Kata Histories

Form: Tai Ichi Gedan

Meaning: Attacking Low


Form: Gaki Se

Meaning: Reverse Way

History: This derives from a Goju (hard/soft) -Ryu form.


Form: Pinan

Also Known As: Heian, Heinan

Meaning: Way of peace (literally, "Great Peace", sometimes translated as "Calm Mind", "Peaceful Mind", "Serenity", or "Security.")

History: The Pinan kata series was introduced into the Okinawan School District karate program as gym training from 1902 to 1907 by Ankoh Itosu. The history of this kata is somewhat controversial - Kobayashi Shorin-Ryu stylists claim that Itosu developed all five kata using either the kata Passai and Kusanku. The Matsumura Seito Shorin-Ryu tradition states that Itosu only developed Pinan 5 by himself. (It is curious to note that Chosin Chibana, Itosu's senior disciple and Kobayashi founder, taught only Pinan 5 and Naihanchi 3 out of respect for Itosu's authorship.) Hohan Soken (family inheritor of Bushi Matsumura's style) taught only Pinan 1 and 2; saying that Matsumura had devised these two and laid framework for Pinan 3 and 4.

Gichin Funikoshi revised the order of 1 and 2, changed the kata name to Heian, and initiated deeper stances and higher kicks. He also replaced front kicks with side kicks and altered other moves in the series. Funakoshi was so well known for teaching the Pinan series that he was often referred to as the "Pinan Sensei." Interesting enough, he did not learn the Pinans from Itsou as he had already finished his training with the great mejin before they were developed.

According to several sources, Funikoshi was first introduced to the Pinans during a trip to Osaka where he received instruction from Kenwa Mabuni, the founder of Shito-Ryu.

During his subsequent visits he learned a number of the kata from Mabuni that would eventually be taught in the Shotokan system. Regardless of their origin or lineage, there is no doubt that today the Pinan Series is practiced world-wide by Okinawan, Japanese, as well as some Korean styles.

Source: C. Michial Jones, Yodan, Shorei-Ryu, Shuri-Ryu, Shorin-Ryu, Goju-Ryu, Westfield, Indiana, "Kondo No Shokai / Notes", Aug./Sept. 1999 - Vol99-001


Form: Saifa

Meaning: To Smash and Tear To Pieces. Hard Breaking Zig-Zag Form

History: Saifa is the first of the classical combative Kata taught in Goju-Ryu. Goju-Ryu's Kata origins come from the martial arts taught in the Fuzhou area of southern China, largely Crane and Xingyi/Baqua as well as other internal and external martial arts. Kanryo Higaonna Sensei was taught this Kata, along with the other Kata of Goju-Ryu, while he studied in China from 1863-1881 under the direction of RuRuKo (Xie Zhongxiang in Chinese) and others. These Kata and martial strategies would become the basis of the style known as Naha-te, which later Miyagi Sensei would call Goju-Ryu. From an understanding of the grappling and strking techniques of this Kata, Saifa can be interpreted to mean grabbing and tearing of tissue in close-quartered combat.


Form: Anaku

Also Known As: Ananku

Meaning: Small bird form. A Swallow on the beach and Pivoting Form.

Interpretation: A reflection of self and the desire to rise above ideals and discipline oneself by good thought, words, and deeds.

History: Creator unknown. It is believed to have been recomposed by Master Chotoku Kyan in Okinawa around 1895. Anaku represents a swallow walking and turning overlooking the ocean. It is also known as expression pivot and turning form. Anaku should be noted for its use of shifting (pivoting) between soshin-dachis and zenkutsu-dachis, the characteristic which brought the kata its name.

Hidden Movements: Last scan held in meditative pose. Shin chin taisha - Dead Breath. Head snapping before turning; and te and tekatana ukes should be strong and obvious when performing this kata. During the latter half of the kata, directly after the empi-zuki and while still holding the attacker's head, the defender breaks the attacker's neck while simultaneously executing the gedan-uki.


Form: Bassi (In -dai (major/greater) and -sho (minor/lesser) versions)

Also Known As: Paisai Dai, Tawada no Paisai

Meaning: Breaking the Giant Enemies Circle. Breaking Through the Fortress Form. To penetrate (storm) a fortress.

Interpretation: Strong convictions in the intrinsic goodness of all mankind and the affirmative nature of life and the values of love, charity, faith and loyalty.

History: The Bassai or Pasai katas are believed to have been originated and composed strictly for King Oyoda Mari of the Ryu kyu Islands, for his personal body guards' us in saving his life against enemy encounters. The katas were being taught by Kosaku Matsumora, in Tomari, Okinawa around 1869. The forms were the favorite of Bushi Matsumura, Choki Motobu, Chotoku Kyan and Chosin Chibana.

It is important to note the first technique of the kata is not a morote-uki (accentuated middle block), but is the combination of a middle block and a reverse punch.

Hidden Movements: The hidden and symbolic interpretations in Bassai deal with the ruler elements, when both hands, palm down, are brought back to shoulder level,with the forearms perpendicular to the floor, just before the execution of the double backfist strikes: "I bring the beating waves upon my body (blood flow), and release the heated steam (breath) that turns into a burning fire in my lower stomach (saika tanden).


Form: Naifunchin

Also Known As: Daipochin, Naihanchi Sho, Ni & San, Teki, Chulgi, Nihanshi

Meaning: Iron Horse. Missing Enemy Form. Sideways Fighting. Inside Fighting. Fighting Holding Your Ground.

Interpretation: Bring all forces into your body and obtain peace, tranquility and ultimate reality.

History: The kata is a widely used international form, which is performed in many different styles of Karate as well as Kempo and Taekwondo today. Because of the kata's complexity and length it was divided into three sections for student learning and practice. The originator of Nihanchi Sho is unknown but it is known that the three katas were practiced as one single kata by Master Sokon (Bushi) Matsumura around 1825. Naihanchi was however handed down to Matsumura from earlier times. This kata was also the favorite form of Yusutsune Itosu (1830-1915) who was nicknamed "Iron Horse" because of his performance of this kata. Itosu is said to have modified Sho and Ni and developed Naihanchi San. This was confirmed in the writings of Mabuni and Funakoshi.

Kenwa Mabuni, the founder of Shito-Ryu, learned all three from Ankoh Itosu. However, first, while traveling and studying, Mabuni learned a form of Naihanchi from a student of Matsumura's namved Matayoshi. When Mabuni returned and showed the kata to Itosu, his teacher remarked that it was similar to the kata Matsumura had devised after training with a Chinese attache named Channan. It was at this time that Itosu confirmed that he (Itosu) had modified them as well.

Around 1895, Master Choki Motobu popularized the kata by daily performing the three forms as one kata at least five hundred times. The three Naihanchi katas performed as one became known as Motobuís Kata, and he is said to have stated many times, "There is only one kata necessary to develop and excel in karate, and that is Naihanchi as one." The form was developed as a defense against four to eight opponents, with performer pinned against a wall defending to the right, left or from the front, but never from the rear.

This kata is more appropriately called naifunchin 1 or nai han chi ichi, for it is actually the first of three segments which comprise the kata proper. The kata, unlike most Shorei katas, is meant to be performed very quickly (though still within the bounds of good technique).

"Iron Horse" comes from the continual use of kiba dachis in the form. "Missing Enemy" refers to the lack of an attacker to the rear, as the kata only travels laterally.

Naifunchin also appears in Shotokan as Tekki (or Tekki Shodan, Nidan, and Sandan). Gichin Funakoshi claims to have spent 10 years perfecting just these three forms.

Hidden Movements: In this kata the beginning symbolic movements mean, "I gather within me all forces of earth. I look up and ask the heavens for perfection of self. I instill its force and energy (fire and earth elements) into my body."


Form: Seenchin

Also Known As: Sanchin, Erh-lu-chuan (Ch)

Meaning: Three Conflicts Form. Original Pupil Breath Form.

Interpretation: Completion of life cycle and return to the source - life starts again.

History: Erh-lu-chuan was the ancient Chinese name given to this kata, which has experienced only moderate changes in performance since the kata's inception nearly thirteen centuries ago by Zen Buddhist monks. Sanchin has also been known through its historical years by the names Chi schich and San schich. In Okinawa, Sanchin was called Bodhidharm's "Ju hachi rakan shoukyo", the name referring to the eighteen techniques of hand movement used to train students while using also the abdominal breathing and the theories of intrinsic energy to defeat their opponents. Sanchin kata is also referred to as the kata of the "Three battles of life" or the three conflicts, birth, survival, and death.

Goju: One of two "heishu " Kata of Goju-Ryu, Sanchin is probably the most misunderstood Kata in all of Karate. In contrast, it is probably the single most valuable training exercise in Goju-Ryu. Like the other Kata of Goju-Ryu, Sanchin (Samm Chien in Chinese) can be found in several Chinese arts, particulary the southern styles including four styles of Crane Boxing, Dragon Boxing, Tiger Boxing, Lion Boxing, Dog or Ground Boxing and Monk Fist. Sanchin has such aspects as deep, diaphramatic breathing found in many internal arts as well as external attributes like mechanical alignment and muscular strength. Because many martial artists have little or no understanding of the true history and nature of the Chinese arts from which Okinawan Goju-Ryu has its roots, Sanchin has become little more than an isometric form performed with dangerous tension and improper breathing techniques.
The original Sanchin that Higaonna Sensei learned from RuRuKo (1852-1930) was performed with open hands and with less emphasis on muscle contraction and "energetic" breathing. With the changes brought about by Emperor Meiji (Meiji Restoration Period 1888-1912), Higaonna Sensei changed the open hands to closed fists as the martial meaning was no longer emphasized. Later Miyagi Sensei would again alter the Kata in pattern alone.
Sanchin translates as "3 Battles" or "3 Conflicts". This has many meanings. First it refers to the struggle to control the body under physical fatigue. With fatigue the mind begins to lose focus and thus the spirit begins to diminsh as well. Therefore Sanchin develops discipline, determination, focus, perserverance and other mental attributes. The Chinese refer to this as Shen (spirit), Shin (mind) and Li (body). Another possible interpretation refers to the "Three Burners" of the body as decribed in Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM).

Hidden Movements: Arms first cross. Principles of universal knowledge in a psychological form.


Form: Nan Dan Sho

Meaning: Smooth Water - 24 Steps - Difficult Victory Form

Interpretation: Gathering of all forces and energies from the earth and bringing them into the body. When the body returns to earth-give back to the earth the body, mind, spirit and all energies and forces taken from earth.

History: Although this kata was practiced in Okinawan villages of Shuri and Tomari years ago, the origin is unknown. The original name "Nandan sho" is basically Chinese. The Japanese call this kata "Nijushiho", meaning 24 steps. The Okinawans call this kata "Nisei Shi". The symbolic movements in this kata pertain to the five Earth ruler elements which deals with the body and the usage of all types of breath. There are 51 movements and 16 attacks.

Hidden Movements: Symbolic movement which deals with the body and usage of all types of breath. The interpreation means: "I take all forces and energies from earth and bring them into my body. When my body returns to earth, I give back to earth my body, spririty, and all the energies and forces I took from earth".


Form: Kan Ku Sho

Meaning: Flowing Lagoon - Sky Form

History: The originator of Kan Ku Sho is not known. It is believed that the kata was named and composed by Yasutsune Itosu and taught extensively in Okinawa by Itosu's most advanced student Chibana. It can be assumed that the kata is over 125 years old. It is practiced internationally by most ryus and the name Kan Ku Shu means "Sky obervation (small) form". It is commonly referred to as looking at the sky or flowing lagoon form.


Form: Tensho

Also Known As:

Meaning: Thousand hands - Heaven Breath Form. Turning Palms.


History: There are three Ten katas. Ten literally means heaven, sky, air, heaven's will, or nature. The first kata is named Tensho, which means motion of hands, but is often referred to, as "The Kata of the Universe", " Thousand Hands", "Heaven and Breath ", " Earth Reflecting Heaven", and "Ten Hands" form.

The second "heishu" kata in Goju-Ryu, Tensho is derived from the Chinese form "Rokkishu". Unlike Sanchin, which is almost identical to its Chinese counterpart, Tensho is uniquely Okinawan. From his understanding of the Kata of Goju-Ryu and the "nature of man", Miyagi Sensei developed Tensho to further complete his Goju-Ryu where Sanchin left off. Tensho has many of the same principles of Sanchin but goes further to include more intricate concepts of the techniques of Goju-Ryu. These concepts expressly come alive in kakie, which in advanced training, breathes life into the bunkai of the Kata of Goju-Ryu.
The term "heishu" translates as "closed". As with every aspect of Okinawan Karate, there is more than one definition. First, "heishu" can refer to muscle contraction and "ibuki" style breathing unique to Sanchin and Tensho. Secondly, it can imply the restriction and specific direction of energies within the energy pathways of the body, both superficial and deep. The other 10 Kata are referred to as "kaishu" or "open", as they are free of constant muscle contraction and breathing is "normal".

Hidden Movements:


Form: Go Pei Sho

Also Known As: . Hopei-sho (Ch), Kujaku (Ch)

Meaning: Advanced Tearing Peacock Form

Interpretation: Do away with dualism and confusion and allow only immovable serenity to prevail.

History: Go Pei Sho represents a peacock preparing to defend itself. As it slowly opens its wings, it goes into a series of wing-striking and clawing attacks that are intended to blind the attacker. Go Pei Sho was inherited from the Chinese movements of Master Li Tsun I, of the Hopei School, also called Goka Ta Ken, from which stems Okinawan Karate. Master Robert A. Trias later restored the kata to its present and original form.

Hidden Movements: The hidden movement is that of a peacock slowly opening its wings. The interpretation involves releasing oneself from two opponents that have grabbed you by the shoulders. The very next hidden movement involves the performer, using both hands as tiger claws to tear at the opponents eyes. The other meaning on the movement would be a two arm block against an opponenet reaching for your neck. The symbolic meaning pertains to the water ruler element and means "Through my fingertips I receive streams of energy that I will direct deep into my lower stomach, and which must flow uninterrupted throughout my entire body"


Form: Dan Enn Sho

Meaning: Cutting and Clawing Through the Fire. Side Form.

Interpretation: The white crane spreading its wings the open arms represent patience and tranquility and the hands reach out for divine force in order to obtain reality and self liberation

History: Dan Enn Sho represents five of the twelve animal styles of the Hsing yi system (feel of the human mind or intellectual fist. The movements of the eagle, crane, hawk, snake and tiger are very obvious. Dan Enn Sho, like Gopei Sho, was inherited from the movements of the Chinese Master Li Tsun Yi (Tsun I) of the Hopei school. The Hopei schools were also caqlled Goka Ta Ken, from which stems all Okinawan Karate. Master Robert A. Trias later restored the kata to its present and original form.

Hidden Movements: Dan Enn Sho's symbolic interpretation is right before and just after the kiai in the last movement of the kata, meaning "I reach out with my hand for the divine force and obtain reality and self-liberation. I gather passive energies (yin-chi), press them into my lower stomach and reach enlightenment". The interpretation involves a side neck release, locking and turning the opponent's arms with a hand, wrist, and arm lock.


Form: Sepai

Meaning: 18 Hands. Spirit Of The Dragon Form

History: The reference to "18" in naming this Kata has a couple of interpretations. Like Sanseru, there is suggested a connection to Buddhist philosophy. Another insinuates "18 guards for the King". The most apparent and most meaningful in the naimg of Sepai is again from the martial arts development and the use of attacking pressure points. 18 is one half of 36 suggesting that perhaps an alternative set of attacks and defenses of preferred techniques and strategies from the original Sanseru 36. Sepai is found in Monk Boxing.

 Source: Unless otherwise noted, all of the above can be credited to the "Pinnacle of Karate", by Robert A. Trias.