Kata are the formal exercises of traditional karate, and were the essence of training in Okinawa during the development of karate. Kata is often referred to as the “Soul of Karate” as it encapsulate the techniques, movements, and spirit of our art.  Kata practice trains the mind and body for a wide variety of movement and exposes the student to countless self defense techniques.  The techniques preserved in kata serve as an historical catalog of the art, the practice of which maintains the heritage and tradition of Karate.  Practicing kata is also an excellent form of exercise, as different kata can emphasize the strength of an individual leg, or a specific technique.

A kata is dance-like in nature, constructed of a set series of techniques, in a set order, each with their own unique tempo.  Every kata starts and ends in the same place and each kata has two kiai points, where the performer yells at the completion of the final technique of the series.

The 26 kata typically practiced in Shotokan were likely designed with several intended applications, as a way of passing on hidden strategy and techniques, but many of them have been lost or forgotten over time. Now, it is up to students to study these kata, and learn how they might be applied. Many throwing, grappling, and locking techniques can be found in kata that generally aren’t practiced during basics.

Most katas in Shotokan are constructed of several sets of repeating techniques. Like the chorus of a song, these repeating groups often hold the “theme” of a kata. The “chorus” of a kata is often meant as a response to a single attack. An attack will be deflected, and the defender may then soften up the attacker with several lighter blows or feints before delivering a finishing blow. Kata often demonstrate this progression, moving through several lighter techniques, building up to a climax and finishing blow, which is the kiai point.

Kata is a popular tournament event, where a performer is judged on their form, body dynamics, transition, and power, as well as understanding of the tempo and dynamic progression of the techniques. Team Kata is an event as well, where three performers synchronize all their techniques and tempo. Team kata is judged on how well the team moves together, as well as the individual kata skills of the team members.

The Heian Katas

Originally called the “Pinan” katas 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 katas to mainland Japan, he re-named them “Heian” to make them more acceptable to the Japanese.  Both the Chinese word Pinan and the Japanese word Heian mean “Peaceful & Safe”.  Variations of the Heian Katas are seen in many styles of karate and also Korean Tang Soo Do and Tae Kwon Do.

Heian Shodan

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 fourth move – the pullback and strike. The turns are deceptively simple and are challenging to perform with stability and correct form.

Heian Nidan

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.

Heian Sandan

Heian Sandan features the first introduction of slow movements to the kata, encouraging a student to achieve a higher level of body control through the full range of action.

Heian Yondan

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.

Heian Godan

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.

The Tekki Katas

The Tekki katas were introduced to Japan by Master Funakoshi to showcase the strong kiba-dachi stance. Rich in fighting techniques, the Tekki family offers a plethora of close combat techniques. Don’t let the simplified embusen fool you, these katas are difficult to perform and require advanced understanding of body dynamics to perform their small movements effectively.

Tekki Shodan
Tekki Nidan
Tekki Sandan

The Advanced Katas

Bassai Dai

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

Kanku Dai

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.  For this reason it is revered as a repository of the most fundamental and important Shotokan techniques.  Kanku Dai was supposedly Master Funakoshi’s favorite kata and he performed it during his demonstration for the Crowned Prince of Japan (Hirohito) in 1922. It is also practiced in different variations in many other styles.


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.


Also known as “Jitte”, 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 jutte, which occurs a number of times in the kata. This rather short kata of only 24 movements contains a number of defenses that can be implemented against (or while using) a bo staff.


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.


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.  It was lengthened from this older Okinawan stance to accommodate the longer-range techniques popular in Shotokan.


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.


Nijushiho is a beautiful kata featuring movements that are often said to resemble waves breaking against the shore. The modern-day version of this kata that we practice is attributed to Okinawan Master Seisho Arakaki (also Unsu and Sochin). The original Okinawan name for Nijushiho is Niseishi.  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.


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 set the stage for this kata’s powerful and heavy rhythms.  Fudo dachi integrates zenkutsu & kiba dachi into a strong and rooted structure with stability in all directions. Fudo dachi is often called “Sochin” stance because it is the principle stance in this kata.  Sochin was added to the Shotokan lexicon by Gichin Funakoshi’s son Yoshitaka (Gigo) who pulled the kata from the Shito Ryu style while adding new techniques and longer stances.

Kanku Sho

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.

Bassai Sho

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 with convincingly without diligent practice.

Gojushiho Sho

The companion to Gojushiho Dai, it one of the more advanced kata of Shotokan.  It features many sharp turns with dramatic whipping actions of the arms.  Fro these reasons, it is a popular competition kata.

Gojushiho Dai

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.


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.


Chinte is an interesting kata featuring several unusual hand techniques and a theme of circular execution, unlike the linear approach seen often in Shotokan. The kata is deceptively difficult to perform and features many sequences requiring powerful execution of challenging body dynamics.


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.


The first movements of this kata suggest the smoothing of water to make it as calm and even as a mirror.


Wankan is the shortest kata in Shotokan.  It is rarely performed or seen in tournaments due to its short length and lack of advanced techniques and combinations.