Kata Sources and Usage



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.

The following table lists some common Karate kata

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)


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 beginnings of the Shuri-Te style and its kata center around Karate Sakugawa (1733-1815). Sukugawa was born and lived near Akata Cho in the southern section of the city of Shuri, Okinawa. He received some of his early martial arts instruction from Takahara Peichan, a map maker by trade but also skilled in martial arts. Sakugawa then became a student of Kusanku, the Chinese evoy. He spent much of his time traveling and studying in parts of China and southern Okinawa. Sakugawa is attributed to combining the Chinese kempo with native Okinawan techniques called "te" to form Okinawan karate. The karate and kata became more formalized during this period and Sakugawa is credited with formulating the dojo precepts of character, sincerity, effort, etiquette and self control. His most famous student was Bushi Matsumura (1797-1889). Sakugawa passed on the Kusanku kata and the a bo kata.

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.

The following table lists some of the kata From Shuri-Te Styles

Shuri-te Shotokan Shorin-Ryu Kobayashi Shito-Ryu
Ananko Chinte Ananku Chinto Chinte
Aoyagi Chinto Chinto Kusanku-Dai Chinto
Chinte Jiin Fukyugata-Ichi Kusanku-Sho Gojushiho
Chinto Jion Fukyugata-Ni Naifanchi-Nidan Jiin
Jiin Jitte Gojushiho Naifanchi-Sandan Jitte
Jion Kusanku-Dai Kusanku-Dai Naifanchi-Shodan Jion
Jitte Kusanku-Sho Naifanchi-Nidan Passai-Dai Kusanku-Dai
Jyuroko Naifanchi-Nidan Naifanchi-Sandan Passai-Sho Kusanku-Sho
Kusanku-Dai Naifanchi-Sandan Naifanchi-Shodan Pinan-Godan Naifanchi-Nidan
Kusanku-Sho Naifanchi-Shodan Passai-Dai Pinan-Nidan Naifanchi-Sandan
Naifanchi-Nidan Niseshi Pinan-Godan Pinan-Sandan Naifanchi-Shodan
Naifanchi-Sandan Passai-Dai Pinan-Nidan Pinan-Shodan Niseshi
Naifanchi-Shodan Passai-Sho Pinan-Sandan Pinan-Yondan Passai-Dai
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
Useshi Unsu
Wankan Wankan
Wansu Wansu


Tomari-Te was developed out of the Shuri-Te style of karate and was indicative of the karate practiced in and around the Tomari village near Shuri. The differences between the two styles is slight. There were several Chinese visitors to the Tomari region that did not reach Shuri. These teachings did not originally influence Shuri-Te but later an exchange in ideas and katas did take place. Many kata became part of both styles. There were several kata, however, that are unique to Tomari-Te. These were Wansu, Rohai, and Wankan. In addition, though the exact origin of Ananku is unknown, it is believed that Chotoku Kyan (1870-1945) brought back this form from Taiwan in the year 1895. There are others that are said to have existed but have been lost.

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 Naha-Te style was from the Naha region of Okinawa. Two distinct styles came out of the Naha-Te: Goju-Ryu and Uechi-Ryu. The Goju-Ryu style emphasizes deep breathing. Kata, such as Sanchin, use dynamic tension or isometric muscular contraction for power training. The Uechi-Ryu style use several kata Kanei Uechi (1877-1948) learned in China and several of the kata used by the Goju-Ryu style. As an example, the Uechi-Ryu version of Sanchin is performed with open hands and does not use the deep breathing emphasized by the Goju-Ryu style.

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.

Goju-Ryu Uechi-Ryu
Chinte Mysterious of Bamboo Hand/Calmness
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)


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 from other styles of Karate

Motubu-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 DomyogataSaru
Karamite Heiku TechigataKuma
Mukite Paipo Suikagata Kokaku
Nagete Ichimonjigata Jayo
Ajikatanomainote Ryuroku

Kata Description

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.

Kata Usage

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.

The following table list some indicative kata usage

Japanese Okinawin A B C D E F G H I J K
Heian Nidan Pinan Shodan
Heian Shodan Pinan Nidan
Heian Sandan Pinan Sandan
Heian Yondan Pinan Yondan
Heian Godan Pinan Godan
Bassai Dai Passai Sho
Kanku Dai Kusanku Dai
Bassai Sho Passai Dai
Kanku Sho Kusanku Sho
Chinte Chinte
Empi Wansu
Gankaku Chinto
Gojushiho Useshi, Gojushiho
Hangetsu Seisan
Jiin Jiin
Jion Jion
Jitte Jitte
Meikyo Rohai
Nijushiho Niseshi
Sochin Sochin
Tekki Shodan Naihanchi Shodan
Tekki Nidan Naihanchi Nidan
Tekki Sandan Naihanchi Sandan
Unsu Unshu
Wankan Wankan
A - Chito-Ryu (Japanese Karate)
B - Goju-Ryu (Japanese Karate, Chojun Miyagi System)
C - Kyokushinkai (Japanese Karate, Masutatu Oyama System)
D - Isshin-Ryu (Okinawan Karate, Tatsuo Shimabuku System)
E - Naha-Te (Okinawan Karate, Pre-1900 Shorei-Ryu
F - Shorei-Goju (Okinawan Karate, Robert Trias System)
G - Shorin-Ryu (Okinawan Karate)
H - Matsubayashi-Ryu (Okinawan Karate, Shoshin Nagamine System)
I - Shuri-Te (Okinawan Karate, Pre-1900 Shorin Ryu)
J - Tomari-Te (Okinawan Karate, Pre-1900 Shorin-Ryu)
K - Kojosho Kempo

Living Karate - Sydney Matsubayashi Ryu