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Home Striking Karate All 27 Shotokan Karate Kata: The Heart of Shotokan Karate

Two martial artists perform part of a kata, watched by their sensei.

An image showing directions of movement for the Taikyoku karate kata

Taikyoku Embusen

Karate Kata is arguably the foundation of Shotokan Karate. Practising kata allows form to be perfected, striking or blocking techniques memorised and responses to aggression made second nature. You’ve probably seen how in martial arts videos, the artist seems to block, kick and punch their opponent without needing to think about their next move? That is the potential created by kata; instant and automatic reactions to attacks.

Below you will find each kata has a basic video (slowly does it) and a more advanced video (faster, stronger). The first entry also contains the Shotokan karate kata Taikyoku embusen. This is a diagram which shows the directions of movement or floor plan of the kata. You can find many Shotokan karate kata embusen here.

1st Karate Kata – Taikyoku

Starting off with a very simple block, punch, block, punch, block, punch. The Taikyoku is an introduction to the basic principles of kata. Moving in different directions and using combinations of blocks and strikes.

The Bunkai starts at 0:40. What is Bunkai? It is the practical application of techniques learned from karate kata. Basically, get a load of your mates to attack you while you perform the Taikyoku (see below).

2nd Karate Kata – Heian Shodan

This is only the basics, remember? The Heian Shodan involves some very simple blocks and punches. The video below takes you through the individual moves quite slowly. If this is your first time with kata or Shotokan karate, then here a good place to start.

Getting to the advanced level is also about speed and form. Watch this video, does he do it perfectly? Probably not, but he is close. Kata is about getting your form as close to perfect as possible.

3rd Karate Kata – Heian Nidan

So you’ve mastered the Heian Shodan, what’s next? Answer: build a kata room in your house and launch your karate-themed Youtube channel. Or at least that’s what the video below would have us believe! Here’s the Heian Nidan, number 3.

You probably think that your Heian Nidan is perfect. Look at your stance, form and technique with a critical eye. Now watch a 5 year old girl do it. She’s better than you isn’t she? Practise makes perfect says miniature sensei.

4th Karate Kata – Heian Sandan

The video below shows you the fourth Shotokan kata. Heian Sandan is more complicated than the above three. It involves moving in more directions. It’s important when fighting in different directions that your form is not compromised. You might notice that the martial artist’s hips are too mobile in this video. Try to keep your hips level.

Advanced kata should involve perfect technique. On top of this, form should be far improved. To get your technique perfect, perform the Heian Sandan against actual attacks. The video demonstrates which attacks you are responding to.

5th Karate Kata – Heian Yondan

The Heian Yondan contains a lot of open-handed strikes and blocks. When performing the fifth kata, try to visualise your opponent. This will help you to memorise the kata, maintain the correct form and defend yourself against real aggressors.

Moving with speed from one stance or strike to another, maintaining form. This is the best way to describe an advanced kata. The martial artist in the video below demonstrates this advanced movement quite well. Note that certain stances are held for longer.

6th Karate Kata – Heian Godan

Watch the below video and you might see something interesting. That’s right, he jumped in slow motion. I suggest you do not to try a slow motion jump during a grading. But it is a nice way to break up the grounded rhythm of most kata. This is the fifth, and as a treat you can see how the moves work against another person.

The Bunkai starts at 1:50. Bunkai is a great way for two people to get better at a kata together. The ‘attacker’ must know the kata just as well as the one practising it.

7th Karate Kata – Tekki Shodan

Tekki literally means ‘iron horseman’. The 7th to 9th kata use a strong horse stance. Bend your knees and assume a position as if you’re riding a horse. The strength of this stance comes from a low centre of gravity.

Watch this small army of samurai-in-training perform the Tekki Shodan. Step 1: master the kata. Step 2: Get all of your friends to do the same. Step 3: Conquer the world!

8th Karate Kata – Tekki Nidan

Tekki number 2 further trains you in form. Strikes and blocks are performed in three directions. Form must also be maintained on one foot. If you don’t mind falling flat on your face during training, this is a great kata once perfected.

This guy does the Tekki Nidan fast. Speed and controlled form are what is needed for advanced kata.

9th Karate Kata – Tekki Sandan

The third level of the ‘iron horseman’. Once you’ve trained in all three, you should have a very strong fighting stance. If you really want to perfect your form, try performing this kata on a rickety old bridge (see video below).

The Tekki Sandan bunkai. The kata is demonstrated alone in the first part of the video. If you want to you can skip ahead to the bunkai.

10th Karate Kata – Bassai Dai

The first of the advanced katas. We began with Taikyoku, the Heians and the Tekki. Now we’re moving towards some harder techniques. You could roughly translate the name as ‘big battering ram’. Big, strong strikes and blocks are used.

Here’s a tip for improving your footwork. Watch the below kata video in the smaller player. Now scroll down so only the feet and legs are visible. Now you can watch the martial artist’s footwork without getting distracted.

11th Karate Kata – Bassai Sho

The Bassai Dai’s younger sibling. The two are very similar, but the Bassai Sho kata has more open hand techniques. Expect to accidentally produce a confused mixture of the two during training.

Now you can move on to working on your arm movements. The same principle applies. Just scroll upwards so that the martial artists’ legs are below the bottom of the screen. Now you can focus on how the arm movements are performed at speed.

12th Karate Kata – Kanku Dai

Kanku Dai is like the parent of the Heian kata. A lot of the Heian techniques come from this, number 12. The Kanku Dai places an emphasis on the martial artist being unarmed. Watch the beginning of the video. Open palms are shown to the opponent.

This is quite a long video. At about halfway through the bunkai begins. That’s around the 11 minute mark. It’s perform quite slowly but should look much more awesome if you do it at high speed!

13th Karate Kata – Kanku Sho

As with the Bassai Dai and Bassai Sho, try not to get the two confused. You can see that the 13th kata begins differently from the first. Movements are similar, but the Kanku Sho begins with closed fists.

It takes a lot of time and dedication to get your kata this good. Especially if you want to reach the guy in the middle’s level. I mean you have to grow a beard for a start!

14th Karate Kata – Hangetsu

The ‘half moon’ kata. The name refers to the stance which is used most during the Hangetsu. Both knees are bent and toes pointed slightly towards each other. When stepping forward, sweep the rear foot past the front in an arc.

Watch the care with which each movement is performed. This martial artist’s form is as close to perfect as it gets. Slow, considered movements make the Hangetsu look really awesome.

15th Karate Kata – Goju Shi Ho Dai

Also known as ‘hotaku’ – ‘knocking of a woodpecker’. Watch the video and you will notice how some movements look like a bird pecking a tree. If that metaphor escapes you, imagine how awesome it would be to hit someone with that punch, punch, kick, punch seen at 0:18!

One of the purposes of kata is improving your stability. How can you tell if you are stable when fighting? Watch the below video and focus on the martial artist’s belt. You’ll notice that it stays at much the same height throughout the kata. This tells you that his stance is being maintained as he moves.

16th Karate Kata – Goju Shi Ho Sho

This can be described as a “smaller version of Goju Shi Ho Dai” – I.M.A. Karate. But it is still one of the most advanced (and, therefore, most badass) Shotokan kata.

These karate experts demonstrate the kata a few moves at a time. Bit boring maybe? They also throw in some bunkai. Bored of bunkai? They then demonstrate the bunkai in jeans and tracksuit trousers… And then in black and white!

17th Karate Kata – Enpi

Enpi or ‘flying swallow’ due to the fast vertical movements shown in the video. This is one of the oldest still used in martial arts.

The miniature sensei is back. Only this time she’s a brown belt! Watch out for small, six-year-old-shaped shadows in dark alleyways.

18th Karate Kata – Jion

Among the most traditional, Jion uses more basic techniques than others on this list. I know this guy is a bit of a talker… But his videos are great for learning the basics.

The Jion kata bunkai starts at 2:28 in this video. It is quite old-school, but to be honest Shotokan karate itself is old-school.

19th Karate Kata – Jiin

Similar to the Jion. Jion meaning ‘love and goodness’, Jiin meaning ‘love and shadow’.

Who else jumped when he almost hit the camera? Nobody? Errr… forget I said anything.

20th Karate Kata – Jitte

What do you do when Ninja strike? Just remember the Jitte and you’ll be fine. Number 20 teaches you to defend yourself against 10 attackers.

The Jitte bunkai is demonstrated by Team Canada here. Well, I don’t know if they are a team… But they do have a Canadian flag.

21st Karate Kata – Meikyo

Watch out for the ‘triangular jump’ after 2:00. You start facing your opponent then… Jump, strike, kick and you’re behind them. An awesome technique rumoured to have a secret meaning in Shotokan history.

Below is a pretty sensible demonstration of the Meikyo kata. Below that, however, is something really different. This martial artist looks like he is trying to summon an evil spirit… Comment below if you have a better explanation!

22nd Karate Kata – Niju Shi Ho

How do you make your kata look good? Answer: perform it in a park beside a lake, preferably with mountains shrouded in mist behind you. On its own, the Niju Shi Ho involves some attractive techniques.

Sorry, I’m still trying to wrap my head around that Meikyo video. Where were we? Niju Shi Ho, the bunkai video is below. But seriously, what was that?

23rd Karate Kata – Wankan

Wankan is the shortest on this list. But it is by no means the easiest.

This guy does some great kata demonstrations. But I still can not pronounce his name. Can I get pronunciation tips in the comments section? Is that even possible?

24th Karate Kata – Gankaku

A ‘crane stance’ is used a lot in the Gankaku. The techniques and movements involved are well-suited for fighting in narrow spaces.

This Gankaku bunkai video comes all the way from Portugal, showing that Shotokan karate really is a global martial art.

25th Karate Kata – Sochin

This martial artist’s name is Cleiver Casanova. Who else thinks that his dojo should be called Casanova Karate?

26th Karate Kata – Chinte

This demonstration is a lot slower. But try not to get distracted by the awesome sensei’s beard!

Chinte kata performed on some very brightly coloured mats. I need some of those for my living room.

27th Karate Kata – Unsu

Symbolising parting the clouds with open hands. A very advanced set of movements, with many different techniques compared with the Heians.

I searched without luck for a miniature sensei video to finish with. So here’s a very good demonstration of the Unsu kata instead.

Let us know how your training progresses. Which of these katas are your favourite and which of the above Youtube instructors do you prefer? Let us know in the comments below 😀

Joe Malpas

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