Basic insight into Shotokan Karate Katas

A kata consist of a number of offensive and defensive techniques with each Kata more advanced than the last. These routines are a library of karate techniques. Kasuya Sensei says “that karate-ka improve their waza by practising these katas, by kata you can learn ideal balance, speed, breathing and it places great importance on the mental aspect of karate-do.”

The modern Shotokan katas were initially developed in Okinawa by the karate masters of the past.  They originally came from two schools, Shorei-ryu and Shorin-ryu.  Shorei-ryu was practiced by heavily built, large frame, muscular, powerful and forceful karateka, while Shorin-ryu was practiced by light, fast swift and slight karateka. These Katas were mastered by Master Ginchin Funakoshi.  On introducing karate to the Japanese, he altered and integrated the katas to form the present day Shotokan karate katas.  Since the formation of the J.K.A., parts of the katas have further improved as a result of studies carried out by the research section of the J.K.A.

The following are the katas practiced by the WSKF and the off springs of the JKA.

9th KyuKion2040 seconds
8th KyuHeian Shodan2140 seconds
7th KyuHeian Nidan2640 seconds
6th KyuHeian Sandan2040 seconds
5th KyuHeian Yodan2750 seconds
4th KyuHeian Godan2350 seconds
3rd KyuTekki sho2950 seconds
2nd KyuBassai dai4260 seconds
1st KyuBassai dai4260 seconds

1st Dan   Bassai dai, Kanku dai, Empi, Jion Hangestu

2nd Dan   Bassai sho, Kanku sho, Nijushiho, Jitte, Tekki Nidan

3rd & Above   Chinte, Sochin, Meikyo, Wankan, Unsu, Gankaku, Tekki Sandan, Gojushiho sho, Gojushiho dai

* Kata JIIN is not practiced in the WSKF

The katas above have to be mastered for grading examinations for each grade.  Mastery of the kata, means the karateka knows the right sequence, each technique, its applications, the right speed and the exact timing of the kata.  While performing a kata the karateka must exhibit his courtesy boldness, confidence, gentleness and humility.  A kata cannot be fully mastered in a few years.  A karateka must always try to improve his/her kata on every performance.

In order to obtain maximum power in offensive or defensive techniques, the karateka must tense all muscles of the entire body and grip the floor with his/her toes at the moment of impact.  This is known as kime and must be done in the fastest possible time.  The karateka must exhale on kime and after the completion of the technique must instantly relax the muscles of the entire body in order to perform the next technique as quickly as possible.  There should be no expression or strain on the face of the karateka, while performing the kata always bear in mind your opponent.

Tomiko Sensei and Dr Steven Bellamy Seminar

I would like to share a report from the above mentioned event due to its contents is as current now as to when the seminar was run in December 1995 in London, England hence I am sharing with you all.  The Instructors on the course were Tomiko Mitsuoka Sensei 8th Dan WSKF International Director and Dr Steven Bellamy Professional Sports Coach.  The course was scheduled for three hours with a 15min break half way through. It was attended by over 40 students from the local clubs in area, the theme of the seminar was “The race for perfection has no finish line”  hence to keep an open mind and to never stop training and learning and we should not think that we have learned it all.

The course was started with the introduction of the instructors.  Then we went straight into warm up which was conducted by Dr Steven Bellamy with a lecture while we were warming up.  He explained that the reason for a warm up was to raise the heart rate, and to warm up the muscles in preparation for the next activities, the method that he instructed was the interval training style, that is Hard and Soft.  Fast and Slow, correct warm should not last more than 10mins, most training accidents occur during the warm up and not during the practice of your chosen sport.  Dr Steven Bellamy’s warm up consisted of the following in this order, each module lasted less than 2mins, we started off by walking slowly, then faster, then slow again, then faster which then lead on to a slow jog, then we slowed down to the slow walking pace, then after every 50 feet for about 30ft we did knee raises, leg swings then replaced knee raises and then continue to slower pace until we stopped.

Dr Bellamy then explained `how to perform our techniques correctly and now to get the most of training.  The main topic here was IMPACT.  He pointed out that the WSKF was very scientific in its teachings, in order to progress at anything in life, you must have an open mind and search for improvement, study and research your sport in order to progress. (In conversation with Dr Bellamy after the course, remembering that he had a very successful career in Karate spanning from Karate in England from the sixties to over 20 years training and teaching Karate n Japan, he stated that during his earlier training years he only did what he was told and never was allowed to ask questions and he was being taught by instructors who were taught in the fifties with the same principles, that karate then was not scientific and lacked progression, everything has progression why not karate, the progression must be on how we perform the karate techniques so we do not cause injuries to ourselves so we have to give up karate practice or reduce our limitation as we got older, just look around and see how many karate-ka that have bad knees etc, we must study our bodies and techniques and then perform our karate according.)  IMPACT:  In golf, tennis and various other sports you always heard the coaches say “follow through” this does not apply to karate techniques.  Dr Bellamy picked out one of the senior students on the course, Roy Watkins, a local Instructor 3rd Dan JKA to explain the theory, he was asked what gave the most shock a car hitting a brick wall or a car hitting a wood fence, he was also asked a few questions on physics, Newton’s third law of motion “for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction”. it so happens that Dr Bellamy did not know that Roy is a qualified Electronics Engineer and was able to answer most of the questions at ease and at the end Roy commented that he had never looked at Karate like that before and it made a lot of sense.  Dr Bellamy then explained that Impact hitting has three elements. He decided to use the fist as an example, however he made it clear that this applies to all karate weapons.

1.    Speed
2.    Rapid termination of the fist
3.    Rapid withdrawal of the fist.

The first two elements were well known and we all practice these and pay less attention to the third element, so Dr Bellamy decided we should and pay less attention to the third element, so Dr Bellamy decided we should study, practice and investigate this element in order to improve our techniques.  We were then asked to stand in front of a wall then place one of our hands on the and when ordered push against the wall with all our power then release by pulling our hands off the wall as if it was a hot poker, this was practised a few times then we paired up and we were asked to use an open hand to strike our partners with the follow through method.  On hitting our partners they were pushed back about four feet then we were asked to concentrate on not following through but as soon as we make contact to withdraw as fast as possible.  Most of the students received a shock as they did not fall back, but were lifted slightly on impact and some looked a bit dazed.  All the students were impressed and Dr Bellamy’s time was up.

Tomiko Mitsuoka Sensei took over, and instructed the class on WSKF basics following the format of interval training, we were asked to do the techniques or combination about ten times slow and correct, and then maximum effort was demanded for the next ten, then slow and relaxed to recover while still practising, then maximum effort again and this was the format of the training.  Sensei explained that the WSKF has two types of basics, the kihon basics and kumite basics which consist of a lot of spinning techniques.  All the students did very well with the kihon basics which was different from the usual combination that they were used to, however the kumite basic which consisted of spinning techniques had almost everyone looking very confused to say the least.  However everybody was training very hard, the progression of this was part work which was the application of some of the spinning techniques performed earlier on.  As usual the next stage was freestyle for about 15mins.  The first 5mins was practised slow with emphasis on using the spinning techniques practised and then the last 10mins was done at normal speed, with every 2mins partner changing.  We then had a break of 15mins, during this period Dr Bellamy and Sense mingled with the students.

After the break of 15mins Dr Steven Bellamy then gave an explanation on cross planes attacking and PNF stretching.

Cross planes:    attacking your partners on different planes as Steven called it “overloading your opponent’s ability to react”.  Mr Roy Watkins and Suilman Bakaya were called to demonstrate, Suilman attacked Roy on one level with various techniques with speed and power, Roy was allowed only to block or evade which he did with ease.  Steven then stepped in against Roy, and asked him to block or evade, Steven then attacked Roy using the cross plane theory, attaching vertical, high, low, to the side and circular.  Roy apart from the first technique was a sitting duck (Roy a couple of years ago the runner up to Ronnie Christopher at KUGB nationals).  We then were asked to pair up and practice his theory.

The second part of the lecture, was about various types of stretching, a brief explanation on Dynamic, Static and PNF and then Dr Bellamy stated the WSKF in its scientific approach recommends the PNF method, and in order to give further explanation Roy was at hand to be the fall guy again.  Roy was asked to sit comfortable against a wall and two students were called on to assist.  Roy was asked to spread his legs to his maxim (box splits) each assistant was asked to hold each leg in position and Roy was asked to try and close his legs by pushing against the assistants, and as soon as he stopped pushing and relaxed, the assistants moved his legs further apart without causing any discomfort to him, then he was asked to push again and as soon as he stopped pushing his legs were moved back further, this was done about four times.  Roy was amazed at the increase in his flexibility, Dr Bellamy pointed out this must be done very careful one could increase one’s flexibility by about 30%.  This type of stretching is based on the “Golgi Reaction”.

Doctor Bellamy supervising the “Goigi Reaction”

Doctor Bellamy and Roy Watkins sensei confirming the improvement
Tomiko Mitsuoka Sensei then took over for the last sessions Bassai dai, Sochin and Unsu, the interval method also applied during the kata session.

Mitsuoka Sensei came 3rd in Kata at the 1985 World Championships and three times World Team Kata Champion, competed in the JKA and SKI at the top level, before moving to the WSKF about five years ago.

Bassi dai – emphasise on twisting the hips sharply during the blocks and the position of the head during the Kata.

Unsu – emphasise to keep the hips low and to keep the elbows and arms close to the body at all times,  the further away your limps are from your body the less kime can be generated, the correct angle of the hands and arms were shown and explained plus the stepping forward in neko ashi dachi

Sochin – emphasise on keeping the hips low especially during the side snap kick and the front kick at the end. It was explained that each katas has a “theme” and this should be indicated during the performance of the kata, Sochin kata should have big circle moments, the flow of the kata must be calm and then dynamic with very strong stances, the upper body must move with the lower body.

After practising Sochin a few times, Sense invited Dr Bellamy to give the last lecture for the brown and black belts so they can improve their performance of karate.  A brown belt student (Carl Kemmin) was asked to remember the best time of his life, as he did a big smile came over his face, he was then asked to look in front of him and drawing an imaginary circle, this circle will be called the circle of excellency and every time he steps into this circle he must tap his wrist and remember that feeling and then perform his kata.  Dr Bellamy stated that if you feel great or depressed your karate will reflect this, you must run your brain and do not let your brain run you, and remember your body will not go where your mind has not been.  We then were asked to practice the circle of excellency theory and then we practised Sochin a few more times using the circle of excellency philosophy.

Tomiko Sensei Leading the Class from the front

Tomiko Sensei Teaching and Leading from the front
Just to finish off, Dr Bellamy taught the class some warming down exercises, which included stretching our backs and manipulating our feet.  We were told that most students compress their bodies while performing karate techniques, hence a good stretch after a hard session is necessary.

Tomiko Sensei at the end of the seminar

The course was brought to an end with both Instructors thanking all the students that attended Mitsuoka Sensei stated that this was an WSKF Open Course with no political implication, and there will be further courses in the London area in future and they hope to see them all again

Conversation with Tomiko Mitsuoka Sensei 8th Dan WSKF


Tomiko Sensei was born in Japan in 1948 and started the study of shotokan karate in 1966 at the age of 18 years old, the initial purpose was to learn self defense as she was employed in a department store working long, late hours.

Tomiko Sensei remembers that it was not popular for ladies to study martial arts at that time and found it very difficult to join a dojo until her cousin who was a karate instructor introduced her to his sensei Hirano Sensei one of the original students of Master Funakoshi and one of the co-founders of the JKA. Karate training during this period was different from now, it was very strict and not much explanation just following instructions and training very hard. The lesson was 75% Kihon and 25% Kumite. Tomiko Sensei however say’s “I do try and en-cooperate some of the old ways with the new ways in order to keep training more interesting in my dojo “.

Tomiko Sensei travelled to England in 1971 to study English and returned in 1973 and joined Kanazawa Sensei “Yotsuya” Dojo where she trained three times a week under the resident instructor Seto Sensei at the time a nidan sensei (Seto Sensei not to be confused with his senior brother who won the JKA championship) and also Mrs. Kobayashi who was the first JKA kata woman’s champion. Master Kamiyanagi was the chairman of the dojo.

Additionally Sensei Tomiko attended Hoitsugan Dojo once a month where Nakayama and Kanazawa Sensei shared an apartment, The apartment had a basement where they had small dojo, many JKA instructors who had been abroad teaching Karate and returned to Japan also attended the dojo to train and exchange experiences under Kanazawa Sensei instruction, I was a 1st Dan at the time and learn’t all the shotokan kata’s from him Sensei Tomiko recalls.

After giving birth to her first son in 1978 already a 4th Dan she returned to training by this time Kanazawa Sensei and his dojo had already left the JKA and had formed the SKI. Kasuya Sensei was assisting with the training at the honbu dojo and their relationship continued to grow in to a senpei and kohai one. Due to various matters in 1990 Kasuya Sensei & Master Kamiyanagi decided to call a meeting to air their views, Tomiko sensei and about twenty Japanese black belts and instructors were at this meeting and the outcome was for them to form the WSKF. Tomiko Sensei said it was a shame that we lost Master Kamiyanagi last year after our 25 years anniversary and he cannot see the continous growth of WSKF today as we have over 200 dojo’s across the world now and student numbers continue to grow, one of recent country additions is Nigeria which I will be visiting in June this year for a seminar and open ladies only international competition.

Tomiko Sensei in her early days was very successful in karate competition and won many individual and team events in the JKA, SKI and WSKF now retired she is known as one of best Judges and Referees in the WSKF and attends all WSKF world championship where she is one of the chief referees or head judge.

Tomiko sensei is one of the very few Japanese women 8th Dan in the world and is also a member of WSKF Shihan-Kai Japan, she has been living and teaching karate in England since 1994 and is the WSKF England Technical Director and the chief instructor of the Renseikan WSKF dojos in the UK. Tomiko Sensei travels to other countries to teach and collaborates with other organizations to conduct courses in the UK.

BB: Sensei how does it feel to be the highest female instructor in the WSKF and one of the very few 8th Dans in the world

TM: I feel very honored and proud however when I am in the dojo I am just a beginner again, it is important that it does not matter what grade you are, each time you go to the dojo, you must leave your ego outside, empty you mind and train as hard as you can, you must humble yourself, respect others, give courtesy where due, no body is perfect and once you start thinking like that you can not learn and it defeats the objective of “karate-do”

BB: There appears to be very few ladies in your dojo but mostly high graded male students.

TM: There are quite a few girls however over the years once the ladies get married and have children it is very difficult for them to come back to training due to all the domestic work that they have to do, I would also tell my female adult students that even if they can not train due to pregnancy or any other reason that they should try and come and watch so has to maintain a connection even the men if they have an injury I suggest this so it encourages them to return to training easier, watching is also very good as you can see others mistakes and then see if the same applies to you.

The male high grades in my dojo have been with me for many years, some came already dan grades and have gone through their grades with me and some have started from white belt, I am lucky to have plenty male high grades, quite a few are over 60 years old now and still training like 40 year olds. I also believe they like my way I teach, come to the dojo train hard and then leave, not much talking and leave, we do not have time for politics. After each class you will notice the senior grades doing self-practice and going over parts of the lesson with the junior grades just like any traditional dojo around the world.

BB: What is a typical class like in your dojo

TM: Typical traditional Japanese style, from the minute you enter the dojo, no idle chat, you start your own practice till the class is called. At the beginning of the class we have to clean the dojo floor before start the class, everybody in the dojo, all grades must take part, the cleaning is done with wet towels where the student pushes it the length of the dojo with his/her hands – this is correct attitude and must continue till the end of the dojo when the dojo kun is recited. Then we practice Kihon, maybe 60%, Kumite 20% and Kata 20%, during the class we just train with very limited talking – just quick corrections, discussions can take place after training, it appears to work very well in our dojo as I see the rate of improvement of my students, some visiting students do find it very hard to cope and train this way however after a few visits they adapt and enjoy the class.

BB: WSKF Kihon appears to have just as many spinning waza as non-spinning.

TM: Yes we have Kaiten Waza (Spinning Waza) and Tai Sabaki which we introduce into our syllabus from an early grade as these make the body and brain more agile, it creates different challenges for the students however as they progress this becomes more natural in Kumite and self defense, rather than just stepping only forward in attack or stepping back in defense, it is sometimes best to use Tai Sabaki has it is very effective allowing you to evade and give you the advantage of a counter attack using kaiten waza to your opponents blind side, however timing is very important and must be practiced over and over again.

BB: Sensei, what is your favorite waza?

TM: Gyakuzuki is my favorite waza just as many Japanese people, I perform it in many ways using Tail Sabaki, Kaiten and just basic to the front, I feel it is my strongest waza and I used in my competitions days, I continue practice it every day so I can get it faster, stronger, more kime and timing.

BB: Sensei, how about kicks,

TM: My favorite kick is mai geri, it is very strong and very effective, and you can maintain a very good guard and deliver a very strong and fast mai-geri at any height. Practicing the kick very slowly and getting your knee as high as possible before terminating it slowly with the toes pulled back, this also builds the muscles in both legs and torso and the standing foot facing the front helps improves the mai geri performance in all the katas.

BB: What is your favorite Kata

TM: My favorite kata is Nijushiho, which I used in grading examination and competition many times, it is a short kata but very difficult as it requires so much coordination, timing, rhythm, smooth stance changes. When performing kata it is very important to understand the theme and spirit of the kata so you can apply it and it makes it look beautiful, strong, and smooth like silk and graceful however deadly, The beginning of the Nijushiho is very important as that dictates the flow of the kata which should be like a wave and tide in harmony with fast and slow movements. Every time I practice I find more parts to practice harder and learning each time.

BB: How many katas does WSKF practice,

TM: We presently practice and teach twenty five shotokan katas however Jiin is not included as WSKF does not knows its history, we practice the kata’s as defined by Master Funakoshi just that our stances are higher, we feel that kata should remind the same and not be modified from the original form nor should we add any other katas to our syllabus as the ones that we have already we still have not mastered them yet, they require more and more practice to reach a zazen level, Kata practice for each person is personally and we must keep practicing them in order to improve each time and learn something different each time. Kata must be performed with the correct breathing, the right sequence, correct stances, kime, rhyme, timing, speed, mental focus and it should be performed with a harmonious flow.

BB: How important is application in your teaching of katas

TM: For me it is not so important to have a application for each waza of a kata, some of these waza in the kata could be miss understood and it is no good making up applications as I am sure we all have seen some strange ones over the years, if I do not know a application to a kata I will say I do not know it, however what I do teach is to take parts out of a kata and practice it in Kumite and Self Defense environment, this is the way I was taught in the early days and believe it is more realistic hence I continue to teach this way.

BB: Sensei –have you had to use karate outside the dojo

TM: Only once when I was a white belt on my way home from work one evening, a man that looked like a member of a street gang attacked me so I executed a Gyakuzuki to his solar plexes and then I ran as fast I could home.

BB: You have been practicing and teaching karate for the last 50 years what do you see as the major changes

TM: For me is that the grey areas of karate are becoming clearer, generally karate is more scientific and a lot of research is begin done on how best to practice a waza to get the best results, what impact it has on the joints and muscles, how to recover from injury quickly, how to train with disability or long term injury, which karate aids and tools are best to be use to get better results, what complimentary training we can do like conditioning especially core training, and ways to prevent inquiry. Kumite competition is slightly different, it is light and faster with more different scoring waza than before.

BB: Sensei – who has inspired the most

TM – Kasuya Sensei has been inspiring since I met him, he is such gentleman and caring instructor however still very strong, his karate is practical and natural, due to the number of years of continous teaching and his talent he is very good in getting the message across, every seminar that I attend with him he has different theme and all he knows, learns, researches he passes to his students all over the world, he is also strongly believes in budo and in respecting others, he makes karate practice in the dojo very interesting and inspires me to do the same. He also is very good at taking the every day life activities and relating them to Karate-do this way we are not only improving our karate but also enhancing our life out of the dojo. I am so lucky to have him as my sensei and my role model.

BB: Sensei – do you have any other past times or hobbies.

MT: Flower Arrangement, Tea ceremony, Cooking – the attitude is the same as karate, I am still learning and everyday I need to improve like in karate, there is always room for improvement which I continue to look for, if you think you are very good then you start going back wards and not forward, this is no good.

BB: Sensei – Have you not thought of teaching Japanese language to your students.

MT: I am good at teaching karate I think but I do not have patients to teach Japanese language, in the dojo we use Japanese names for the waza and read out the dojo code in Japanese.

BB: Apart from the obvious physical benefits, what can students gain from your style of hard traditional training?

MT: When you are training hard do you do not have time to think about anything else, no bunkai, no daily complicated matters, you just empty your mind, just concentrate in front of you, which releases stress. Hard training means its very tiring for your body, so you take care of what you eat, how to rest your body, you look after your health more.

BB: Do you think that nowadays there is too much emphasis on explaining karate rather than doing karate

TM: I think they are lazy, it is much easier just to talk and explain, rather than showing technique to your students, Have you noticed many older instructors are overweight? They just like to wear the dogi and put the black belt over their fat waist. In the past many instructors came to my dojo, none of them survived more than 30 minutes training with us

BB: You have always done hard traditional training, have you had many injury issues?

TM: Yes, Twice, One time my appendix burst and I had to have two operations

BB: Many people have said that the Japanese diluted the karate brought from Okinawa. Do you agree with that?

MT: Yes, the extreme style of karate in Okinawa would not be carried out by normal Japanese people. As you know many Okinawa Karate Instructors do not live long.

BB: Why do you think that so many of us are still following the Shotokan style, with the plain white dogi, strict dojo etiquette etc when all around us we have MMA and Taekwondo etc?

MT: Shotokan karate is simple and effective and there’s nothing wrong with plain white dogi and strict rules. One time a MMA black belt came to my course, I thought his karate waza looked like a 5th kyu ! I do not know much about Taekwondo so I can not comment on that.

BB: What is your personal philosophy towards karate

MT: Karate is everything to me, it is my way of life, and it gives me purpose. I have had a lot challenges in my life and still found time to do karate, it gave me focus and made it easy for me to tackle the challenges with out any ill effects, one incident was so bad that all the other people affected became very sick but I continued and the matter ended, I feel I am a nobody with out karate and will be lost without it, it provides me with guidance, discipline, perseverance and gives me respect as I respect others.

BB: What would be your advice to other karate-ka

MT: What ever happens in your life you should find time to train if not in the dojo at home, sometimes you might feel that you do not want to train but you should please convince yourself otherwise. Karate makes the body and brain agile by exercising it and learning everyday, this allows us to be fitter, strong and more mental alert in our old age than those that do not do any form of exercise, it is said that Karate uses almost all our muscles during training, it maintains your flexibility, coordination and balance. Always train harder than last time, listen, and watch and understand then do, when learning something new, do not panic always remain calm and do not rush in your training. Do try and practice at home even if is 10mins per day. Never think that you know it all keep practicing and enjoy your karate.

Above Tomiko Sensei with Bob Bamgboye in 1995 and below 2016

Tomiko Sensei warming up recently on Kasuya Sensei seminar in England March 2017

Tomiko Sensei at the age of 69 is still actively teaching twice week at her dojo in Slough, visits and teaches at all the WSKF dojo’s in England and aboard, in 2016 she visited Nigeria for the first time and instructed on an Open Karate Seminar and taught in the Renseikan Dojos in Lagos.