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Classical Shotokan Kata by Theme

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Classical Shotokan Kata by Theme

By Robert T. Tuohey

First, by “classical Shotokan kata” I refer solely to the 19 forms outlined by Master Funakoshi in
the Kyohan. To wit: the three Taikyoku, the five Heian, Bassai, Kwanku, the three Tekki,
Hangetsu, Jutte, Empi, Gankaku, Jion, and Ten no kata.

Next, this number is further reduced to ten when the beginner (Taikyoku), under-belt (Heian), and
basic fighting techniques (Ten no kata) forms are removed.

By theme is meant the combat intent, particular purpose, of any given classical form.

(Perhaps I should here note that classical kata are definitely not, as some seem to think, random
collections of techniques, strung together with no discernable method or reason. Rather, all
traditional kata are answers to certain problems.)

Learning-Order versus Practice Order

My key contention is that the order of the kata given in the Kyohan (Bassai, Kwanku, Tekki,
Hangetsu, Jutte, Empi, Gankaku, and Jion) is the sequence Master Funakoshi best thought them
learned in – but this sequence only partially reflects the more natural thematic groupings in which
the kata ought to be practiced once learned.

Thematic Groups

I suggest the three following thematic groups.

1. Fundamental techniques
2. Advanced combinations
3. Special situations

Fundamental Technique Kata

The heart of Okinawan karate is found within Hangetsu and Tekki: The former deals with
medium-range techniques, front and rear, whereas the latter centers on close-range, with some
emphasis on sideways-fighting.

On superficial examination, Hangetsu and Tekki seem quite dissimilar. In fact, all the hardcore,
basic fighting techniques of classical Okinawan karate are contained in these two kata! Indeed, it
has been remarked by Okinawan masters that Seisan (i.e. Hangetsu) and Naihanchi (i.e. Tekki), if
perfected, are all the kata needed.
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Advanced Combination Kata

“Ikken Hissatsu” (i.e. one punch – one kill) is not a concept native to karate: it was grafted onto
the Empty Hand from Kenjutsu in the late 1800’s. While it is certainly true that karate generally
places more emphasis on power strikes than southern Chinese gung fu (its source-art), at base,
Okinawan karate is a combination art. For those wanting a quick proof of this, today often
forgotten fact, merely have a look at any video of master Yamashita Tadashi performing one-steps.

The two classical Shotokan kata that stress combinations are Empi and Gankaku: the first
concentrating on punching, the second on hand and kicking combinations. Both of these kata, the
student should thoroughly understand, are derived from Crane styles.

Special Situation Kata

By “special situation” is meant something beyond one-to-one unarmed combat (i.e. multiple attack,
weapons defense), and the ability to shift from a disadvantageous position (generally the inside, or
facing, line) to an advantageous one (the outside line).

Bassai demonstrates defensive line-changes, usually from the inside to the outside (as, for
example, the knifehand parry to outside wrapping block into low side kick), but also from high to
middle, and low to high.

Kwanku is defense against gang attack: The ability to strike and shift in all direction is the main
point. A Japanese nickname for this kata is Happo - Eight Directions.

Jutte and Jion are related not only in name and style of movement, but also in that both center on
defense against staff attacks. The difference is this: Jutte is concerned solely with staff defense,
whereas Jion also contains techniques to deal with grabbing/rushing assaults. Thus, the latter is the
more advanced.

A Weekly Training Routine

With the above categories in mind, a simple five day training routine suggests itself.

Monday Fundamentals

Tuesday Advanced Combinations

Wednesday Special Situations 1

Thursday Special Situations 2

Friday Review
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As a minimum standard, each kata should be performed five times per session, immediately
followed by Bunkai drills.

Conclusion

The ideas in this brief article are merely offered as suggestions to experienced traditional Karateka
for improved understanding and training. In truth, only prolonged practice and experimentation
can yield the optimal schedule for the individual.

				
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