Literally translated , kata means “shape which cuts the earth.” Sounds intimidating and some of them can be!

A Kata is a sequence of defensive and offensive moves executed from various stances and positions.  The defensive and offensive moves consist of the appropriate blocks, kicks and punches for the given situation.  Kata are a 360 degree activity requiring movement in many different directions. The number of movements and their sequence are very accurately recorded.  The balance between offensive and defensive techniques, postures, direction and execution of the movements give each Kata its own specific character.  In beginning katas there is typically a symmetry of the left and right sides.

The performance of Kata helps in teaching the traditional fighting techniques.  Balance, coordination, breathing and concentration are developed by practising the Kata.  If done well, Kata not only provides excellent physical exercise but also an effective form of total mind and body workout. Kata know the “Ren Ma” principle which stands for “always polishing”.  This means that mastery through concentrated practice of the Kata’s movements increases understanding of the Kata meaning and use in real-life situations.

Concentration, dedication and practice ensure that a higher level of learning is achieved . A level that Kata is so integrated into the subconscious mind that a good performance of a Kata is a matter of course.  This is what the Zen masters “Mushin” or “no mind”.  What once was deliberately trained is now spontaneous.

Mas Oyama said that one should “think of karate as a language – the Kihon 基本 (basics) can be thought of as the letters of the alphabet, the Kata 型 (forms) will be the equivalent of words and sentences, and the Kumite 組手 (fighting) will be analogous to conversations.”  He believed that it was better to master just one kata than to only half-learn many.

Mas Oyama also emphasized the three fundamental principles of kata:

kanji_waza_kankyu   Waza no Kankyu (Tempo or Technique): The relative pace of technique.  The tempo of the kata varies – some techniques are performed quickly, while others are done more slowly.

kanji_chikara_kyojaku    Chikara no Kyōjaku (Points of Power and Stress):  The Relative Force of Power or the intensity of execution varies. The effectiveness and power of the techniques derive from a good balance between strength and relaxation.

kanji_iki_chosei    Iki no Chōsei (Control of Breathing): Respiratory Control.  The correct timing (inhaling and exhaling) and force of the breaths (Kiai 気合, Ibuki 息吹 or Nogare 逃れ) are essential for proper techniques.

The practice of traditional kata is also a way for the karateka to pay respect to the origins and history of Kyokushin Karate and the martial arts in general.


Kyokushin Kata are often categorized according to their origin: Northern or Southern Kata.  This designation is based upon the origin and development of the kata and the style of its techniques.

The Northern Kata are similar to those found in Shōtōkan, Master Gichin Funakoshi was one of Mas Oyama’s teachers.  Master Funakoshi derived the kata from the Shurite system of Okinawan karate, which originated from northern Chinese kempo (Shaolin).  The Northern kata generally involve longer movements and a greater fighting distance between opponents, based on the broad, open terrain of northern China.  These kata utilize powerful stances and strong blocks and attacks.  Techniques are generally longer and straighter than those of the Southern kata.  The Northern Kata include:

Taikyoku Sono Ichi, Ni, San            
Pinan Sono Ichi, Ni, San, Yon, Go 
Tsuki no Kata                                       
Sushi ho                                                 

The Southern Kata are similar to those found in Gōjū Ryū, since they were developed from Mas Oyama’s training under So Nei Chu and Gogen Yamaguchi.  Master So was the top student of Gogen Yamaguchi, the top Goju practitioner in Japan.  Chojun Miyagi developed Goju Ryu from the Nahate system of Okinawan karate, which originated from southern Chinese kempo.  The Southern kata generally involve shorter movements and a closer fighting distance between opponents (Maai 間合い), based on the slippery, wet terrain of southern China.  Techniques are generally tighter and more circular than those of the Northern kata.  The Southern Kata include:

Sanchin no Kata         
Gekisai Dai, Sho         

Kata Meanings:

kanji_taikyoku Taikyoku (First Clause) is literally translated as “Grand Ultimate“, from the characters Tai 太, meaning big, and Kyoku 極, meaning extreme, conclusion or end.  In Chinese, the kanji characters are pronounced Tai Chi.  The word Taikyoku can also mean overview or the whole point – seeing the whole rather than focusing on the individual parts, and keeping an open mind or beginner’s mind.  The beginner’s mind is what we strive for during training and in life.  The beginner’s mind does not hold prejudice and does not cling to a narrow view.  The beginner’s mind is open to endless possibilities.

kanji_pinanPinan (Peaceful Mind, Peaceful Safety): Pronounced Heian in Japanese.  Pinan is the Okinawan pronunciation of the characters Hei 平, meaning peace, and An 安, meaning relax.  Though the physical moves of kata involve techniques used for fighting, the purpose of kata is to develop a calm, peaceful mind and harmony between the mind and body.

kanji_sanchinSanchin literally means “three battles” or “three conflicts”, from the characters San 三 (three) and Chin 戦 (war, battle or match).  It is the principal kata in certain Okinawan karate styles, such as Goju Ryu and Uechi Ryu, and it is likely one of the oldest kata.  Legends tell that Sanchin was developed by Bodhidarma in the early sixth century.  Sanchin kata seeks to develop three elements at the same time:

  • The mind, body and the techniques,
  • The internal organs, circulation and the nervous system, and
  • The three Ki 気, located in:
    •  the crown of the head (Nōten 脳天),
    •  the diaphragm (Hara 腹), and
    •  the lower abdomen (Tanden 丹田).

Sanchin is an isometric kata where each move is performed in a state of complete tension, accompanied by powerful, deep breathing (Ibuki 息吹) that originates in the lower abdomen (Tanden 丹田).  The practice of Sanchin not only leads to the strengthening of the body, but to the development of the inner power (Ki 気) and the coordination of mind and body.

kanji_gekisaiGekisai (Conquer and Occupy) means conquer and occupy.  The name is derived from the characters Geki 撃, meaning defeat or conquer, and Sai 塞, meaning fortress or stronghold (literally translated as “closed”, “shut” or “covered”).  The word Gekisai can also mean demolish, destroy or pulverize.  The katas teach strength through fluidity of motion, mobility and the utilization of various techniques.  Flexibility of attack and response will always be superior to rigid, static and inflexible strength.

kanji_yansuYansu (Safe Three) comes from the characters Yan 安, meaning safe, and Su 三, meaning three.  The name is attributed to that of a Chinese military attaché to Okinawa in the 19th Century.  The word Yansu also means to “keep pure”, and to strive to maintain the purity of principles and ideals rather than compromising for expediency.  The oriental version of “the means justify the ends”.

kanji_tsukinoTsuki no Kata (Punching Kata) by its very name is a kata of punches (Tsuki 突き), and there is only one kick and just a few blocks in the entire form.  The word Tsuki can also mean fortune, luck and happiness.  Good fortune and luck does not come by waiting.  For every punch in this kata, envision that a personal barrier is being broken down.  Strong, persistent effort directed at problems will bring good fortune.

kanji_tenshoTensho (Turning Palms, Changing Hands) means rolling or fluid hand, literally translated as “revolving palms”, from the characters Ten 転 (revolve) and Shō 掌 (palm of hand).  Tensho is the soft and circular (Yin 陰) counterpart to the hard and linear (Yang 陽) Sanchin kata.  Not only was Tensho one of Mas Oyama’s favorite kata, he considered it to be the most indispensable of the advanced kata:

Tensho is a basic illustration of the definition of Karate, derived from Chinese kempo, as a technique of circles based on points.

Tensho should be a prime object of practice because, as a psychological and theoretical support behind karate training and as a central element in basic karate formal exercises, it has permeated the techniques, the blocks and the thrusts, and is intimately connected with the very life of karate.

A man who has practiced Tensho kata a number of thousands of times and has a firm grasp of its theory can not only take any attack, but can also turn the advantage in any attack, and will always be able to defend himself perfectly.

kanji_saihaSaiha (Maximum Destruction) means extreme destruction, smashing or tearing, from the characters Sai 最, meaning utmost, and Ha 破, meaning rip, tear or destroy.  The word Saiha can also mean great wave, the source of the IFK logo.  No matter how large a problem encountered is; with patience, determination and perseverance (Osu) one can rise above and overcome it, or smash through and get beyond it to find a way out.

kanji_kankuKanku (View the Heavens, Gaze at the Sky) means “to look at the sky”, from the characters Kan 観 (view) and 空 (sky or void) (the same character as Kara in Karate).  The first move of the kata is the formation of an opening with the hands above the head, through which one gazes at the universe and rising sun.  The significance is that no matter what problems are faced, each day is new and the universe is waiting.  Nothing is so terrible that it affects the basic reality of existence.

kanji_seienchinSeienchin means conqueror and subdue over a distance, or attack the rebellious outpost. from the characters Sei 征, meaning subjugate or attack the rebellious, En 遠, meaning distant, and Chin 鎮, meaning tranquilize.  In feudal Japan, Samurai warriors would often go on expeditions lasting many months, and they needed to maintain their strength and spirit over a long period of time.  This kata is long and slow, with many techniques performed from Kiba Dachi 騎馬立ち (horseback stance).  The legs usually become very tired in this kata, and a strong spirit is needed to persevere, instead of giving up.  The word Seienchin can also mean to pull in battle.

kanji_sushihoSushiho means 54 steps.  Sushiho is derived from the words Useshi (54), and Ho 歩 (step), meaning walk or step.  Other karate styles call this advanced kata Gojushiho because the Okinawan pronunciation of the kanji characters for 54 (pronounced GoShi 四 in Japanese).  The number 54 is a sacred number in Buddhism.

kanji_garyuGaryu (Reclining Dragon) means reclining dragon, from the characters Ga 臥 (lie prostrate) and Ryū 竜 (dragon).  In Japanese philosophy, a great man who remains in obscurity is called a Garyu.  A dragon is all-powerful, but a reclining dragon chooses not to display his power until it is needed.  Likewise, a true karateka does not brag about or show off his abilities.  He never forgets the true virtue of humility.  Garyu was the nickname of Mas Oyama in his early days.

kanji_seipaiSeipai (Eighteen hands) derived from the Okinawan pronunciation of the kanji characters for 18 (pronounced Hachi 八 in Japanese).  In other karate styles, this kata is sometimes called Seipaite, or eighteen hands.  The number 18 is derived from the Buddhist concept of 6 x 3, where six represents color, voice, taste, smell, touch and justice and three represents good, bad and peace.


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