A twisted road

Where our shared katas came from.

Writing an article with any degree of depth on the origins of the Shotokan katas that we practice today is not my goal here. That is a task I will leave to those more qualified to do so. My purpose here is merely to give to the reader some insight as to where the katas found in the modern Shotokan Karate system, as well as other styles, originated. 

Now due to the lack of reliable historical documentation, it is virtually impossible to know who created a particular kata and when. Suffice to say that it was via the trade routes that existed between China and Okinawa, that Chinese martial arts were first introduced to the people of Okinawa. It was from those early teachings that Okinawan karate was born, their three styles were known as, Naha-te, Shuri-te, and Tomari-te. 

Of these three styles Naha-te was considered a "hard style" and it went on to become the foundation for Goju-Ryu, the "half hard-half soft style" made famous by it's founder Master Chojun Miyagi. While Shuri-te and Tomari-te on the other hand were both known for their speed and their flexibility, the exact opposite of Naha-te.

It was from blending the best of Shuri-te and Tomari-te that the foundation for Shotokan was created, and made famous by Master Gichin Funakoshi. And it was from combining the very best characteristics from all three styles, Naha-te, Shuri-te, and Tomari-te, that the foundation of Shito-Ryu was created and made famous Master Kenwa Mabuni.

The following katas are were the original katas taught by the Naha-te, Shuri-te, and Tomari-te schools. All of these katas are still taught today in one form or another. In many cases the kata below are not unique to just one particular style of karate.

Chinte - Shuri-te / Lohei - Shuri-te / Ji'in - Shuri-te / Jion - Shuri-te / Jitte - Shuri-te / Kururunfa - Naha-te / Kushanku - Shuri-te / Matsukase - Shuri-te / Naihanchi - Naha-te / Niseishi - Tomari-te / Ouseishi - Shuri-te / Patsai - Shuri-te / Saifa - Naha-te / Sanchin - Naha-te / Sanseru - Naha-te / Seienchin - Naha-te / Seipai - Naha-te / Seisan - Shuri-te / Shisochin - Naha-te / Sochin - Tomari-te / Suparumpei - Naha-te / Unsu - Tomari-te / Wanshu - Shuri-te.

The art of karate finally received exposure beyond the shores of Okinawa with its introduction to the Japanese public by Sensei Gichin Funakoshi in the early 1920's. At first, he only introduced sixteen of the katas, since he felt that number was more than enough for one person's lifetime. 

The sixteen katas were: Kanku-Dai, Kanku-Sho, (known on Okinawa as Kushanku), Heian Shodan, Heian Nidan, Heian Sandan, Heian Yondan, Heian Godan, (known in Okinawa originally as the Pinan katas), Tekki Shodan, Tekki Nidan, Tekki Sandan, (known on Okinawa as Naihfanchi), Wanshu, (later renamed Empi), Chinto, (later renamed Gankaku), Patsai, (later renamed as Bassai), Jitte, Jion, and Seisan (later renamed Hangetsu). 

Today the modern Shotokan system includes all of those original sixteen katas as well as: Bassai-Sho, Meikyo, (known on Okinawa as Lohei), Chinte, Ji'in, Wankan, (known on Okinawa as Matsukase), Gojushiho-Sho, Gojushiho-Dai, (known on Okinawa as Ouseishi), Nijushiho, (known on Okinawa as Niseishi), Sochin, and Unsu. A total of 26 kata. In addition, there are three practice katas, Taikyoku Shodan, Taikyoku Nidan, and Taikyoku Sandan, although these three kata are not commonly practiced in some Shotokan dojos.

Over the years all of the katas that make up our modern Shotokan system have been altered in one way or another. As a result, some of their originality and purpose has been lost over time. Nevertheless, today we practice, honour, and respect all of these kata. Not only as a link to our Okinawan past, but also as a martial art with the underlying intent of developing our character, enhancing our physical capabilities, and strenghtening our mental prowess. 

Remember: "The foundation of anything only has value if it is true".