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Kata in general terms means "shape" or "form". The literal translation of the Japanese characters for kata is "shape which cuts the ground or earth". Kata are the strict execution of various techniques performed in a specific sequence. Kata is an important aspect of training as it encompasses practice of precise technique, movement in many directions, transition of stances, timing, breath control, coordination and kime (focus).

Kata is often regarded as moving meditation as practitioners strive to perform kata as technically correct as possible while refraining from conscious thought. The practice of performing without thought is known as "mushin" - without mind. After consistent practice, and numerous repetitions, the practitioner is then capable of performing the kata at a more subconcious level without need for cognizant thought.

Kata training is also an opportunity to experience and study the connection between the strict form of the technique and its realistic application possibilities. The interpretation of how a given technique might be applied to a realistic situation is called "bunkai". The characters for bunkai are intrepeted as follows: BUN - share / be clear, and KAI - to unravel or solve. There may be a number of different "bunkai" - applications for a specific technique. The study of bunkai reveals numerous ways in which a technique may be applied practically in both simple and more advanced methods.

Kata are generally classified according to their origins as either "northern" or "southern". As martial arts developed in various parts of Asia, the type of land; mountainous, wetlands etc. often dictated the predominate techniques used by practitioners of different styles. For example on less stable types of land mass, such as slippery rice fields, more powerful upper body techniques were utilized as balance was more of a challenge.

In contrast, in areas such as northern China where there are vast stretches of open land, people did a tremendous amout of walking or rode horses. Techniques developed in those areas suggest more use of lower body strength and more powerful lower body techniques taking full advantage of a more stable stance. As karate continued to spread, various regions adopted techniques from one another and made modifications as they saw fit. Consequently, many styles have techniques which are very similar.

Kyokushin kata incorporate influences of two main styles studied by Sosai Oyama in his early years; Goju-ryu and Shotokan. Oyama trained with several masters including Gichin Funakoshi who is credited with introducing Karate to Japan from Okinawa in 1922 and is often referred to as the father of modern karate. Funakoshi, a Shoto-kan master developed the original Taikyoku kata series.

Since kata feature the specific techniques of a particular style, they then also serve as an important historical record of sorts and help to preserve the tradition of its art.

Gichin Funakoshi

The father of modern karate

Each kata in the Kyokushin system is listed below with its general meaning and origins.

Taikyoku - first cause or great truth; northern origins. Created by Gichin Funakoshi.

Pinan - peaceful mind; northern origins. Created by Anko Itosu who was the instructor of Gichin Funakoshi. Devotion to practice brings about a calmness of the mind and spirit.

Sanchin - three battles; southern origins. Sanchin was brought to Okinawa from China by Kanryo Higaonna. The "three battles" are often interpreted as body, mind and spirit. Sosai Oyama considered the three most important principles to be the tempo of technique, the points of power stress, and breath control. See Sosai's three principles of kata. Sanchin kata employs ibuki breathing (breathing with tension) and helps to develop ki; internal energy.

Gekisai Dai & Gekisai Sho - conquer and occupy; southern origins. The meaning associated with these two kata, created by Chojun Miyagi in 1940, can also be translated as "storm the fortress".

Yantsu - safe three / maintain purity; northern origins. Yantsu was the name of a Chinese military attache' to Okinawa. The translation "maintain purity" describes the daily stuggle to overcome obstacles to maintain a pure spirit.

Tsuki no Kata - thrusting kata; northern origins. This kata focuses on generating thrusting power from the three stability stances; kiba dachi, zenkutsu dachi, and sanchin dachi.

Tensho - turning palms / changing hands; southern origins. Created by Chojun Miyagi. This kata which is more fluid and circular was created as a complement to Sanchin which encompasses more linear "hard" technique. Sosai Oyama regarded tensho as the most indespensable of all the advanced kata.

Saiha - maximum destruction; southern origins, created by Chojun Miyagi. Promotes the expression of maximum power.

Kanku - view the heavens; northern origins. This kata was originally called Kushanku after a Chinese military attache' to Okinawa. Kanku is the representative kata of the Kyokushin system. The opening move in this kata is to raise the hands overhead with the palms facing the heavens; tips of the index fingers and thumbs touching. The practitioner gazes through the opening created by the hands. This act signifies contemplation of ones relationship with the universe. More about the kanku symbol.

Seienchin - the storm within the calm; southern origins. Literal translation can also mean "surpress the retreat" indicating that one must overcome weaknesses and suppress tendencies to give up in the face of challenges.

Garyu - reclining dragon; southern origins. This kata was created by Sosai Oyama. Garyu was Sosai's pen-name during his early years in karate. Garyu refers to one who has developed the spirit of humility, and like a reclining dragon, has great power but also has the restraint not to use it foolishly.

Sushiho - fifty four steps; northern origins. An advanced kata of the Shuri-te school. The number fifty-four holds important significance in Buddhist philosophy.

Seipai - eighteen hands; southern origins. One of the most advanced kata of the Naha-te school with Kyokushin's version differing greatly from the Goju kata.


Key Principles of Kata
Sosai's Three Principles of Kata Training

Beginner practitioners are taught to focus on three fundamental aspects of kata; kime, dachi, and waza. Each movement to a new direction follows these three principles in the same sequence.

Kime - focus / attention
This refers not only to the focus and intensity of the technique itself, but to the practice of always looking to the new direction before turning. This establishes the practice of not moving blindly into an opponents attack.

Dachi - stance
Next, after looking to the new direction, a firm, balanced stance must be established. Without stability of the lower body, the upper body techniques (waza) will lack power and accuracy.

Waza - technique
Once the first two principles, kime and dachi, have been performed, the waza or technique may then be executed.


Sosai Oyama deemed the three essential principles of kata training to be:

Waza no Kankyu - Tempo of Technique
The tempo of techniques varies throughout kata. The practice of varied tempo is meant to upset the timing of an opponent's counter attack. It is also the method in which one practices reacting to an attack, employing the appropriate response by maintaining control of one's own tempo and not reacting unnecessarily.

Chikara no Kyojaku - Points of Power Stress
The points of power also vary in kata. The power of certain moves in kata are stressed more than others. All kiai moves in kata call for maximum power generation. Other moves depend on fluidity and speed to create the power.

Iki no Chosei - Breath Control
Correct breathing is of extreme importance in kata and must be coordinated with the execution of technique. Proper breath control helps to still the mind and unite body, mind and spirit. The inhalation phase is coordinated with the relaxed state of the body (such as chambered position) just prior to execution of the technique. Upon execution of the technique, the exhalation is completed. Breath control also keeps the body oxygenated and improves stamina.

Kata Requirements by Grade

kihon kata ichi, ni, and san, taikyoku sono ichi
  kihon kata yon, go, and roku, taikyoku sono ni  
  taikyoku sono san, sokugi taikyoku sono ichi  
  pinan sono ichi, sokugi taikyoku sono ni  
  pinan sono ni, sokugi taikyoku sono san  
  pinan sono san, informal sanchin  
  pinan sono yon, formal sanchin  
  pinan sono go  
  gekisai dai  
  yantsu, tsuki no kata, kihon kata ichi through roku in ura  
  tensho, saiha, taikyoku ichi, ni, and san in ura    
  kanku dai, gekisai sho, seienchin, pinan sono ichi & ni in ura        
  sushiho, garyu, pinan sono ni through go in ura            
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