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The word kata means "shape" or "form". The kanji for kata (the Japanese character above at the right) is composed of the following characters:

Katachi meaning "Shape",
Kai meaning "Cut", and
Tsuchi meaning "Earth" or "Soil".

Literally translated, kata means "shape" or "form". A kata is a sequence of blocks, kicks and punches from one or more stances, involving movement forward, backward and to the sides. The number of movements and their sequence are very specific. The balance between offensive and defensive techniques, the stances used and the direction and flow of movement all serve to give each kata its distinctive character.

Through the practice of kata, the traditional techniques used for fighting are learned. Balance, coordination, breathing and concentration are also developed. Done properly, kata are an excellent physical exercise and a very effective form of total mind and body conditioning. Kata embodies the idea of ren ma, or "always polishing" – with diligent practice, the moves of the kata become further refined and perfected. The attention to detail that is necessary to perfect a kata cultivates self discipline.

Through concentration, dedication and practice, a higher level of learning may be achieved, where the kata is so ingrained in the subconscious mind that no conscious attention is needed. This is what the Zen masters call mushin, or "no mind." The conscious, rational thought practice is not used at all – what was once memorized is now spontaneous.

Mas Oyama said that one should "think of karate as a language – the kihon (basics) can be thought of as the letters of the alphabet, the kata (forms) will be the equivalent of words and sentences, and the kumite (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:

Waza no Kankyu. The Tempo (slow/fast) of the Techniques. The tempo of the kata varies – some techniques are performed quickly, while others are done more slowly.
Chikara no Kyojaku. The Force (strong/weak) of the Power. The power of a technique derives from the proper balance between strength and relaxation.
Iki no Chosei. The Control (regulation) of Breathing.

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.

Origins of Kyokushin Kata

Kyokushin kata are often categorized as "Northern Kata" or "Southern Kata," based upon their origin and development.

The Northern Kata are similar to those found in Shotokan Karate, since they were developed from Mas Oyama's training under Gichin Funakoshi. Master Funakoshi in turn derived these kata from northern Chinese kempo and Shorin Ryu, the Okinawan karate style based on Chinese Shaolin (i.e. "Shorin") kempo. These kata utilize long, powerful stances and strong blocks and strikes. The Northern Kata include:

  • Taikyoku Sono Ichi, Ni and San
  • Pinan Sono Ichi, Ni, San, Yon and Go
  • Yansu
  • Tsuki no Kata
  • Kanku
  • Sushiho

The Southern Kata were developed from Mas Oyama's study of the Okinawan karate style of Goju Ryu under So Nei Chu, which in turn were derived from southern Chinese kempo. The movements in these kata are more circular and flamboyant than those in the Northern Kata. The Southern Kata include:

  • Sanchin no Kata
  • Gekisai Dai and Sho
  • Tensho
  • Saiha
  • Seienchin
  • Garyu
  • Seipai

The influence of Chinese theory in the systemization of Kyokushin is also obvious. This is amply demonstrated in Sosai Oyama's writings where he constantly encourages students of Kyokushin to research the Chinese origins of karate. Many advanced techniques of Kyokushin were taken by Sosai Oyama from his early study of the Southern Chinese Martial Arts.

In relation to the numerous kata that have fallen into disuse in Kyokushin, Sosai states that the techniques of Kyokushin kata should simulate actual fighting and the kata which do not have such clearly practical application have been abandoned.

In personal training you should always seek the applications of the techniques in the kata.

Kyokushin Katas and their Meaning

Taikyoku is literally translated as "grand ultimate", and 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 is strived 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. That's why a practitioner should never think that as soon as it ascends in the latter or more complex katas the first and most basic ones loose importance, therefore, keep an open mind.

Piñan is the Okinawan pronunciation of the kanji characters for peace and relaxation (pronounced Heian in Japanese). 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.

Tsuki no as its name implies, is a punching kata. The word Tsuki can also mean fortune and luck. Good fortune and luck does not come by waiting. In every punch we perform in this kata, we should imagine that a barrier of some kind (it could be a recognized weakness or bad habit, etc.) is being broken down. Strong, persistent effort directed to overcome any type of problems will bring good fortune and success.

Sanchin is known as the oldest kata in Karate-do. Literally means "three battles" or "three conflicts", and it can also be translated as "three points" or "three phases". Certain legends attribute the creation of Sanchin to Bodhidharma in the early sixth century. Sanchin kata seeks to develop three set of elements at the same time:

  • the mind, body and the techniques,
  • the internal organs, circulation and the nervous system, and
  • the three ki, located in:
  • the top of the head (tento),
  • the diaphragm (hara), and
  • the lower abdomen (tan den).

Sanchin is an isometric kata where each move is performed in a state of complete tension, accompanied by powerful, deep breathing (ibuki) that originates in the lower abdomen (tan den). The practice of Sanchin kata not only leads to the strengthening of the body, but it also aims at the development of the inner power (ki) and the coordination of mind and body. It also emphasizes on basic footwork, hand techniques as well as basic blocking techniques.

Gekisai means conquer and occupy. The name is derived from the characters Geki, meaning attack or conquer, and Sai, meaning fortress or stronghold. The word Gekisai can also mean demolish, destroy. Dai means "large" and sho means "small". In this case it is used to differentiate the katas with out using the numbering system. These 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 and inflexible strength.

Yansu is derived from the characters Yan, meaning safe, and Su, 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, striving to maintain the purity of principles and ideals rather than compromising for vainly objectives.

Tensho means rolling or fluid hand, literally translated as "rotating palms". Tensho is the soft and circular (yin) counterpart to the hard and linear (yang) 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.

Saifa or Saiha means destruction, smashing or tearing. It can also mean great weave. In this kata we can say that no matter how large the problem/challenge encountered is, with patience, determination and perseverance (Osu) one can rise above and overcome it, or break through.

Garyu means reclining dragon. Japanese philosophy says that a great man who remains in obscurity is called a Garyu. A dragon is all-powerful, but a reclining dragon chooses not to show his power for mere vanity, but unless it is really necessary. In the same way, a true karateka does not brag about or show off his abilities; he/she never forgets the true virtue of humility.

Kanku, also known as the rising sun kata or sky gazing. Literally translated, Kan means "view/proper observance", and Ku means "universe", "air", "emptiness" or "void" (the same character as Kara in karate). The first move of the kata is the formation of a triangle with the hands above the head, through which one gazes at the universe and rising sun. This triangle has an even more profound meaning, since we internally invoque three extremly powerful energies: "Peace", "Love" and "Freedom". The significance of the kata is that no matter what the severity of the problem/challenge is being faced, every single new day is another unique opportunity to overcome it. Not only that particular challenge but everything in our lives. The universe is waiting. Nothing is so terrible that it affects the basic reality of existence. So, basically as long as you are able to rise your hands and see this magnificent start nurturing us selfishly (with our without the usage of our hands), we are still blessed with opportunity to succeed.

Seienchin means conqueror and subdue over a distance, or attack the rebellious outpost. In feudal Japan, Samurai warriors would often go on expeditions lasting many months, and they needed to maintain their strength and spirit over long periods of time. That is why this kata is long and slow. Many of its techniques are performed from kiba dachi (horseback stance). So it is known for the legs to become very tired while performing this kata, therefore, a strong spirit is needed to persevere, keeping up a strong spirit.

Sushiho means 54 steps. Sushiho is derived from the words Useshi, the Okinawan pronunciation of the kanji characters for 54 (pronounced Go Ju Shi in Japanese), and Ho, meaning walk or step. Other karate styles call this advanced kata Gojushiho. This kata, symbolically speaking, serves as a tool to remind us of the impact the steps we take in our daily lives has on our destiny. The steps we took in the past are linked to those we are taking today, which as a result will have an effect in those taken in the future. So we can say, that the achievements of today are a consequence of steps taken (hard work) in the near or far past. Also, this kata reminds us of our roots, family, teachers or those who also, taking their own steps in live contributed to where you are today.

Seipai is the Okinawan pronunciation of the kanji characters for 18 (pronounced Ju Hachi 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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