Kata are the formal exercises of traditional karate.  Often referred to as the “Soul of Karate,” kata encapsulates the techniques, movements, and spirit of the art. Kata practice trains the mind and body for a wide variety of movement and is an excellent form of exercise, memorization, and visualization.  It also exposes the student to countless self defense techniques including throwing, locking, and striking techniques that generally aren’t practiced during basic (kihon) training.

Kata is also popular tournament event, where a performer is judged on criteria including form, body dynamics, transition, and power. Team Kata is a competition event as well, where multiple performers synchronize their techniques and are judged on how well the team moves together as well as the skills of the individual performers.

Historically, kata and its self-defense applications were the primary training method during karate’s development in Okinawa. When karate was introduced by Gichin Funakoshi to mainland Japan in the 1920’s, its curriculum had been modified to be more suitable for teaching in large group settings. In the case of kata, explanation of the brutal self-defense applications behind the movements were mostly removed from the teaching and kihon and kumite training were given more exposure in the curricula.

Disarray following World War II prompted of many of the top sensei to gather their knowledge and codify their understanding of the techniques, culminating in the formation of the Japan Karate Association (JKA) in 1949.  Headed by Masatoshi Nakayama and senior students of Gichin Funakoshi, the JKA’s goal was to strengthen and promote karate worldwide.  Master Nakayama’s Best Karate book series is widely viewed as the definitive text specifying the techniques in the 26 Shotokan kata and they are practiced virtually unchanged from these texts to this day.

The techniques preserved in kata now serve as an historical catalog of the art, faithfully maintaining the heritage and tradition of the art.

See the “Kata of the Month” page for a schedule of how these kata might be practiced in your own training.


Originally called the “Pinan” kata in Okinawa, these five kata were created by Anko Itosu as tools for teaching large numbers of young students the basic forms of Karate.  They were first introduced to the school systems in Okinawa in 1895 and were subsequently adopted by a large number of styles and schools.   When Gichin Funakoshi brought the kata to mainland Japan, he re-named them “Heian” to make them more acceptable to the Japanese.  Both words Pinan and Heian mean “Peaceful & Safe”.  Variations of the Heian Kata are seen in many styles of karate and also Korean Tang Soo Do and Tae Kwon Do.

1-heian-shodanHeian Shodan  平安初段

Heian Shodan uses only 5 different arm techniques and 2 stances.  It is ideal for beginners to learn basic movement and connection of techniques.  It is perfectly symmetrical except for its famous fourth move the pullback and strike. The turns are deceptively simple and are challenging to perform with stability and correct form.
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Heian Nidan  平安弐段

Heian Nidan plays on the embusen (performance line) learned in Heian Shodan by adding more difficult techniques, kicks, and multi-technique combinations.  The bunkai (applications) are also much more complex.
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Heian Sandan  平安参段

Heian Sandan introduces a number of unusual techniques showcasing practical applications including arm locks, releases, twists, and throws. It also debuts techniques performed slowly (osoi), encouraging students to achieve a higher level of physical and mental control. Students should pay close attention to the form of their kiba dachi stances when performing this kata.
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4-heian-yondanHeian Yondan  平安四段

This kata’s four signature kick-strike combinations are a exciting challenge to perform with speed and power.  It’s slow movements are also a unique challenge for students at this level to perform with proper form.
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5-heian-godanHeian Godan  平安五段

This aggressive kata is ideal for intermediate-level students who have learned the basics and are ready for a kata with difficult moves, powerful body dynamics, and the first introduction of a jump into the kata.
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The Tekki kata were introduced from Okinawa to mainland Japan by Gichin Funakoshi to showcase the strong kiba-dachi stance, which is the only stance in all three kata. Rich in fighting techniques, the Tekki family offers a plethora of close combat techniques. Don’t let the simple one-line embusen fool you, these kata are difficult to perform and require advanced understanding of body dynamics to perform their small movements effectively.

6-tekki-shodanTekki Shodan  鉄騎初段

The first of the Tekki series.
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Tekki Nidan  鉄騎弐段

Featuring a double-block/strike and twisting arm lock series not seen in other Shotokan kata. 
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Tekki Sandan  鉄騎参段

Consisting almost entirely of small, quick arm movements, this kata demands high-level body connections. 
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The following four advanced kata are called Sentei (meaning compulsory) as most students are required to know these kata for their brown and black belt exams.  These specific kata include important representations of our style and are considered to be the core forms of Shotokan Karate.

9-kanku-daiKanku Dai  観空大

Kanku Dai holds special significance in Shotokan Karate as it is considered its “representative” or “root” kata.  It is the parent kata for the entire database of techniques of this system and it is the central point to which most other kata point.  In it you will find many of the techniques seen in the Heian, Tekki, and other kata.
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bassai-daiBassai Dai  抜塞大

The theme of this kata is hip rotation and features many double techniques requiring an advanced understanding of this body dynamic.
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14-empiEmpi  燕飛

The quick, darting directional changes of this kata are reminiscent of a bird in flight. Its signature sequence features a rising punch, shift and pull back that is an excellent exercise in speed, strength, and transition.  Enpi is one of the oldest kata in Shotokan.
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Jion  慈恩

Jion is one of a family of three kata (including Jitte and Jiin) that follow similar yoi positions, embusen, stances, techniques, and body dynamics. The importance of the three basic stances is a prominent theme in these kata.
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16-gankakuGankaku  岩鶴

The unique one-legged stance in this kata (tsuru-ashi dachi) resembles a crane standing on one leg.  It is a uniquely elegant, but challenging, kata to perform because of it many twists and spins.
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22-hangetsuHangetsu  半月

Hangetsu is practiced in some form by most major styles of traditional karate.  It is characterized by its unique namesake stance and its many slow movements punctuated by explosive bursts of multiple techniques. The hangetsu (or half-moon) stance utilizes internal pressure for stability rather than the typical outside pressure found in most Shotokan stances. Hangetsu dachi is a relatively modern variation of Sanchin Dachi.
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Jitte  十手

Also known as “Jutte”, this kata is in the same family as Jion and Jiin – it shares similarities in its opening position and embusen.  Master Nakayama indicates in his Best Karate Books that the name implies one must have the strength of ten men to complete it.  Some claim that the name is derived from the position of the raised fists, resembling a type of sai known as a jitte, which occurs a number of times in the kata.
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8-nijushihoNijushiho  弐十四方

Nijushiho is a beautiful kata featuring movements that are often said to resemble waves breaking against the shore. It is a popular kata for tournament competition and it is a practiced often by the black belts in our dojo.  Its 24 steps include a wide array of stances, unique bunkai, and challenging transitions between techniques.
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11-sochinSochin  壮鎮

Sochin is considered one of the most popular kata in Shotokan Karate. When properly performed, it is a fantastic display of strength, speed and dynamism. Its signature opening move (muso gamae) performed from fudo dachi stance sets the stage for this kata’s powerful and heavy rhythms.
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20-kanku-shoKanku Sho  観空小

Kanku Sho is the shorter, but not less difficult, companion kata to Kanku Dai.  Its signature sequence is similar to Kanku Dai’s, but is performed at mid-body level.  Its quick and powerful pace along with its two dramatic jumps make this an ideal competition kata.
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13-bassai-shoBassai Sho  抜塞小

This is the shorter companion kata to Bassai Dai, both sharing a similar embusen.  Many of its techniques are performed at the jodan level compared to Bassai Dai. Bassai Sho’s challenging footwork make this a difficult kata to perform convincingly without diligent practice.
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Gojushiho Sho  五十四歩小

This companion to Gojushiho Dai is one of the more advanced kata of Shotokan and is popular in competition.  It features many sharp turns with dramatic whipping actions of the arms.  Smooth and continuous transition between its many steps and complex body mechanics is the key to a good performance.
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vrv_7210-copyGojushiho Dai 五十四歩大

The sibling to Gojushiho Sho, this kata is one of the most advanced kata of Shotokan. Master Funakoshi called it hotaku (knocking of a woodpecker) because some of the techniques resemble a woodpecker tapping its beak against a tree.
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Unsu  雲手

Unsu features several techniques that resemble the parting of clouds with open hands. Its double mawashi geri performed from the ground, the heito-kick-block sequence, and the 360º mid-air jump are considered the most acrobatic movements of any kata.  Needless to say, it is a competition favorite.
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12-chinteChinte  珍手

Chinte features an array of unique hand techniques (hence it’s name) and a theme of circular execution – a divergence from the linear techniques typically found in Shotokan. Despite lacking flashy jumps and featuring only one modest kick, it is deceptively difficult to perform and its challenging body dynamics require precise execution.  It bears some resemblance to Sochin and Hangetsu with rooted stances and powerful stance transitions.
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meikyo-webMeikyo  明鏡

The first movements of this kata suggest the smoothing of water to make it as calm and even as a mirror.  While less practiced than other kata in the Shotokan canon, Meikyo features subtle stance and direction changes that provide insight into proper transition.  It features an awesome jump, too!  The modern-day form of Meikyo we practice was styled by Anko Itosu. It’s Okinawan name is Rohai.
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Wankan  王冠

Wankan is one of the more unusual kata in the Shotokan style. Having never been showcased in Nakayama’s Best Karate series, it is rarely taught in the dojo or performed in tournaments due to its short length and lack of drama.  It is, however, worth study, especially for developing proper transition between techniques.  Trivia buffs will note that Wankan is the shortest advanced kata in Shotokan, has only one kiai point, and is the only Shotokan kata that starts on a diagonal angle.

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Jiin  寺院

In the same family as Jion and Jutte, Jiin features many simultaneous techniques and repetition of stances enabling swift changes of direction while maintaining balance, power and steps of equal length. Jiin has fallen out of popularity in recent times and was removed from the JKA syllabus.  This kata does not start and end at the same spot.
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27-kiteiKitei  規定

Kitei is a compulsory kata used in WTKF/ITKF competition during the Fuku-go event.
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