The word kata means “shape” or “form”. The kanji for kata is composed of the following characters:
Katachi meaning “Shape”,
Kai meaning “Cut”, and
Tsuchi meaning “Earth” or “Soil”.
Literally translated, kata means “shape which cuts the ground”.
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.
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 as “Northern Kata” or “Southern Kata,” based upon their origin and development.
Kata names and meaning
Garyu means reclining 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.
Gekisai means conquer and occupy. The name is derived from the characters Geki, meaning attack or conquer, and Sai, 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 and inflexible strength.
Kanku means sky gazing. Literally translated, Kan means “view”, 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 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.
Saiha means extreme destruction, smashing or tearing. The word Saiha can also mean great wave, the source of the IFK logo. No matter how large a problem is encountered, with patience, determination and perseverance (Osu) one can rise above and overcome it, or smash through and get beyond it.
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 a long period of time. This kata is long and slow, with many techniques performed from kiba dachi (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.
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.
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.
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.
Tsuki no by its very name is a punching kata (there is only one kick and just a few blocks in the entire kata). The word Tsuki can also mean fortune and luck. 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.
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 expediency.