Kata (and their meanings/ translations)

One of the interesting things about Kata is the fact that “Westerners” often pronounce this word wrongly. I’d like a bowl of rice for every time I’ve heard people pronounce Kata as if they were saying “carter”. As I say to my students, a Carter is a man who makes carts.

The correct pronunciation is like saying “Cat” and then saying “Ahh” after it, so that it comes out as “Cat-Ahh”. If you are a Londoner you will probably drop the “T” so that it comes out as “Ca-Ah”. Sorry, but put the T back in, we have the right to mangle our own language but not other people’s!

In the Buntingford Karate Club we Use Taikyoku (pronounced phonetically Tie-Kyoh-Coo) as our First Kata and as the Kata to get from ungraded white belt to Yellow Belt (9th Kyu), Kyu being pronounced Cue (or even Queue).

From 8th Kyu (Orange) through to 4th Kyu (Purple with one White stripe) we use all five of the Heian (pronounced He-An) Katas. For 4th to 3rd Kyu we use Tekki ShoDan, and for 2nd and 1st Kyu we use Bassai Dai.

For Black Belt I ask that the student knows all of the Kata already referred to plus three high grade Katas.

So, 9th Kyu = Taikyoku; 8th Kyu = Heian ShoDan; 7th Kyu = Heian NiDan; 6th Kyu = Heian SanDan; 5th Kyu = Heian YonDan; 4th Kyu = Heian GoDan; 3rd Kyu = Tekki ShoDan; 2nd Kyu = Bassai dai; 1st Kyu = Bassai Dai.

I put great store by Kata. It was originally used as Kihon (basic training exercises) but has since developed into an Art Form in its own right. The person who is interested in and strives to perform a good Kata is interested in their Karate.

If you would like to see some earlier (rather shaky) footage of the Buntingford Karate Club members performing earlier Kata (with mistakes…..nothing edited here!) check out our Action Video tag which will get you into our You Tube connection.


It must first be said that a large number of Shotokan Kata are Chinese based. This is simply because Japan was greatly influenced in its history by China and the early practitioners of Karate (Japan) took their influence and inspiration from Kung Fu (China). In fact the student of Japanese writing will find that many of the characters they write are in fact Chinese! So I list here the Shotokan Kata and what they translate into. By the way, “Dai” means Major Form and “Sho” means Minor Form – one being more complicated than the other.

Taikyoku – “First Cause” – the “Beginners” Kata.

All of the Heian Kata – Heian means “Peaceful Mind”. It takes its name from a Place and a Temple in China

All of the Tekki Kata – Tekki means “Horse Riding”, and takes its name from the wide-legged Kiba Dachi stance as if riding a horse. However, some scholars say that this Kata comes from China in an area where rowing boats were used as the main transport (the Water Margin), where people would train their balance skills by standing up in a boat with their feet on opposite sides of the boat. We have Tekki Sho Dan, Tekki Ni Dan and Tekki San Dan (numbers One, Two and Three).

Both of The Bassai Kata – Bassai Dai and Bassai Sho – there is a school of thought that says the meaning of Bassai is “To extract from a Fortress”, but the other school of thought says it means “To Penetrate a Fortress” – either Major or Minor form.

Both of The  Kanku Kata – Kanku Dai and Kanku Sho – Kanku means “Viewing the Sky”

Hangetsu – “Half Moon” – from the shape of the foot movements over the floor.

Enpi – “Flying Swallow” – from the dipping sweeping motions of the body performed during this Kata.

Gankaku – Meant to represent a Heron (or a Crane) fishing from a Rock.

Ju’te – Sometimes written Ji’te – but Ju means Ten and Te means Hand or Hands – so,”Ten Hands”

Now comes Two Kata, both with the pre-fix Ji (pronounced like “gee” as in “gee whiz”. The word Ji is Japanese for a minor temple or annexe temple in the grounds of a larger temple. So the two following Kata – Ji’in and Ji’on refer to minor/annexe temples and, interestingly they are both meant to be named after Temples in China.

Ji’on – meaning “Love and Goodness” – so, the Love and Goodness Temple.

Ji’in – meaning “Love and Shadow” – so, the Love and Shadow Temple.

Chinte – “Unusual” or “Strange Hands” as the hands are used in unusual ways to strike and block.

Meikyo – “Polished Mirror” due to the reversal of the body during this Kata.

NiJuShiHo – There are two NiJuShiHo Kata one is NiJuShiHo-Dai and the other is NiJuShiHo-Sho.  Some people think NiJuShiHo means “Twenty-Four Steps” (Ni = 2, Ju = 10, Shi = 4, Ho = Directions. So, 2 x 10 = 20 + 4 = 24.), but it actually means “Twenty-Four movements“, thus explaining how many types of technique there are in the Kata.

Sochin – “Strength and Calm” or “Immovable in the face of Danger”. This is a very strong and powerful Kata.

Wankan – “Kings Crown” (Okinawan by Origin). The shortest of the Kata but regarded as being one of the hardest to perfect for that very reason. Very Zen.

Unsu – “Hands in the Clouds” from the way the hands are often raised up.

GoJuShiHo – Again we have a Major (Dai) and a Minor (Sho) form of this Kata – Again, not “Fifty Four Steps” but “Fifty-Four movements” (Go = 5, Ju = 10, Shi = 4 – so, 5 x 10 = 50 + 4 = 54)(see NiJuShiHo).

If you learn them all you now know 26 Kata!

Sensei Bill