What is Kata?

Kata () means “form”. Kata simulates a fighting situations against several imaginary opponents. The fight, however, is stylized. That means:

  • All techniques applied are formalized and not executed in a jiyu-kamae (free) fashion
  • They follow a dramaturgy with a preset sequence of motions and a rhythms
  • The fighting situations and the application of the techniques are abstract
  • As a result, the real-life application, called bunkai (see below), depends on the interpretation of the karateka.
Shihan Osaka, who holds the nickname “the textbook” of Shotokan, shows the performs the kata kanku sho. Kanku shi beongs to the advanced katas of Shotokan.

Why are Kata Stylized?

Kata serve several purposes within Shotokan karate. To combine all these purposes in one routine the techniques and their execution had to be adjusted an harmonized. The aspects are:

A legend also says that karate training was prohibited back in Okinawa. Therefore, karate masters had to find a way to teach their techniques secretly. One way to do this was to disguise the actually training as some sort of physical routine or dance.

Every kata has a specific embusen.

What Kata Shotokan Karate consists of?

In sum, Shotokan comprises 26 katas with different approaches and aims. Within the 26 katas their exist six families of katas: Heian, Tekki, Bassai, Kanku, Gojushiho, and the Ji-family with Jion, Jitte, and Jiin.

Most Shotokan katas have a predecessor from Okinawa Karate. Tekki Shodan, for instance, also exists in the Karate system from the peninsula. In Okinawa they call it Naihanchi. Similarly, Jion has a Okinawa equivalent. However, both kata slightly differ as you can see in the following video with Tatsuya Naka.

Tatsuya Naka compares the Shotokan Jion with the Shito-Ryu Jion.

The following list shows all Shotokan kata and their family.

Heian Katas

Name Jap. Kanji Steps/Moves Engl. Name
Shodan平安初段 21 Peaceful Mind One
Nidan 平安二段 26Peaceful Mind Two
Sandan平安三段 20 Peaceful Mind Three
Yondan 平安四段 27 Peaceful Mind Four
Godan 平安五段 23 Peaceful Mind Five

Tekki Katas

NameJap. KanjiSteps/MovesEngl. Name
Shodan鉄騎初段23Iron Horse One
Nidan鉄騎弐段24Iron Horse Two
Sandan鉄騎参段 26Iron Horse Three

Bassai Katas

NameJap. KanjiSteps/MovesEngl. Name
Dai 拔塞大 42Penetrating the Fortress-Big
Sho 拔塞小 27Penetrating the Fortress – Small

Kanku Katas

NameJap. KanjiSteps/MovesEngl. Name
Dai 観空大 65 To look at the Sky – Big
Sho 観空大 48 To look at the Sky – Small

Gojushiho Katas

NameJap. KanjiSteps/MovesEngl. Name
Dai五十四歩大6754 Steps – Big
Sho五十四歩小6554 Steps – Small


NameJap. KanjiSteps/MovesEngl. Names
Jion慈恩47Love (and) Goodness
Jiin慈陰38Mercy (and) Shadow
Jitte十手24Ten Hands

Katas Without A Direct Relationship

NameJap. KanjiSteps/MovesEngl. Name
Enpi燕飛37Flying Swallow
Gankaku岩鶴42Crane on the Rock
Hangetsu半月41Half Moon
Chinte珍手 32Incredible Hands
Sochin 壯鎭41Preserve Peace
Meikyo明鏡33Mirror of the soul
Nijushiho二十四步2424 Steps
Wankan 王冠24Crown of a king
Unsu雲手 48Cloud Hands

Every kata can be applied to fighting situation. The application is called bunkai.

Further Readings:

Crawford, Peter: Gojushiho Dai and Sho: The Solution of the Confusion. The Shotokan Times 2019.

Wiessmann, Florian: The Relation Between Kihon, Kata, and Kumite? Some Answers. The Shotokan Times 2019.

Wiessmann, Florian: “Learn to Move”: Kata as A Movement Based Learning Approach. The Shotokan Times 2019.