Building the Kata Repertoire

Kata are an intriguing part of karate and other Eastern martial arts. They’re used for everything from the reinforcement of technique and self defense to spiritual development and physical excercise. In karate, each kata has a variety of movements and meanings, and each is often interpreted and applied differently from generation to generation and from style to style. Furthermore, it’s not unusual for different styles of karate to practice different sets of kata; if two given styles have a dozen kata each, it wouldn’t surprise me if they only had six in common.

There’s no arguing that kata are difficult to master. Once one learns all the movements, it takes some time to improve the techniques. As such, I’ve read statements from many karate practitioners and instructors saying fewer kata are better because of this time it takes for mastery. Others disagree, saying it’s good to learn additional kata to learn additional techniques. In my own style, Shuri-ryu, there are 15 official kata, and through the ranks I’ve climbed so far, each is designed to teach or reinforce certain techniques. Wansu, for example, teaches us to use hip thrust to power a punch.

Personally, I enjoy learning more kata. It adds some variety to the workout, and for those of us using karate for personal development, anything that keeps us moving and practicing is a good thing.

My latest kata is Seyunchin, which I only finished learning on Thursday. It looks something like this:

This is about 98% like ours: the steps are the same, but we execute some of the techniques differently. Seyunchin was recently added to my school’s curriculum by the owner, Shihan Joseph Walker, a Chief Instructor of Shuri-ryu. It has an interesting mix of tension, breathing exercise, and full-powered blocks and strikes, and we first learn it as a brown belt.

One of my favorite workouts is to run every kata I know. We’ve done this at the dojo a couple of times, too, turning it into a half hour aerobic session. It can take me a while to get through them, as I’ve built up quite a list of kata that are both part of Shuri-ryu and from kobudo (weapons) or other styles. That list includes:

  • Wansu (Wunsu)
  • Anaku
  • Naihanchi Sho (aka Tekki Shodan)
  • Empi Sho
  • Tsue Sho (a bo kata)
  • Sanchin
  • Seyunchin
  • Ni-Cho Sai (kobudo sai kata)
  • Kyan No Sai (kobudo sai kata)
  • Sushi No Kon Sho (kobudo bo kata)
  • Nikobudo Ichi (Kajukenbo kata)

I didn’t include the Taikyoku series, as these are considered punching exercises, not kata. Also, I’m currently learning Sushi No Kon, the Matayoshi Kobudo version of the bo kata I already know (incidentally, the Ni-Cho Sai I know is a Matayoshi kata). I can interpret the taikyoku kata to sai, and I can probably fudge my way through running Wansu with the sai. Finally, I have learned two sword kata which I believe are from Iaido.

It’s quite a list. I certainly won’t claim mastery of any of them, but again, they make for one hell of a workout when run one after the other. I can also choose to concentrate on my newest kata to be sure I’m ready for the next stripe review and promotion, or I can go back and continue to develop the kata I’d learned previously.

You just don’t get that kind of variety pushing metal into the air or running around a track. Those are important excercises too, but for someone like me, monotony is the surest way to kill a fitness program. I may not get excited about the simple taikyoku forms, but I still enjoy running Wansu as much as I did when I first learned it as a yellow belt.

And I still say bring on the next one!

About Mike Oliveri

Mike Oliveri is a writer, martial artist, cigar aficionado, motorcyclist, and family man, but not necessarily in that order. He is currently hard at work on the werewolf noir series The Pack for Evileye Books.

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  1. Noah L says:

    I agree with you–more kata provides more variety. There are always going to be both schools of thought on the subject, but my personal opinion is that there should be core kata and “extra credit” kata, so you can take your pic :P. Seiunchin is definitely fun, and the sword kata you know are from Shinkage-Ryu Iaijutsu :)