Kata in Karate

kenwa mabuni - kata

At the very core or essence of Karate-do is the training and practice of various kata. Kata is a combined series of individual movements (approximately 20 to 70 moves, generally with stepping and turning, while attempting to maintain perfect form) demonstrated in a sequential order for the practice of offensive and defensive techniques. Stances, blocks, punches, strikes and kicks are integrated in a specific pattern for the purpose of defending against one or more opponents. Each technique and movement is practiced many times in order to perfect every aspect of the kata. There is a strong focus on proper breathing, use of internal and external energy, meditation and balance. Traditionally kata practice requires one to perfect grace, consciousness and power of the physical self and spirit (KI). When kata were originally developed they were considered to be taught to only the most trusted student(s). Kata were kept secret and only passed on by word of mouth. As a result, the origins of kata are still shrouded in mystery. Shitoryu kata are rooted in tradition and should only be taught in their truest form. If they are taught or performed differently they lose their authenticity. A practitioner of kata should maintain the traditions and teachings that were handed down to them from their Sensei. Many of the kata practiced throughout the world originated in China around the 16th century and within the last 75 - 100 years, other kata were developed in Okinawa and Japan. Kata still remains the traditional method of teaching karate because it focuses on developing and perfecting one's skills in the martial art.


Pinan Kata were developed by Master Yasutsune Itosu for the Okinawan school system. Yasutsune Itosu thought most of the original kata were too difficult for the school curriculum so he developed five new forms that he called Pinan: Pinan Shodan, Pinan Nidan, Pinan Sandan, Pinan Yodan and Pinan Godan. It was these five Pinan kata that he introduced to his students at a rate of one a year. The Pinan kata were developed from a pair of original kata called Kusanku and Gojushiho. The Pinan kata is a series of five empty hand forms that is now taught in many karate dojos around the world. Master Gichin Funakoshi who was a student of Master Yasutsune Itosu later changed the name of the Pinan kata to Heian (meaning peace and tranquility) when he brought karate to Japan. It will depend on your Sensei and the karate school you belong to whether you will utilize the term Pinan or Heian. As well, in some karate schools Pinan Nidan will be introduced to a karateka before Pinan Shodan as some practitioners believe Nidan to be an easier kata to learn. The Pinan kata are taught to karatekas at the beginner level to serve as a foundation for the many advanced kata within karate. Each kata contains a number of Bunkai which allows a student to apply the techniques of the kata for a combative scenario.


There are perhaps 100 kata across the various forms of traditional karate, each with many minor variations. The number of moves in a kata may be referred to in the name of the kata. For example, Gojushiho kata means "54 steps." The number of moves may also have links with Buddhist spirituality. The number 108 is significant in Buddhism, and kata with 54, 36, or 27 moves (divisors of 108) are common. A karate practitioner is generally counselled to visualize enemy attacks, and his or her responses, as actually occurring. All karatekas are often told to "read" a kata and explain the imagined events. The study of the meaning of the movements is referred to as the bunkai, meaning analysis, of the kata.

Kata can be looked at as a reference guide for a set of moves, both offensive and defensive. After learning specific kata, the practical application of a set of learned skills can be used in a combative scenario. All karatekas at the Saskatoon West Shito-ryu Budo Seishin Karate Do commence their training by studying beginner Yasutsune kata and later develop combative skills by practicing the Pinan kata. It can take many years of training before a Karateka develops the proper skill, technique, understanding and purpose of even just one kata.