REIHO, SAHO, KU et al.


Karate is a discipline, not just the practice of Kihon, Kumite and Kata. It is a tool for training the mind, body, and spirit -in preparation not just for battle, but for life itself! This training requires the karate-ka to employ intense concentration, commitment, and effort; it is a lifetime journey.

Our Saiko-Shihan, Makoto Gima stated:

Three years for the peach and chestnut to ripen
Eight years for the persimmon to ripen
A lifetime for karate. 
   Having begun karate, one continues for his entire life.”

We know that Karate is steeped in Okinawa and Japanese roots. But do we know what the essence of that culture is? Do we comprehend the very essence that permeates Japanese Budo?

I am talking about ‘Reihō’, ‘Sahō’, ‘Wa’ and the notion of Ku (Kara).

The Karate Dojo is not a ‘gym’ or training hall, it’s a place where ‘Do'(Chinese read ‘Tao’) or the ‘Way’ is taught, practiced and assimilated. 

“(In Chinese philosophy) the absolute principle underlying the universe, combining within itself the principles of yin and yang and signifying the way, or code of behavior, that is in harmony with the natural order.” 

In Karate ‘Do’ or ‘Michi’ is the ‘path’ to learning and understanding the correct attitude of respect, sincerity, and modesty.

Since Karate is a martial art, etiquette, and Dojo rules are essential to the safety of everyone. But, we must look beyond that!

Gima sensei stated: 

Through hard training, karate seeks to foster a spirit that strives for truth and respect for others. It aspires to a complete and rounded character. In Okinawa, the Karate expert is called Bushi, namely a person of character, pure and noble, who has mastered the mysteries of the true art.” 

Budo, Japanese harmony -reliant upon truth and respect for others. The complete and rounded character! We can call this training a ‘culture’ that is meant to create safety and discipline – and ‘Harmony!’ A culture that is meant to assist in the betterment of society and of life.

Not surprisingly these concepts continue through Japanese society, from behaviour in the home, setting up a room for special occasions, conduct in meetings; indeed in everyday life!

Our manners, behaviour, and demeanour, both inside and outside the dojo is of great importance. Funakoshi Sensei once said:

“Dojo nomino Karate to omou na”, essentially ‘do not forget that karate is also outside the dojo!

From Feudal/Samurai times correct etiquette and manners have been pivotal to Japanese culture and life.  

Again referring to the teaching of Gima Sensei:

“Right actions comes from a good heart. With hard work and diligent training, one may achieve a certain level of skill, however, one might struggle for his entire life without being able to attain a certain spiritual level. Since everything comes from the heart; if the heart is in the right place, so will be the form. If the heart is warped, so will be the form.”

The heart! The spirit! The feeling, being aware of the environment, all contribute to harmony!


Before the advent of Covid, we saw Japanese people wearing masks, in public, on trains, in meetings, so as not to infect others with their colds and sicknesses etc.  Such is the reserved culture prevalent in Japan, The Japanese people can be gregarious, hospitable, and jovial, but there is an underlying concept of fitting into society and judgement. Some people may use the masks as a way of creating a separation between themselves and society. Almost trying to be non-existent in order not to upset the harmony and balance. Not to stand out.  Of course, others use them to prevent the spread of sickness.  As there is that use, the other (hidden usage) is not as obvious.

Japan as a whole act for the whole.  Thus harmony is key. 

It can be found everywhere from architecture to behaviour, the way a meal is laid out, or a room is set. The Japanese call this ‘wa’ (harmony). “Wa’ is critical to Japanese culture. ‘Wa’ stresses interdependence over independence, cooperation over dissent, and patience over resistance.  


” First, don’t forget, Karate begins and ends with respect. “Hitotsu -Karate-do wa rei ni hajimari rei ni owaru koto a wasaru na! 一、空手道は礼に始まり礼に終る事を忘るな

Funakoshi Gichin

This can be seen when we bow on entering the dojo, from the deep bow towards Shomen, to the Sensei, and to each other. Two individuals bow together out of respect (and an almost ‘we will look after each other’ attitude) before engaging in practice. We may liken this to the ‘Tōrei’ (bowing to the sword) with the Katana. We bow to sword, deep and sincere respect must be shown; but we equally ask that sword to look after us! 

The angle of the bow in society is indicative of respect and status. The back of the neck should not be shown beneath the Keikogi etc. Manners, etiquette, and respect for culture. We do not sit sprawled or with the sole of our feet showing. When we listen to instruction we don’t fold our arms or lean against the wall. We listen politely, intently, and with respect.

Respect! From the beginning to end of Keiko we show it. It is here, that very Reihō, that helps us to stay human and put aside our ego.  It is here where we create an art, not a sport, a way of life not a club for fighting.


Sahō refers customs via actions, ceremonies or dealing with everyday matters and routines. 

Most restaurants take pride in the presentation of their meals, the patrons expect it.  The Chado (tea ceremony) is extremely details and intricate in custom but simple and elegant.  The concept of both would be to create an experience for the customer.

Sahō is also reflected within room decoration, how Omiyage (gifts) are wrapped and presented, even how meishi (business cards) are exchanged. How the dogi is worn, the obi is tired. Certificate presentations – all reflect the Sahō.

Sahō keeps order and consistency, therefore helps create the concept of ‘Wa’.

Etiquette and Manners are where all Karatedo begins (and ends), thus there are rules indicating the proper and polite way to behave both inside and outside the Dojo. 

Whether it’s in the context of Budo (Martial Art) or in daily life, Japan follows a strict, formal, disciplined etiquette quite rigorously. Etiquette gives us protocol and orderly ways to behave, it teaches us respect and courtesy, but ultimately, etiquette is about training your mind. Within the Dojo this is of paramount importance.

It can be said that Budo training is austere, and attached in some way to violent activity therefore, Reihō helps to develop habits allowing us to stay human during training, and in life.  Terms Satu Jinken and Katsu Jinken come to mind:

“The sword that kills is also the sword that gives life”

Karate without Reihō and Sahō cannot be Karate-Do; it is just fighting; just Jutsu.


Mushin – Calligraphy by Makoto Gima

We all hear about Zanshin (Lingering mind) and of course Mushin (the empty mind). Both are critical elements. It is Mushin that allows us to react naturally in conflict. Mushin we refer to as ‘no mind’. Clearly a mind that is devoid or worry is capable of processing and reaction. Think of ‘Tsuki no Kokoro’ and ‘Mizu no Kokoro’. These allow a natural and instinctive response. Reaction to causation before thought process hinder response.

“If the mind congeals in one place and remains with one thing, it is like frozen water and is unable to be used freely: ice that can wash neither hands nor feet. When the mind is melted and is used like water, extending throughout the body, it can be sent wherever one wants to send it.” 

Takuan Soho

Referring once more to Gima Sensei:

‘Kara in karate means zero or emptiness. Contrary to what one would expect, the state of emptiness is the place where all things come together.’ 

Going back to his senior Gichin Funakoshi also stated:

“Just as an empty valley can carry a resounding voice, so must the person who follows the Way of Karate make himself void or empty by ridding himself or all self-centeredness and greed. Make yourself empty within, but upright without. This is the real meaning of the ’empty’ in Karate.”

He also stated in his book Karate Do Nyumon:

“Once one has perceived the infinity of forms and elements in the universe, one returns to emptiness, to the void. In other words, emptiness is none other than the true form of the universe.”

All the above relates to harmony of the individual to the universe. Karate, and other Budo is a way of understanding and utilising these principles. 

We must remember -Karate begins with a bow and finishes with a bow! Karate relies on respect, etiquette, manners, sincerity. The society we live in relies on harmony.

Karate is part of the ‘way’, part of the harmony of mankind, and therefore part of the universe.


I wrote this missive back in 2009. Having re-read it, I still feel that it has validity. Perhaps more so now than previously.

The future of karate-do?

There can be little doubt that Karate-do has drastically changed over the past five decades. It has gone from the traditional one-to-one (sensei to student, or very few students) of the non-commercial dojo in Okinawa, to the  trend of enthusiastic Karate-ka best represented in the Japanese university ‘Bu’ , and on to the more public face of karate, in the form of often confusing dojos and styles in almost every town and city world-wide.

Karate-do has truly become what can only described as an ‘art ‘ or ‘hobby’ (of whichever description) for everyone. 

The gobal Karate audience is now a diverse cross-section of society. More and more children are being drawn to Karate, perhaps because of the competitive aspect found in ‘Kyogi Karate’ (sports Karate); people who are middle aged and less athletically inclined are often interested in the health and lifestyle benefits of ‘Kenko’ Karate, with the additional benefit of Goshin-Do (Self defence). There also remains the core of people who have a keen interest in the traditional values of Karate-do found in ‘Budo karate’ and the ‘Kobudo’ of the Ryuku Islands.

It is this cross section of society, children, adults and a harder core section of those wishing to pursue the path of Budo, which ensures the continued growth of Karate. It is my contention that Karate-do will continue to thrive if the elements above co-exist in harmony, and can be inextricably linked by correct fusion.

There is little doubt that the stars of the future, those who will carry the mantle of Karate forward are from the younger generation, but they need the guidance and maturity that their seniors offer to ensure that Karate-do continues in the correct direction. 

The quandry might be – what is the future of Karate-do, Karate as a traditional art, Karate as a Shugyo, Karate as a lifelong pursuit?  

For Karate to survive there needs to be a fusion of Karate-do (Budo karate and its values) and sport Karate (Kyogi Karate) that offers something for all. There is much that can be done to ensure the continued progression of Karate-do, as opposed to the emerging sport trend of Karate as a competitive and spectator ‘sport’. I believe that Karate is not a sport, but an art, and when looked at below the surface, a life long pursuit of excellence.

Sport Karate (Kyogi Karate)

Since Kyogi Karate (competition Karate) is a major influence for many starting their journey, I will start with this element of Karate that is perhaps the public face of our art.

It is said that circa 1950 the Nihon Karate Kyokai (Japan Karate Association) began developing the practice of Jiyu Kumite as an integral element of their style, complimented by their Kihon syllabus. This practice was possibly developed with the intention of establishing  ‘a competitive attitude’ in Karate. This very sportification of Karate captured the imagination of the younger Japanese, and doubtless spurred the thriving University Karate Bu to greater heights.

There is little doubt that part of the ‘globalisation’ of Karate lays within the promoting a set of competitive rules and beginning ‘competitive’ or ‘sport Karate’.

Of course the contrary sentiment of Master Funakoshi Gichin advocated: 

“The ultimate aim of karate lies not in victory or defeat, but in the perfection of the character of its participants.”  

For Karate-do to continue and flourish as an art it must not degenerate purely into a sport where the aim is solely to win and where karate success is based on the amount of medals a person has won. Kyogi Karate has its place in the continued growth of Karate, providing the rules do not create an empty shell of gymnastic technique, losing the true spirit of the martial art.

To explore this, I will split Kyogi Karate into its two categories: Kumite and Kata.


I believe that there should be two separate and distinct Kyogi Karate Takai (tournament) systems. For children a system where points are gained, and a winner can be clearly seen. This is within the remit of safety and sport. The child would use Karate techniques to gain the points, based on clean execution, good use of speed, ma, and ma-ai. As safety is the paramount concern, the lack of fighting spirit is not overly destructive to the Budo ethos. The child would learn sportsmanship, manners, and the necessity of hard work to provide results.

Adults should engage is Ippon Shobu Shiai which should be viewed as training and a learning exercise and not solely competition. The shiai must be fought in a sense where opponent is the teacher, and the purpose is purely to test skills, progress in training and spirit. Spirit combined with fluency of skill being the important aspect!

Core karate skills such as:

  • Kime (decision, sharpness, positive end to the waza), 
  • Go no Sen (allowing the opponent to attack then utilising your counter),                                                              
  • Sen no Sen (attacking at the same time),                     
  • Sen Sen no Sen (presumptive attack), 
  • Sasoi Waza (the created opening by ‘inviting’ an attack), 
  • Kyo  (unpreparedness following an attack at the moment of ‘off guard’),
  • Ma/Hyoshi (timing, distance in time), 
  • Kuzushi Waza (breaking of the balance – mental or physical)
  • Shikake Waza (set up techniques)
  • Ma-ai (position and distance between opponents);   

are demonstrated and tested, showing the development and application of concepts such  ‘issoku itto no ma-ai’  (strike or avoid in one step), and ‘Todome’ or ‘Ikken Hisatsu’.

Ippon Shobu is not about gaining points to win, but the execution of that one clean strike which is spirited, committed, effective, and final.

This would enable a spirit of Budo to remain within the competitive environment in kumite as the sense of ‘live or die’ so that we can truly learn the effectiveness of our technique, and ‘ichigo ichie’ one meeting one chance’, can remain. 

Ippon Shobu and its finality necessitate the building of Fudoshin (an unhindered mind) as opposed to Fushin (a hindered or stopped mind full of doubt fear etc). Kyogi Karate can still retain the concept of  ‘todome’ or ‘ikken hisatsu’. 


Whilst it can be said that Kata competition is more subjective than Kumite, and that a clear winner is not always readily visible to spectators, or the novice within Karate-do; but, there is little doubt that the true spirit of Budo can still be seen.

Kyogi Karate Kata should be more than physical technique alone, where the flexible and athletic prevail. Kata must develop and demonstrate true Budo Ideals. I will discuss various points that Kyogi Kata should demonstrate:

From the point scoring point of view certain technical elements need to be shown such as:

  • Zanshin, (retain state of preparation after completion of move. metsuke, seme 
  • Ikita kata (the kata is alive performed with feel and purpose).
  • Inen (the kata is practised with spirit)
  • Chikara no kyojaku (relative power and strength)
  • Waza no kankyu (timing correct fast or slow)
  • Tai no shinshuku (expansion and contraction, elasticity of the body)
  • Kisoku no Dento (correct rhythm of breathing)
  • Muda waza (no wasted movement)
  • Kime (decisive and sharpness in movement, positive ending to waza)
  • Shisei (posture and balanced control at all times)
  • Kokyu (breathing)
  • Seishi (techniques should show what is referred to as a living stop as opposed to a total and dead stop).

On a deeper level the Kata shows the Budo elements of:

  • Ki gamae  (the state of body, alertness, showing the fighting awareness of being ready to act in a moment).
  • Ki-Seme (pressure or placing a sense of danger towards the imaginary opponent during the performance of kata).  If there is no feeling of danger or threat in the waza then it was a Muda Waza a wasted technique. Even a minor adjustment at the end of a technique, of the head, the hand, eyes equal a loss of seme.
  • Kigurai (bearing and demeanour).
  • Kasso Teki (the imaginary opponent, karate-ka must adapt accordingly in reaction to the opponent if he was real). The karate-ka must show they know where the opponent is. The movement in the kata should give a sense that the karate-ka understands “Teki ni yotte tenka seyo” or  ‘change depending on your opponent’.
  • Imperturbability (the karate-ka should not waver in concentration even if they have made a mistake). 
  • Metsuke and Mesen (the gaze, eyes). The eyes should not be fixed in one place. A sense of ‘enzan no metsuke’ or looking at distant mountains, focus in the distance, seeing all equally should be shown.
  • Jo Ha Kyu (beginning, middle, end of technique). Movement should be calm at the beginning, complex in middle, and fast on conclusion. Like a stream becomes a river, which in turn becomes a waterfall, and then settles into a still pond. All techniques can demonstrate this concept.

The Karate-ka can display the above concepts and skills in their Kata, and retain a sense of Budo, as opposed to a display of athletic techniques that are beautiful but devoid of spirit.

By ensuring that sport Kumite and Kata retain these principles we can continue to see Karate-Do as a Budo art, and not purely a competitive sport.

Kenko Karate for health and lifestyle

I will now address Kenko Karate, in particular the practise of Karate for good health, mental calmness, and lifestyle. Clive W Nicol (in his book) once made the analogy that Karate was ‘moving Zen.’ Whilst this is not strictly true there is little doubt that the combination of physical activity and total mental immersion necessary to perform karate to a high level, places the karate-ka in a state of mind that is tranquil and calm. Physical output in Karate is both aerobic and anaerobic giving the Karate-ka a total and fully rounded body workout. The heart, and muscles are placed under heavy stress and are strengthened. The sinews and ligaments are stretched making the body more flexible and mobile. These lead to a healthier body, a stronger mind, and a person less likely to succumb to illnesses and the effects of premature ageing. Aside from the obvious health benefits of a rounded fitness regime, the mental aspects of karate are equally good for the human being.

Karate-do can help a person calm the mind and de-stress in everyday situations, by teaching and creating the understanding of Heijo-Shin (the everyday mind).

A stressful day at work is forgotten once the Karate-ka dons his or her do-gi. An immersion into a different world ensues, where the mind is cleared of everyday problems and becomes clear devoid negative thoughts.

The expressions Mizu no Kokoro (a mind like water) and Tsuki no Kokoro (a mind like the moon) are usually referred to in terms of Kumite, yet they are equally applicable to Karate-do for lifestyle. It is necessary for the Karate-ka to empty or free his/her mind placing it into a state of mushin in order to perform the intricacies and skills required in kihon; more so in kata and kumite. This clarity of mind, or the ability to clear the mind, is clearly a stress reducing technique that is of great benefit in modern society. Once Karate-ka realise that Heijo shin koro michi is an attainable state of mind, normal business, normal life, plus the moments of extreme stress or danger can be handed with the same clarity and calmness.


Goshin-do is often a drawing factor for Karate dojos, and in the fast paced world we now live in the ability to perceive danger, avoid danger, or correctly react to it is augmented by the core skills of defence that Karate offers. 

It must be said that Karate-do training offers a complete ‘health package’ for its participants, in particular  – lifestyle enhancement.  Kenko Karate cannot be overlooked in association or dojo marketing, and we must remember that once we bring a student into the dojo looking for Kenko Karate, the opportunities open for them to become Karate-ka in the traditional sense, perhaps first trying Kyogi Karate and ultimately – Budo Karate.

Budo Karate

Budo Karate can be separated into two factors, the first being the psychological and mental training offered to Karate-ka/Budo-ka, and the second the mechanical and physical skills learned by rigorous and realistic practise.

Aside from Kihon, Kata and Kumite that is standard practise in dojos, deeper study of the Bunkai in the kata offers the skills of Shime-waza (strangling/choking), Nage-waza (throwing techniques – for example Tsubame-gaeshi, Yari-dama, Koma-nage, Byobu-daoshi, Ude-wa), Ne-waza (groundfighting) and Kansetsu-waza (joint locks/manipulation). Whilst many will correlate this to Goshin-waza, the realism offered by such hand-on practise takes the karate-ka back to an older time, bringing the realism and danger (albeit controlled) back to training.

For me the attraction to Karate has been the Budo element. I have discussed much about Budo in the section on Kyogi karate, but this was only scratching the surface as it can be applied to sport Karate (Taikai).

Budo runs deeper than the above analogies, it runs through the veins of every serious Karate-ka. It is the backbone of serious martial arts. I believe wholeheartedly that it is the Budo element of Karate is the spirit, the soul of Karate, and what will ultimately take keep the true identity of Karate.

Karate enjoys a position of ‘Gendai Budo’ teaching traditional martial ways during peacetime, or ‘peaceful combat’ as a means to achieving perfection of the self. Karate-do follows the essence of ‘do’ the ‘michi’ or path of life learning, the battle against one’s self, the voyage of discovery that brings wisdom, truth, the understanding of the self and knowing the limitations and strengths of one’s own spirit. 

Karate-do gives the practitioner a total rounded character. Karate-do gives the Karate-ka more than just physical techniques and applications it transforms all aspects of life. A dedicated follower of Budo Karate does not study for ‘fun’, competition, or as a ‘fad’.

To attain a true understanding, one must seek the goal of ‘self-perfection’ (Jinkaku kansei ni tsutomuru koto) that requires significant time and effort; it is a long-term passage, and not one which can be attained with speed. Budo will become apparent to the Karate-ka (or any other martial art) who is dedicated, exerting their minds and bodies through rigorous training.

Master Gima Makoto said on the occasion of his 88th birthday:

“Through hard training, Karate seeks to foster a spirit that strives for truth and respect for others. It aspires to a complete and rounded character. In Okinawa, the Karate expert is called Bushi, namely a person of character, pure and noble, who has mastered the mysteries of the true art.”

Master Gima also stated: 

“Three years for the peach and chestnut to ripen, eight years for the persimmon to ripen, a lifetime for karate. Having begun karate, one continues for his entire life.”

Master Yamaguchi Gogen stated:

 “Budo did not originate in a peaceful atmosphere.  It was necessary to protect one’s life at the time, and to learn how to use Budo as a weapon and achieve one’s responsibility as a warrior.  It was the warrior’s duty to develop spirit. … It was necessary to obtain a technique to protect oneself, and one had to have a strong spirit to correspond to that.  When one could overcome a conception of death, there was an improvement of a human being as a Samurai.  When it was developed, karatedo was used in place of weapons and studied that way, so that the spirit of the Samurai was needed at the beginning of its conception to learn karate… Now, karate is the battle against one’s self and a means of the Way of one’s life, not to defeat others or to die.  This solitary fight is to know one’s own spirit and the desire to the naught that is superior to the limitation of the body.”

To my mind this is the true ideal of Karate-do. The fostering of a strong spirit, that strives for truth and respect. I believe that Karate-do is a lifelong pursuit, a ‘Shugyo’, long and rigorous training in the pursuit of higher levels of understanding of the self and consciousness.

A Karate-ka embarking on the journey of Karate-do as a Budo must train his/her body with purpose, sometimes enduring physical hardships. The Karate-ka must reflect introspectively, fighting their inner demons and fears, and grow as a person. 

Via Budo we can really begin to understand the concepts such as Zanshin, and Heijo Shin, particularly how they reflect on daily life.

For example, Zanshin can often be taught to Karate-ka as ‘awareness’ of what surrounds us, threats, dangers, obstacles etc.  But once we understand Budo we become concerned with the state of mind, before, during and after we have made an action or commitment. In our kumite, kata and waza we can show zanshin (externally) through our kamae or shisei (posture); we can show seme, we can project our ki and ‘calmness’. We can continue this through to daily life, and begin to understand why the samurai during the Senkoku period and beyond placed importance on the concept of Heijo shin koro michi. Through rigorous training and commitment we can truly begin to understand ourselves, and our own limitations; we can achieve Mushin and heijo shin (everyday mind). 

The Budo karate-ka can learn to keep his/her mind balanced, keeping calm in moments of stress in order to think clearly and react in a calm manner without fear and tension. 

Heijo shin clearly refers to the state of mind that is not fixed in any direction, but in a balanced state. The everyday mind, the mind that is not clouded, the clear mind that sees things with clarity and reacts accordingly.

Master Funakoshi Gichin wrote: 

“As a mirror’s polished surface reflects whatever stands before it and a quiet valley carries even the smallest sounds, so must the student of Karate render his mind empty of selfishness and wickedness in an effort to react appropriately toward anything he might encounter. This is the true meaning of Kara or ’empty’ of Karate.”

Heijo shin and its meaning is the cornerstone of classical Budo. Stability, control (of the self), calmness, even in the face of adversity or the enemy, whether on the battlefield or normal life.

At this moment of understanding it becomes truly possible to block or counter-strike immediately without hesitation.

A Karate-ka is in effect a Shugyo-sha and must extend their concentration and mind to all aspects of their life.

Kobudo in karate.

One of the main bones of contention those who criticise the modern methodology of Karate-do profess is that it karate has become the ‘empty shell’ of its former self. This may well be true in the sense that the modern practice is largely concerned with safety of its practitioners. Contact is kept to a minimum, and the normal syllabus utilises only Kihon Ippon, Jiyu Ippon and Jiyu kumite where ‘control’ is the order. Gima-ha Shotokan-Ryu takes the karate-ka one step closer to ‘realism’ by the introduction of and testing under the extreme kumite we refer to as ‘Jissen’.

Another means of bringing effectiveness, realism, and ‘feeling’ in Karate-do is the addition of Kobudo into the syllabus. The weapons are constructed out of hard material such as metal and wood. This instantly brings the effect of reality into our hands. Nunchaku, Kama, Tonfa, Bo, Sai etc. all would cause serious damage if used incorrectly. The Karate-ka using the weapons of Kobudo soon realises the ‘danger’ that is in their hands. The correlation between Kobudo and the empty hand skills in Karate also becomes evident. 

Again Gima-ha Shotokan-Ryu has the foresight to include Kobudo into the grading syllabus; being one of the few Shotokan based organisations to offer the Karate-ka this ‘reality’ in Karate-do.

Kobudo is the one facet that offers a true connection to the Ryukyu Karate of old. It gives the Karate-ka a sense of the old world. It also focuses the mind, utilising zanshin, seme and ‘ki ken tai’ (in this sense ken refers to the weapon and not the traditional meaning as in sword or fist) instilling a sense of Budo.


I believe the future of Karate-do lays in the way those associations and dojos make the correlation between Budo, Sport, Kenko karate, and Kobudo; particularly in the way that we instil this fusion into our younger Karate-ka. They may commence karate training for Kyogi karate, but by careful nurturing and systematic training of Budo principles integrated into their syllabus, they will mature and develop into the Karate-ka of the future. As they mature their understanding and appreciation of the Budo elements will increase.

Today’s youth will become tomorrow’s adults, and the teachers of the future. It is essential that they are given a full and complete grounding in all aspects of karate-do.

Karate-do will continue to thrive and progress, if its teachers pass on its true spirit.


Here, I include an essay written by one of our Nidan Instructors Paul Jefferies. It is a thoughtful article on Kata and its necessity. Gima-Ha students are required to submit an essay on this subject to Japan for consideration of Nidan before, or immediately after, their physical grading.


In this essay I intend to explore what Kata is in relation to Karate and martial arts in general, it’s origins, where it fits into the training system of Karate, and why it is a necessary, if not an essential, part of Karatedo. 

Most readers should be familiar with the education system’s concept of the “Three Rs’” representing the fundamental skills of Reading, Writing and Arithmetic that the rest of learning is built upon. Without Reading one cannot write, without Reading and Writing one cannot apply arithmetic; and without all three you cannot further progress in your education. Well in Karatedo we have a similar concept of the “Three Ks’” comprising Kihon, Kata and Kumite. 

Kihon, meaning Basics, is concerned with the basic fundamental building blocks of the style, which in Karate are our stances, kicks, punches, blocks, strikes, etc. It is very important to constantly practice all the Kihon diligently; continually honing each individual building block (technique) into the correct “shape” so they can be executed instinctively and so that they can fit together properly with all of the other techniques naturally. 

Kata, meaning Form, are sequences of the individual Kihon organised as a pattern that must be memorised by the karateka. In Karate, Kata are solo-performances where the student must not only demonstrate the correct kihon, but also these combined with other elements like direction, speed, power and rhythm. The pattern of each kata follow useful scenarios of defence and attack against one, or more, opponents. There are many kata forms in each karate style’s syllabus that karateka must learn one by one, starting with the simplest form then working up the kata ladder, each new kata incrementally introducing new techniques and requiring a higher skill level. 

The core kata in Shotokan karate are: 

  • Heian Shodan 
  • Heian Nidan
  • Heian Sandan 
  • Heian Yondan
  • Heian Godan 
  • Tekki Shodan
  • Tekki Nidan
  • Tekki Sandan
  •  Bassai Dai
  • Bassai Sho
  •  Kanku Dai 
  • Kanku Sho
  • Empi 
  • Jion
  • Jiin
  • Jitte
  • Hangetsu 
  • Gankaku
  • Chinte
  • Unsu
  • Nijushiho
  • Gojushiho Dai 
  • Gojushiho SHo
  • Meikyo 
  • Wankan 

Kumite, means Sparring with a partner. Through Kumite karateka are able to apply their attacking and defensive techniques and movements against another person. Initially students learn pre-set training drills in which they must again show good Kihon, as you would expect, but now also enables them to develop and demonstrate other elements like: correct distance (Maai), timing, control and body-shifting (Taisabaki). At the lower skill levels, the prescribed drill sequences are quite rigid and could in themselves be considered a Kata, albeit a two-man kata. As the karateka’s skill level progresses their Kumite drills become increasingly more difficult, less prescribed and with a greater element of surprise. 

Splitting karate training into these “Three Ks”, enables instructors and their students to focus on each of the core elements one at a time, continuously improving each element, and this will ultimately end up with the student being able to combine all three together naturally and instinctively, which is where they really become Karate. 

These “Three Ks” of Karate are in fact a more modern development of the Karate training system. Originally, in Okinawa, when Karate was simply known as ‘te’ (hand) there wasn’t any formalized or documented style for students to learn from, because at that time the practice of ‘te’ had to be done in secret because the Japanese rulers made it illegal for the Okinawans to possess weapons or practice any martial arts, therefore training in dojos like we are familiar with now did not happen. Instead teachers only had one or a few students that they trained in secret, or private locations. 

Also in that time, kata was the only way they practiced their karate techniques. It was later on, in more modern times that the Kihon were taken out from the kata, the kumite sparring exercises were developed, and then organised into the style of training commonly seen today. 

It is lost to the mists of time why kata were, and became, the core of karate training, but clearly there must have been some belief that it served a useful purpose, because if not it wouldn’t have persisted through to this day. 

One important aspect of katas is that they have also served as an un-written catalogue, or syllabus if you like, of a particular Karate Master or lineage. Remembering that at that time, all karate training had to be done in secret, so no documentation of kata could exist otherwise, if discovered, it would be evidence to the crime. Aside from documentation being risky from a crime perspective, if it did exist it may actually have had little practical use in that day and age, when you consider that karate was generally practiced by ordinary people (i.e. farmers, etc) who would not necessarily have been literate. Therefore, the kata were passed down between generations directly from master to student, as such the origins of many of the kata are unknown. 

One kata whose origin is known, and provides a good example of how some of the other kata may have been created, is Gankaku, which was renamed from ‘Chinto’ in Shotokan. 

Chinto kata is named after a Chinese sailor with the same name, who was shipwrecked on Okinawa during the 19th century. Chinto found shelter in a cave, and to survive he started stealing food and livestock from the locals. Chinto’s crimes were reported to the Okinawan king who sent Sokon Matsumura to deal with the problem. Matsumura, in his own right, was a well-known karate master who was serving as chief bodyguard to the king. 

Matsumura was a very skilled fighter who normally had no problems defeating his opponents easily. However, he met his equal match when he found himself pitched against Chinto, who was also well practiced in Chinese martial arts. Matsumura realised he could learn more skills from Chinto, so they made a deal where Matsumura would take care of Chinto if he would teach him his new fighting skills. Eventually Chinto returned to China, so Matsumura formulated the ‘Chinto’ kata to preserve Chinto’s methods in a form that was recorded and passed on to future generations. Many other kata we know, were also developed by an individual’s students in order to record what they had been taught (i.e. Kushanku kata and Wanshu kata are also both named after Chinese martial artists who visited Okinawa). 

While each individual kata has its own characteristic features; there are ten essential elements that are required to be able to successfully perform it. These ten elements are: 

  • Preparation of the mind – Yoi No Kisin
  • Awareness of attack and defence – Inyo
  • Balancing of power – Chikara No Kyojaku
  • Correct speed – Waza No Kankyu
  • Expand and contract – Tai No Shinshuku
  • Breathing and posture control – Kokyu
  • Understanding the target – Tyakugan
  • Demonstration of Martial spirit – Kiai
  • Stance and movement – Keitai No Hoji
  • Remaining completely aware – Zanshin 

In order to incorporate all of these elements into their kata, a student cannot just focus on the individual techniques, and sequences of techniques, as basic kihon against imaginary opponents, but they must also study how they are applied in real combat situations. This area of study is called Karate Bunkai, which essentially means practicing and understanding how those techniques, and sequences, are actually applied against a real opponent. 

Many of the Bunkai from kata, are simply unsafe to practice correctly with real opponents, otherwise student’s would be at risk of some very serious injuries, in not worse. Therefore, solo kata practice is the only opportunity (apart for real combat, of course) for a student to perform those applications, in preparation for use, if ever required, in self-defence. 

One personal criticism I have of modern sports-orientated karate kata performances, as opposed to ‘traditional’ karate practitioners, is that they often don’t demonstrate the real fight, and focus more on kata as a styled performance and show of athleticism. 

In conclusion: I believe Kata is at the core of Karatedo, because without the various kata forms developed and handed down through the centuries, there cannot have been such a complete syllabus of techniques available to karateka today. 


After a Myocardial Infarction and suffering from severe arthritis I took up another Japanese Budo to augment the Shōtōkan-Ryu that I have practiced since childhood. As I have now been involved with Karate-Do for some 54 years, and the Muso Jikiden Eishin Ryu Iaido that I have studied for the past 13 years I can see the ‘points’ where both cross and augment each other. In some ways I could say I have learned a lot about my Karate from my Iaido.

Below is an essay that I wrote some years ago that was eventually published in issue 3 of The British Kendo Associations Kihaku Magazine. It is an essay on Iaido but equally it is an essay on Kata!

I am reproducing the essay here, as the inferences and comparisons to our Karate Kata are undeniable.

Hopefully it may open a door for some, and assist in better understanding their journey in Karate-do allowing a deeper study of the value of Kata.

The enemy within (the need for visualisation in Kata)

Whether one is an inexperienced or experienced Iaidoka a question that may often cross the mind is that of reality: is Iaido a realistic martial art? How can Iaido be made more representational as a Budo

Most Japanese styles of Karate-Do have Kihon (basic waza), Kata and Kumite (engagement match). In Kendo, the effective practice of Kihon and Kata is tested in Jigeiko (free play). By comparison, Iaido appears to many as being largely Kihon– and Kata-centric: some students may think there is no feeling of reality because there cannot safely be a ‘steel-on-steel’ contest, that is Shinken Shobu (serious match – usually to the death!). 

The majority of other Japanese Budo will see the lack of a real Teki (opponent) as a hindrance to learning correct ma (timing) and ma-ai(combative distancing). They have physical practice including ‘paired set movements’ (“yakusoku kumite” or “sohtai dosa”) and “free play” – such as jiyu kumite and, of course, jigeiko

Tachiuchi-no KuraiSumiai-no Kurai and other paired kata are performed with bokken/bokuto, under great control; something which may appease purists, but which – to the first-time observer – might mean that Iaido risks losing out in a comparison with the more “glamorous” and directly-combative martial arts. 

Some of these observers may draw the conclusion that the typical Iaido kata is just a “dance with a sword”, featuring repetitive and apparently stylised movements, the Iaito or Katana merely slicing through thin air: their mistaken belief being that there seems no obvious Tamashi (spirit or soul) displayed within the art. 

As a result, there are some who find it difficult to think of Iaido as a true martial art: the first-time observer might choose a different martial discipline to follow, and beginners may find that their interest is waning. 

To understand Iaido Kata we must understand Kasso Teki – the imaginary opponent and his/her purpose within Iaido – a difficult concept; but if we think of him/her as “the enemy within”, then it comes within our grasp.

The obvious answer: each and every performance of kata must be “real”. 

The father of modern Japanese karate Funakoshi Gichin stated in his Niju Kun (20 precepts) “Hitotsu, tekki ni yotte tenka seyo” – “Make adjustments according to your opponent”. Similar sentiments are quoted within Iaido even though that opponent is imaginary– the “bottom line” is that kasso teki’s intent and movements must be clearly visualised by the Iaidoka whose response must be accurate (the cut made where the opponent is supposed to be) with focused intent. 

Are we just playing the game? 

In his book “Martial Arts America (A Western approach to Eastern Arts)” [North American Press, 1998], the author Bob Orlando states: 

“Studying martial arts as art forms sounds a little like practising basketball just for the sake of ‘the game’. Doesn’t a person practise basketball to ‘play the game?’ True, we cannot go about beating people (playing our game), but we can participate in a variety of exercises that bring us closer to that reality.” 

Since we are unable to practice Iaido within the mentality of Shinken Shobu [serious fight/duel], we too – as Orlando states – participate in a variety of exercises, called kata

How can we try harder to make kata real? 

In his article from the 2009 compilation “Iaido Shinsa-in no Me” (“[Through] The Eyes of the Iaido Grading Panelist”), Ishido Shizufumi Hanshi states: 

“If somebody were to ask me if I can visualise my imaginary opponents, I would reply No; but whether it be sitting or standing forms, my Maai is correct, so that I cut with my Monouchi. If possible, I would like you and the members of your Dojo to work in pairs using Bokuto to determine Maai.” 

Whilst Ishido sensei clearly offers a practical method for teaching Ma and Ma-ai, many dojo do not follow this advice; instead retaining solely the practice of kihon– and kata-centric activity. 

Our instructors will have given us a workable scenario and bunkai in order to understand the kata; however, always it is down to our own imagination – our conscious visualisation – to supply an ‘enemy’ for us to focus upon. Our actions then become proper responses to that opponent! 

This opponent must become solidified as part of our mind-set! 

The main issue, of course, is that in our scenarios we will always be the victor. Hence there is the danger that – because we know that we will win – the kata lacks necessary depth or tamashi

Consider the following questions for a moment, reflect, and then give yourself an honest answer: 

  • How do we put the feeling into any Iaido kata
  • How do we make a kata real? 
  • How do we make it come alive? 
  • How can we make it so that the ri-ai [the “logic”,“reasoning”] are readily available to any person watching the kata? 

Now consider what is written below. Therein, I believe, we can find the answers to bringing reality into our kata

Visualisation as taught by Chihiro Kishimoto Hanshi 

Kishimoto Chihiro Hanshi expresses progression in effective visualisation during Iaido kata in three distinct levels: – 

• Level 1
A Weak Opponent Easily Defeated 

• Level 2
A Well-Matched Opponent of Equal Skill 

• Level 3
A Stronger Opponent with Superior Technique 

At level 1 we will always win, even if we execute a poorly-timed or angled cut, or a badly executed block. We can “walk through the kata” utilising a simple scenario in which we win, regardless.
This allows the beginner to gain confidence; and as our skills increase, we can begin to explore the scenarios offered by the kata

At Level 2 there is a lot more reality, because the opponent is equal to the task. Our imagination must create an opponent who continues to be more difficult to conquer. She/he matches our own abilities, and so grows with us. Our technique must continue to become sharper, natural, and more instantaneous.

At Level 3 we must create an opponent who instills a sense of trepidation! This opponent must become one that is more and more difficult to fight and conquer. She/he will have better abilities than we do. From the outset, when our mind clears ready to perform the kata, we must realise that any presentation of kyo [“an unguarded moment”], loss of zanshin [“awareness”] or wandering of the mind will result in us receiving a possibly fatal blow. 

This is a real fight – a momentous battle. This is our toughest opponent yet! 

When we look at high level of embu displayed by Hanshi, Kyoshi, Renshi and other senseis, we don’t need to ask – “How do they do that?” We know that the answer lies within their “mind-set”, their visualisation of the enemy. 

Samurai Spirit personified. 

To increase riai (reasoning, story) and give real substance to our technique we need to take on board Kishimoto sensei’s theory of visualisation. 

If you have seen the episode in the series “Samurai Spirit” [documentary series, NHK World 2008-9] in which Kishimoto sensei faces host Nicholas Pettas with Fukuro Shinai in hand, we have seen a moment when Iaido is challenged to become more than just kata, and returns to its root as a true jutsu

You can find it (with added Spanish subtitles!) at 2.12 here: dqf3qH9so?t=2m15s 

We see two men in seizaFukaro Shinai held at their hip. 

Kishimoto sensei (an Iaidoka) becomes very quickly calm and relaxed; Pettas (an experienced Kyokushin Kai fighter) appears deep in thought perhaps forming a strategy. At this point I believe that Kishimoto sensei is demonstrating the Ni-KuSan-Ke that Ishido sensei was describing in his article: the ability to calm the mind and body (ochitsu-ku) at the earliest stage of potential combat (haya-ku). 

An almost imperceptible twitch or movement – ??? intent from Pettas, and Kishimoto sensei explodes into action. His metsuke – “observation” – had clearly been very acute; and the nukitsuke – the “draw-and-cut” – was undeniable! 

Nicholas Pettas Sensei and Kishimoto Chihiro Hanshi – Samurai Spirit NHK 2008-2009

A final thought from Shizufumi Ishido Hanshi 

In his article Ishido sensei also states:- 

“Take for example the phrase “Kisen wo seishite (to get a jump ahead of)” . What condition does this refer to? How would you like to deal with your opponent? What will you do when you become aware of your opponent’s ill- intent? Will you draw before your opponent starts to move? What does it mean to draw with Jo- Ha-Kyu? This refers to the draw starting slowly, gradually increasing in speed, then finally reaching its fastest speed the moment the swords leaves the scabbard. It is not good to blindly draw quickly, but rather to draw in accordance with your imaginary opponent’s movement. I am sure that everybody knows this, but it is still important to repeatedly read the manual and confirm this point.” 

To repeat: it is not good to blindly draw quickly, but rather to draw in accordance with your imaginary opponent’s movement. Therefore our “imagination” provides us with a tangible opponent. 

“…One should be clearly able to demonstrate the riai, (story logic) and actions accurately while performing katas, showing a correct response to the various enemy’s location, distance, timing and intentions. “

Is your opponent real? 

To my mind, the following quotation sums up the solitary practice of kata very well. 

From the Yaegaki Kai website [http:// nukitsuke-reflects-your-training-years], with the translation corrected: – 

“Is your Kasso Teki as strong as you are?” 

“One should be clearly able to demonstrate the riai, (story logic) and actions accurately while performing katas, showing a correct response to the various enemy’s location, distance, timing and intentions. Through this one will be able to visualise the enemy’s presence. It is important to remember that even if the enemy is “virtual”, we should try by our attitude and determination to show the reality of the fight and the effectiveness of our technique as a Budo.” 

Iaido and Karate-Do kata will always contain at least one analysis or breakdown (bunkai) of the scenario, i.e. the causation and reaction that the kata portrays. The scenario may only be a “play” unfolding; but the content and feel must be real – otherwise we revert to that “dance with swords”: without life, without soul, and without purpose! 


We must use our minds to create a formidable opponent, and then defeat him/her. 

The old adage goes something like this:
“If you are a good iaidoka then you can see your opponent while doing kata; but if you are a great iaidoka you can make others see him too.” 

There is no doubt that we can “see” the opponents of the great masters we so wish to emulate! 

Hence visualisation is one of the most powerful tools at our disposal if we know how to use it. A weak or negative visualisation in our kata still creates a kasso teki, but at the same time always allows that opponent to defeat us! Therefore, positive visualisation is vital: it must become ingrained as part of the kata performance, at which point our Iaido will take on life! 


Essay on the subject of mental attitude and technical knowledge as a karate instructor , by Carl Gigg, Yondan.

As an instructor, you need to have a positive attitude. You have to have a passion for the art and a willingness and determination to understand and pass on the knowledge. You have to be strong of mind, to put yourself through continued learning and training to become a good instructor.

A positive mind set will keep a group of students more motivated than a raft of negativity. Although errors need to be addressed, the affirmation of a technique performed well will more than balance the few comments of a more negative nature. Even if there is little to be celebrated, it is good to find something, to keep a student’s mood lifted.

Use your positivity to find an area of a student’s technique to praise to keep their energy level up. Sometimes it is not the student you want to improve that you will give the good feedback to, but someone performing well. This can also raise the mood and the level of effort around the dojo floor. This positive attitude is also for your own motivation. You have to believe in yourself, your ability and what you are trying to achieve. You also have to believe in your students. To want to push them, to be the best they can be and for you to be the best for them.

Along with a positive attitude, the instructor must be determined and resilient. You need the determination, to keep pushing, yours and your student’s abilities and understanding. Resilience will help you with the knock backs. The days where it seems none of them are listening, or interested in what you are trying to teach. Another part of your mental attitude is to be understanding. You have to understand that students learn at different rates. Understanding that sometimes students have external influences affecting them. Maybe a student has a personal issue, but by being there despite it, is showing strength of character and determination themselves. Accepting this is a good step forward.

Aside from the mental attitude, technical knowledge is paramount. To teach something correctly, you must first understand it. Not just the technique or the form, but the feel of it. You have to live it and experience it. Know how it feels from the beginning, how to build it. Push yourself to execute any technique effectively. If a technique is long, strong and low, then it must be understood as such and demonstrated as such. The technique is the technique. It should be learnt and taught accurately. Not altered to suit you. Save that for making your karate fit yourself.

When teaching, it is important to keep the technique pure, as it is intended and has been passed down from Sensei to Sensei. A good instructor will demonstrate with skill and enthusiasm. More students will learn by visibly seeing the technique than it being verbally explained to them.

The understanding of technique cannot just be learnt from a single lesson or course. It needs to be practiced, researched. Often to unlock a techniques true potential takes research into other arts or styles. Styles that may be linked historically can open doors to application. But to do this successfully you must understand your own style.

So, although you maybe the person in the position to stand at the front and teach, you need to push your own development. To constantly expand your understanding and ability to perform the art effectively. As you expand your knowledge of techniques, you must also keep faithful to the basics.


I have chosen another essay written by Chandra Mohan Murugaiah. This was submitted for his Shodan essay some years ago. It has been reproduced with his permission.

Reasons for karate-do: Aspiration and impressions

Apart from being an ancient art form, karate must also be considered a way of life if one is to fully understand its true meaning. Master Gichin Funakoshi insisted on focusing on the spiritual aspects of karate apart from learning the technical aspects of karate if one wants to understand karate.

The spiritual aspect of karate can only be learned through a lifelong practice of karate. When one becomes spiritual the mind is in the present and the material aspects of life become meaningless. The mind is then opened to learning new things in life. One can approach life with an open mind without fear and prejudices. I believe karate can help cultivate such a spiritual mind.

From a practical point of view, one learns to meet the everyday challenges of life with courage, patience, and self-control. Karate can positively influence the way we deal with people in our daily life ,be it with  family, friends or colleagues or any person for that matter. Karate teaches one compassion and have respect for all living beings. 

Since the beginning of civilizations man has been involved in conflicts and wars. Karate as a way of life provides guidance and courage to take the right course of action when our justice is in danger. Essentially a karate teaches us to seek the way of peace to solve all conflicts.

Though everyday practice we can become aware of our strengths and weaknesses. It is by this knowledge a karate practitioner must seek to better himself as a person. For instance, pride and overconfidence is hindrance to acquiring new knowledge and gives a false sense of security. Karate can be thought of as the seeds that bear the fruit of knowledge of oneself. It prepares the mind and body to be receptive to new knowledge.

Karate helps in building endurance, muscular strength, and flexibility of joints. Apart from this we can learn to develop the mental strength and discipline to train continuously y. Karate can teach us to be aware our surroundings because the mind is more focused in the present moment. In a way awareness about ourselves and surroundings, helps us to respond and adapt appropriately.  

Learning is a lifelong process and karate is no different. It must be practiced every day. I believe even 15 minutes of practice can have great benefits in the long run. I think there always something new to learn and discover every day. It could be an improvement I technique but more importantly I believe it builds the sense of inner strength, perhaps more appropriately called spirit of karate. It is this spirit of karate that keeps one going, to not give up no matter what.

It is the little discoveries of everyday which makes today better then yesterday. I believe karate helps one make these discoveries. The need to win over others and need to seek appreciation from other disappears because every day is a winning day if something new is discovered or learnt every day.

I feel one must approach everything in life in the spirit of karate. All practical problems which one encounters at work, with friends and families must be approached in an open way in the spirit of karate. I have feeling that I see world in a different way after the last 5 years of practice. I would strongly recommend this beautiful art and a way of life to everybody. 



This submission is by our Norwegian member, Chandra Mohan Murughaia. He is a Medical Doctor in Trondheim Hospital. He holds Shodan rank (for several years); his essay is thought provoking.

The significance of Kiai

The first time a beginner in martial arts comes across the word Kiai is through the learning of the kata. In superficial terms one learns that it is the expulsion of the breath strongly with simultaneous tensing of the appropriate muscles and usage of vocalisation/vokal sounds. In technical terms, in kata  one summons all energy both physical and mental in one technique to generate maximal effective technique to attain a goal or an objective one has in mind (intention).

We can begin to examine it further by consider the etymology (origin) of the word. Kiai is composed of two letters in the Kanji. ‘Ki’ for energy and ‘Ai’ to unite.

Kiai is more mental than physical when one examines it at a deeper level. At this level it is no longer an expulsion of breath, tensing of muscles, or a shout. The Kiai infact need not be a shout at all ,that is it can be a ‘Silent kiai’ that for the casual onlooker it maybe not be noticeable at all.

But what does Kiai unite? In the principle of martial arts or perhaps more so applicable to life itself, is the concept of body, mind and spirit which man constantly struggles to keep them in harmony. The constant battle to keep these three in unity is the source of all internal conflicts and wrong actions. This leads to fear, guilt ,corruption of mind and immoral thoughts.

In Kiai the body ,mind and spirit all unite at that decisive moment so that the mind is free of conflict and fear and one acts ‘rightly’.

In the moment of kiai the mind is completely empty through unification  so that in that there is no fear even in the moment of death. In other words the body can die ‘freely’, if it so should happen in the moment of Kiai.

In Kiai there is no concept of time and the mind has not conjured up any kind of image or intention. The mind, body and spirit ‘simply’ act together without forming an intention in the mind . The Kiai can then be considered as the continual cycle of unification ,the dying and renewing of the mind, body and spirit as it passes through life . 



An instructor’s consideration.

This essay has been submitted by Paul Simpson, Yondan of Gima-Ha UK (Shisei Kai Branch).

It is thought provoking, and written from his personal perspective.


For  the purpose of this submission I have discussed traditional and sports karate.  

The definition of a sport by the Oxford English Dictionary is, ‘an activity involving physical exertion and skill in which an individual or team competes against another or others for entertainment’.

Sports karate meets every aspect of this definition but traditional karate can only meet the first parts, which are, ‘an activity involving physical exertion and skill’.

 In addition the word ‘martial’ is defined as being related to fighting or war and by placing martial before art this now identifies karate as a fighting art.

To gain wider acceptance of karate, sports karate has been seen as the way to sell karate to the masses. This is seen in the way that some dojos advertise themselves as the home of champions and a quick fix to self defence. Sports karate is about ego and winning trophies, not about the development of the mind and body. As there is no contact in sports karate and contact can result in disqualification in tournaments, the karate-ka can fall into the mind set of finishing techniques short of impact and this would be disastrous in a self defence situation. In addition the use of kiai has been exaggerated to impress the judges and has become just a load shout. A kia should be the bringing together of the mind, body and spirit at the exact moment. 

In sports karate the execution of the katas has changed. Some moves have been embellished to impress the judges and there is no thought of what lies within the kata. 

Kata is a method of training in effective techniques that could be used in a self defence situation. When we are practicing kata we are fight imaginary adversaries that are the same height as our self and the technique should reflect this.  Kata is a collection of techniques, joined together to aid in remembering and practising them but also the techniques can be extracted from the kata and practiced for use in self defence situations.

When a person is young, gaining a medal/trophy is all important, as they are looking to be the number one among their contemporaries. As they become older their body changes and it cannot perform at the level it could previously. Some karate-ka leave karate at this point, which is a great shame as these are sometimes the very gifted ones. They consider competition to be the end-all of karate. Individuals who continue training and further progress in karate come to realise there is more to karate than trophies and a deeper understanding of karate is sought.  

In “Karate-do: My Way of Life”, Gichin Funakoshi noted that, “The ultimate aim of Karate lies not in victory or defeat, but in the perfection of the character of the participant.” 

Sports karate has moved away from the original concept of karate being a form of self defence which trained the whole person, the body and also the mind.  

Gichin Funakoshi gave twenty principles on how one should carry out their life to be a complete karate-ka. 

  • Karate-do begins and ends with rei
    Hitotsu, karate-do wa rei ni hajimari rei ni owaru koto o wasuru na
  • There is no first strike in karate.
    Hitotsu, karate ni sente nashi
  • Karate stands on the side of justice.
    Hitotsu, karate wa, gi no tasuke
  • First know yourself, then know others.
    Hitotsu, mazu onore o shire, shikashite ta o shire
  • Mentality over technique.
    Hitotsu, gijitsu yori shinjitsu
  • The heart must be set free.
    Hitotsu, kokoro wa hanatan koto o yosu
  • Calamity springs from carelessness.
    Hitotsu, wazawai wa ketai ni seizu
  • Karate goes beyond the dojo.
    Hitotsu, dojo nomino karate to omou na
  • Karate is a lifelong pursuit.
    Hitotsu, karate-do no shugyo wa isssho de aru
  • Apply the way of karate to all things. Therein lies its beauty.
    Hitotsu, ara yuru mono o karateka seyo; sokoni myomi ari
  • Karate is like boiling water; without heat, it returns to its tepid state.
    Hitotsu, karate Wa Yu No Gotoku Taezu Netsu O Atae Zareba Motono Mizuni Kaeru
  • Do not think of winning. Think, rather, of not losing.
    Hitotsu, katsu kangae wa motsuna; makenu kangae wa hitsuyo
  • Make adjustments according to your opponent.
    Hitotsu, tekki ni yotte tenka seyo
  • The outcome of a battle depends on how one handles emptiness and fullness (weakness and strength).
    Hitotsu, tattakai wa kyo-jitsu no soju ikan ni ari
  • Think of hands and feet as swords
    Hitotsu, hi to no te-ashi wa ken to omoe
  • When you step beyond your own gate, you face a million enemies.
    Hitotsu, danshi mon o izureba hyakuman no teki ari
  • Formal stances are for beginners; later, one stands naturally.
    Hitotsu, kamae wa shoshinsha ni atowa shizentai
  • Perform prescribed sets of techniques exactly; actual combat is another matter.
    Hitotsu, kata wa tadashiku, jisen wa betsumono
  • Do not forget the employment of withdrawal of power, the extension or contraction of the body, the swift or leisurely application of technique.
    Hitotsu, chikara no kyojaku tai no shinshuku waza no kankyu
  • Be constantly mindful, diligent, and resourceful, in your pursuit of the Way.
  • Hitotsu, tsune ni shinen ku fu seyo

In my opinion karate is a martial art as it develops the body, mind and when used correctly and responsibly can be lethal. It also allows people to train all their life, something that sports karate can never do.

Reflections on Kata and a True Karate Master

Chinen Teruo Sensei

A ‘calm mind’ and ‘trained body’ allows the real efficacy of ‘karate kata’ to emerge from the shadows. In ‘kata’ the state of mind that we call ‘zanshin’ is described as one of restful alertness.  From the calmness defensive techniques can be applied as circumstances demand; the ‘karate-ka’ can explode into action and fell, disable, or control an opponent.

‘Kata’ is far too often decried by many modern day ‘karate-ka’ as ineffective, or ‘just dancing’. We hear remarks such as ‘but it is not real’, and hear references made to an old karate movie of the 80s that has re-emerged on modern TV. Little do people know the true value of the encyclopaedic ‘kata’.

It is my understanding that the ‘karate-ka’ of old used the ‘kata’ to practice the incorporated karate techniques. ‘Bunkai’ or what I sometimes refer to as ‘kata no kumite’ was emphasised as ‘application’ and not ‘presentation’; i.e., ‘function before form’. Today it appears we seem to conversely practice ‘form before function’.

Our systemised ‘kata’ are taught in tiers, novice, intermediate, and advanced – the Shitei, Sentei and the Tokui triumvirate. With time the ‘novice kata’ appear to become easier with practice; this is an incorrect perception as over time what was once ‘simple’ can become incredibly difficult. It is when we realise this that the life-long journey really begins to come to fruition.

I vividly recall once having an overnight stay and subsequent conversation in Eugene, Oregon, with a true karate master – Chinen Teruo. Staying overnight at a student of Chinen Sensei’s house we spent many hours talking as Chinen Sensei knew my own Sensei well. He even made me a Japanese breakfast in the morning. I was a Nidan, he was a Nanadan and master. But he ensured there was some form of equality, such was his humility.

I remember hearing that Chinen Sensei’s uncle who he resided with lived near to Miyagi Chojun Sensei – the legendary karate master . Chinen Sensei trained for a few years learning karate ‘techniques’ from Miyagi Chojun Sensei, likely in his house or garden.

Chinen Sensei apparently did not know what ‘kata’ were at the time, but as a young child he was extra-ordinarily fortunate to have been taught the techniques of ‘karate’ as ‘bunkai’ and ‘oyo’ – the very fundamentals of karate as they were probably originally intended.  When Chinen Sensei began learning with Miyazato Eiichi Sensei (a senior student of Miyagi Sensei) he was shown formalised kata and realised that he already knew the movements. 

This had an impact on me as I had learned in the opposite manner – ‘kata’ first then application. Today, particularly in the Shoto styles we learn the ‘kata’ and then are ‘taught’, or ‘steered’ to find the meaning of the techniques hidden within them.

I have had some fortunate encounters with many legendary ‘karate-ka’ and piece by piece it all starts to fall together.

I am now in my latter 60s, debilitated in many ways with arthritis, asthma, cardiac and other conditions; but the kata remain, I continue to explore their meanings.

A senior student of mine recently said to me: “The key to karate is in this whole sequence you have covered the past, nearly 2 years. I feel that you are on the cusp of a eureka moment very soon. The teachings you have received through your lifetime are converging fast. It is not the end of the journey but the key to a door. Can’t wait for the other side of it.”

Perhaps I will arrive and find that door like my Senseis’ and Senpais’ had hoped. They did, after all, take me to the mountain! I was told to find my own way to climb it.

I retain a small treasure from Chinen Sensei (other than the stories and knowledge he imparted)as he presented me with his own judges whistle, one that I use and hold with extreme pride. I would like to think that every time I judge a ‘kata’ or ‘kumite’ in ‘Taikai’ some of his spirit continues to be imbued in me.

Body Dynamics

It seems that with the advent of athleticism in Karate competition, that some of the tenets of achieving ‘finishing blow’ power within karate-do waza has diminished. Whilst we do not necessarily need the ‘Ichigeki Hittou’ mentality in today’s world, we need to ensure that our karate, when tested, is capable of that and the ‘Todome’ that Shoto foundations were built upon.

Many forget that a technique starts with ‘Mental Power’ or ‘Will’. Our mental state is of paramount importance, not just a ‘mental toughness’ but one of ‘gentle calmness’ and ‘stable emotions’ (A la Musashi in Gorin No Sho). This relies heavily on calmness, clear decision making, and proper/appropriate reactions to the situation. ‘Mizu no Kokoro’ and ‘Tsuki no Kokoro’ really become dominant here. We must also charge our bodies with ‘Ki’ to develop the energy for physical movement, acceleration, and the ability to dominate an aggressive protagonist.

The ‘Internal Force’ and the ‘Physical Control’ are augmented by ‘External Forces’. We rely on these ‘External Forces’ (often static) to create the necessary energy for body movement. ‘Physical Power” is a bio-mechanical product. We use the ‘External Force’ to increase ‘energy’. We shift our centre of gravity using that ‘External Force’, i.e. ‘Reaction Force’ created by using one’s own body power such as twisting or pressing – applying pressure onto/into a stationary object such as the floor or wall.

Our ‘muscles’ contract and relax, our ‘muscles’ and ‘skeletal structure’ expand and contract in unison using the elasticity. These ‘body dynamics’ often use minute movement that create chain reactions. We apply principles such as vibration, rotation, shifting, rising, dropping, and pendular actions, working in harmony and efficiency.

All the parts of the chain must achieve maximum ‘speed’ or ‘potential’ before the next movement or ‘chain link’ begins. The movement, at the correct moment, becomes a continuous transmission from the floor, through the leg, hip, shoulder, elbow/knee and finally to wrist/foot. The pendulum becomes important in the kicking process. Our end game? – Body Shock!

This all sounds so simple. Yet we see many take more than 20 years to achieve the ability to control the internal and external muscles, the ‘O – Waza’; and the ‘Ko-Waza’ etc.

Karate really is a lifelong process of progression.

I will type more, perhaps in greater depth, when my thinking cap is really on.

If you are interested please watch this space.