View Full Version : kata and rankings

Walt Harms
15th August 2001, 13:10
To anyone who understands:

I have been thinking/mulling a lot
lately. I have been researching dan requirements
just to get a handle on what other schools do and
to understand the 12 year old 3rd dan.
What I have noticed is a very gradual but big
change more so amoung the traditionalist styles.
The change is in the number of katas and kyus.
When I first began there were about 7 kata for
sho dan 5 hienen, bassai, tekki and 6 kyu ranks.
Now most schools have 9/10 kyus and about as much
as 20 kata for 1st dan. I remember how long it
took just to learn those 7 kata and the bunkai.
how is it the new students can learn so much in
so little time and still be a well rounded martial artist? Any comments would be very well

Walt Harms

Kevin Meisner
18th August 2001, 03:06
I don't know about the rest of you, but my style of Wado only has 9 official kata... While the founder of Wado, Hironori Ohtsuka learned many more kata from Funakoshi, Mabuni and Motobu, he selected the following 9 as "official" Wado kata:

Pinan 1,2,3,4,5

That's it!

It is said that in the "old days" of Okinawa Te that only one or two kata were learned. Each "orthodox" kata is supposed to contain an entire system of fighting. Of course there were no black belts or rankings back then, and students spent a lot of time lifting weights and hitting things, not to mention practicing with weapons (and fighting).

I don't know what other schools are doing lately, but we still only practice 9 kata...

22nd August 2001, 00:43
I must say I find the idea of Kata a little odd. I have seen Kata experts launch through huge Kata during lessons and then drop into western boxing stance and throw "one, two" combos during sparring. I lean towards the idea of less movements learnt well than so many movements the Karataka becomes confused. ( I've seen this happen)

Hope this helps


Kevin Meisner
22nd August 2001, 02:27
Actually, Dave, I think I agree with you.

Bustillo, A.
22nd August 2001, 11:44
Way back when, it is true that only a few katas were taught to students. Futhermore, the teacher selected katas that would best siut the individual. And, it was not umcommon for students in the same school, learning under the same instructor to practice different forms. In my opinion, this was an excellent method of teaching.

There are several reasons why many instructors think that learning more katas is better. Some reasons are good.

However, nowadays, there is one excuse that most instructors will not admit... 'adding more katas to the curriculim justify more kyus, and more test. Thereby, more 'test fees'.

A. Bustillo

Kevin Meisner
22nd August 2001, 12:16
I have always enjoyed the practice and study of kata. I have been regularly training in karate since 1979. For the first time I am beginning to question the value of kata training over other, more "practical" methods of training (for self defense, which is my focus). There are so many situations where the attack can be evaded/neutralized and followed up by simple yet effective combinations. I think I have come to the crossroads regarding kata practice for self defense. However, I have not considered dropping kata altogether from my program, since I still believe that kata teach good balance and movement, as well as provide interesting material for study over the years. The students seem to like kata training as well. With regard to the great number of kata taught in some schools, I am sure it is my training but I feel less is more. I currently actively practice the following 9 kata: from Wado Ryu, Pinan 1,2,3,4,5, and Naihanchi. From a Shorin Ryu derived style, Chonan no Kitagawa. From JKA Shotokan, Bassai Dai. And from Uechi Ryu (thanks to George Mattson) Sanchin. And sometime I think this is too much, when I look at all the other training I could be doing.

Bustillo, A.
22nd August 2001, 12:37
Kevin makes a valid point.

I started my karate training in the traditional system of Kenkojuku Shotokan, and earned my Black belt in the system.

However, it has been long since that I stopped placing so much emphasis on the old traditional forms.
If you are concerned with practical self-defense, there are plenty of other ways to develop true combat skill.

So, keeping your focus on a few katas is more beneficial than trying to perfect too many forms.

A. Bustillo

Walt Harms
22nd August 2001, 13:15
First, I am a firm believer in Kata. My question
was mostly in regard to kata/kyu inflation. As
far as how much kata, I believe a good class
should be 1/3 kata 1/3 kumite 1/3 selfdefense of
course the kumite can be 1 step, 2 step continuous
or any facet same goes for kata/selfdefense.
With the current emphasis on kata some schools
do not even teach self defense!!

Walt Harms

26th August 2001, 17:22
Originally posted by Kevin Meisner
However, I have not considered dropping kata altogether from my program, since I still believe that kata teach good balance and movement, as well as provide interesting material for study over the years.

Agreed. I feel that all too often people claim that kata doesn't give you self defense skills so its useless. I often make the comparison to a speed bag in boxing. Plenty of boxers work the speed bag. I have never heard anyone knock the use of the speed bag in boxing. However, you could be the best speed bag person in the world, and still get your ears bit off by Mike Tyson. Does this make the speed bag useless? Of course not. It develops eye-hand coordination, an important skill to have in boxing. The speed bag is a tool to develop a skill which will be useful in the sport, but you would need to round out the boxing training by getting in plenty of ringtime, working footwork, etc. Just like the speed bag is a tool to develop a skill, kata is a tool to develop skills like balance, quick explosive movements, and efficient technique, as well as building up a good sweat.. Are you a great fighter JUST working kata? No way. Are you better off having the skills that tool helps to develop? Definitely.

Now to tie in this tirade with the thread :p Is kata inflation good? No. If you are spending all your time learning all these forms you aren't developing the skills. You are wasting all your time trying to build the tool. A lot of schools use kata, as A. Bustillo said, to charge fees. One local school in my area does it like this... to learn a form, you have to go to a seminar. Gotta pay for it of course. Then, you gotta pay testing fees. They make a bundle of $$$. Its sick. But Walt alluded to the point that a well-rounded curriculum is best. You want to make sure you teach everything in balance. A lot of people drop this important tool off their curriculum because *some* schools use it for ill. Guess what? take a look at the "Bad Budo" section and you'll see people using EVERY aspect of the martial arts for ill. Are we going to stop doing what we do because of them? NO WAY! Why should we drop kata, claiming it's useless, because of THEM??? :cool:
Hope all that makes sense and hope I didn't ramble too far off-context...

27th August 2001, 19:46
I concur that simply adding kata to a program to load up rank requirements, it's a disservice to the student.

My base art contains a large number of kata and I've seen the gammut of different requirements at different ranks from different schools. I also teach the Cane arts from the Goju Shorei system, so it would be easy to load up my students with forms. So as it stands now, a Shodan candidate must correctly execute 7 open hand kata and 5 cane kata. (I had to learn 12 open hand plus 2 weapon for Shodan, not counting the Cane arts)

28th August 2001, 11:35
Walt, I think you pretty much answered your own question with your observation of the "inflation" of kata going with the inflation of kyu-grades.

Jon Bluming has said that kata is BS. It is simply to drag the student along while collecting the club dues. He said this a couple of years ago on a TV show and is not the exact quote, but Mr. Tact as he is sometimes called, is usually easy to understand.

Now, I can't teach in any other way than in pieces of kata, but I think Mr. Bluming-sensei has something here.

And the instructor who does stand-up boxing after doing the low stance kata is a good example of that value. Isn't the true fighting art more like his one-two than wide open, low stance, which, for the life of me, I don't really understand, but I'm betting it has some purpose. I've trained with karateka, and none of the kata I've seen ever came out, just some fast as hell punching which I absorbed while making my way to the inside to finish the discussion.

Don't get me wrong, most here are sincere, this is aimed at your comment of the inflation of kata/kyu. It also could be innovation and an evolving martial art, I am simply pointing out the reasons probable.

Heck, in Kodokan Judo, those who have not attained sankyu are considered to have no rank at all, and no grade until then.

Yes, in the US and Europe all kinds of colored belts are given, and that is where they came from in the first place, but realistically, even the juniors have to grades to attain green belt (sankyu) and violet (nikyu/ikyu, at this point the difference is minimal and generally are given in the locker room). An older beginner would probably get his shodan in no more than six months in Japan, especially if his dojo mates are considerably younger.

The US plays all sorts of games with it and for many reasons. The Japanese, well, they still believe shodan is shodan.

My head hurts.


Kevin Meisner
29th August 2001, 04:21
Mark - when you say an older beginner in Japan would get his shodan in no less than 6 months, and that the US plays games re: ranks - I am interested, would you please elaborate on this subject? Thank you.

29th August 2001, 11:09
The Games are played everywhere, I was speaking in generalities. I got the impression from the topic post that there was an inflation of kyu ranks along with inflation of kata. I was pointing out a possible reason.

Generally speaking, in a judo dojo in Japan, an older student, one who is a beginner, IE, with no rank, and the dojo has higher ranking students younger than himself/herself, the older student will more than likely get to shodan faster simply because of age than would younger students, especially children.

There is a story behind the latter I had in mind.

A friend who lived in Japan was, at the time, an ikyu in Kodokan judo. He was older, much older than one of the instructors in his Osaka dojo, much higher in grade. When he addressed this younger but highly ranked younger man with "sensei" he was told it was not a correct usage and politely explained why. My friend, it turns out, was the older man, more experienced in life, and for all the teacher knew, really was the "one who came before" thus incorrect usage.

Another is of a woman I know who had been studying judo in Japan at her son's dojo, and after about four months she was told she would be testing for shodan in a few days. She was expremely apprehensive about this, as she knew perhaps four nage waza fairly well, one or two pins, no strangle or jointlocks one would simply accept as rule of thumb in the US.

The test turned out to be no more than throwing a few people from the dojo successfully with all uke being accomodating, and all shodan, as it was done in the early years of judo (five was usually the number, and had to be thrown in full-resistant randori or shiai to advance to the next grade. The shortest time I know of on record when Jigoro Kano was still doing much of the grading, was three months. Actually, even that isn't a record, as when Kano was a young man and still living at his parent's home, is where he began teaching his Kodokan jiu jitsu, and the first students, all new, were given a certificate stating they were shodan. No kyu grades existed, and he wasn't responsible for those).

I may have exaggerated the six month length of time, or not, depending on the particular dojo. The Kodokan does the same, but requires much more training on a daily basis.

I'm no Jon Bluming, and it showed as it took me eight years from ikyu to shodan, but then I was young and full of spunk, and I liked those trophies. Once you move up, well, things can change...just...like...that.:)

Simply, I wondered if Mr. Harms was referring to something as the increase of kata to be learned, along with the increase in kyu-grades, to be related to, well, money taken in for classes.

I tried my best not to say it, but it was so refreshing to see it in writing, I just had to open my mouth.

Judoka have done so over the years, as well, but only belts of differing colors are given to those not up to sankyu ability, there really is no kyu grade assigned to those belts, they are simply for recognition of time spent learning, but then the colored belts came out of Europe not Japan.

But yes, in general, the older you are when you begin, the faster you will rank in Japan. Age has everything to do with it, as can be noted by some I know, one 91 who still hasn't been graded to 8-dan. I suppose he isn't old enough yet. But he was graded, at the Seattle Judo dojo, the first dojo still extant, in the US (heck it was the first dojo, period) by Jigoro Kano on his first visit, to andan (Kenneth Kuniyuki, now in Los Angeles. I spoke with a student of his, 77)

Perhaps it is left over from the pre-war years?

While it is rare to make a living teaching judo, in others, there are many who do so. I wasn't speaking of "false prophets" just a reason for the inflation.

No matter what you do, it does force you to go out and buy a new belt, doesn't it, inflation? haha!

Bad Joke, sorry.


BTW: Come to think of it, I haven't been bumped in twenty years, so I should talk to someone?



Walt Harms
29th August 2001, 12:46

What I was refering to was in fac, why so many
many kata, what I learned as a shodan is now taught to sankyu etc. That being said I also
have noticed an increase in the number of kyu's
from 6 to 9. The discussion however is going in a
good direction. My greatest concern is that so
many instructors are spending so much time teaching kata that other aspects of traing is being neglected. In some schools its hard to
notice anything martial being taught.


30th August 2001, 07:35
I agree with you, and appreciated your candor. Since most tiptoe around this area, I thought your original post was refreshing.

I perhaps read something into it which wasn't there, but it did make good sense. I know people who think kata of almost any kind is the antithesis to the circle of unarmed fighting alltogether.

I was thinking out loud, and you're right, it is going in an interesting direction.



I never did understand the full-contact groups calling it karate. It probably brought out some terrific boxers, but I never did see it that way.

Perhaps there is a realization that it was boxing all along?

30th August 2001, 16:18
I pondered this discussion the day before my class and decided to do an experiment.

I had my whole group perform our most basic kata (short-1) it's a 4 directional blocking sequence (in-out-up-down blocks) stepping in a modified horse or fighting stance. Pretty simple. I've been practicing this form for 18 years. I also know that most of my students find it a boring form.

After about 3 run throughs I requested that everyone attempt to execute the kata in an open-hand format, without stopping in each movement or position change (Tai Chi style) Then I had them execute it as if each movement was the death-blow from hell, with kiai at each hand movement. Then they got to blend it.

At this point, many of my students were realizing that there's a bunch more to a simple 8-step kata then what appears on the surface. That's when I had them do the kata sitting in a chair, then through a maze of chairs.

Why am I boring you to tears with this? My system has a large share of "kata-collectors" who have learned 20+ forms as mentioned by Walt. I submit that very few people will ever truly explore more than a few kata in their lifetime of training. I also submit that those "collectors" likely can't explain (bunkai?) a third of the forms they so proudly state "they know".

I'm still trying to figure out Short-1.

Thanks for the inspiration.

1st September 2001, 19:23
i was taughtin shotokan that the purpose if kata was to give a block, punch counter practice. no one will ever attack you like they do in kata. mark this is the problem i have with the goshin jutsu kata. but i have found out the defenses names for all the attacks in that kata and will teach a more dynamic approach fro an uke who throw focus attacks at you. but back to the karate kata. the l;ow stances where supposed to build up the leg muscles. we used to stand in a low kiba dachi(horse riding stance) AND THROW MANY DIFFERENT KINDS OF STRIKES AND BLOCKES UNTIL ARE LEGS WOULD SHAKE

1st September 2001, 19:28
crap, i hit a wrong key.

any way our legs did build up. i hated kata. i like the idea though with the 1/3 concept. but teach only one advanced kata with excellent punch, block and counter skills. i have never been able to use any of the techniques in kata as in self defense but, i did learn an automatic reponse to block counter. when i block even in jujutsu i automaticaly with out thinking launch a counter. i think this was the purpose of kata. i may be wrong. in the old day's people learned only one kata and it was said it took a life time to master. but i tend to agree with most of you, more kata, more test more test fee's.


2nd September 2001, 10:18
Hey, Richard,
Here is something we can agree. Most of the first waza of the Kodokan goshin jutsu kata are found in the shinken shobu no kata, just a few knife attacks and unarmed, blocks and counter were added, along with gun takaways.

I've got a tape of all kata taught at the Kodokan, or the official Kodokan kata. Whatever.

When I first watched the tape, I was on pins and needles waiting for this demonstration.

So the attacker approaches his victim. In this case, it was a giant against a, well, someone like me, extreme lack of height.

But as he approached, he says in a loud voice, what sounded like, "Stickemurupa." Please don't jump on me, but I swear it sounded just like that. Apparently, so did the audience watching on the tape as laughter burst out everywhere.

Honestly, it was the funniest thing I'd seen, and I was waiting for an "expert" performance. I fell off the couch.

The gun takaway was like any I'd seen in many systems, several karate systems as well, but the little guy had to approach the attacker, and stand on his toes to take the thing away.

I'd been doing that kata for decades, and never thought to have an attacker anounce his approach or to have someone hold a "gun" so high as to force anyone my height "reach." At that point, you've got one plus, if you've been doing attack drills, you rush him and hope you are faster than a bullet, but that's it.

So, OK, then back to karate, but if you don't see any similarities there, then I suppose I'm on the wrong channel. This kata was not an inspiration someone had one day but something thought up very quickly for those looking beyond the kime no kata for something more modern than the old way/forms, and I think it goes with the comments of, in some dojo, there truly lacks anything martial at all (in the kata).

This one, if you want to pick apart one, is it, in judo. The good techniques are all ready contained in another well-practiced kata, and the other techniques are so unreal as to be laughable, at least as done on this "official" tape.

Whoever said kata must at least appear applicable, left his logic at home the day this was written in the book. Bunkai? I'd like to hear/see that.

This was an insult to the man most credit for it, Tomiki Kenji-sensei. He was a realistic person. I sincerely doubt he put into this kata "Stickem up."

Perhaps they needed someone to get the blame...er, credit for it?


PS: No, this one won't have them coming in to up the ticket count, but I am betting this is the one kata most used to bolster judo as a good, basic foundational martial art. Hell, I can do that by throwing someone through the floor.

Now that's good E-budo (with apologies to Bobby Boucher and John Lindsey). Hehe

2nd September 2001, 10:31
BTW: Despite it being listed along with the other kata, this one has never been refered to as a "kata" but simply Kodokan Goshin jutsu, not kata, not goshin jutsu no kata (it is probably incorrectly said like that, anyway).

Do ya think it's possible, just as in some kata of the different schools of karate, that it is a "system" and not really a kata, ready for someone, anyone to change it, do something, so as not to make it look as if someone was reeeeally reaching that day?

I agree with Kevin and Walt on basics. Teach it, make sure it is as second nature, then throw them a curve and tell them to make it work. Simple stuff, really, when you thing about it.


Steve Jamison
3rd September 2001, 21:54
Originally posted by Davemdh
I must say I find the idea of Kata a little odd. I have seen Kata experts launch through huge Kata during lessons and then drop into western boxing stance and throw "one, two" combos during sparring.

Which is fine until your attacker comes up behind you and starts choking you out. FWIW, I agree, to a point. Teaching 8,000 possibilities becomes counter productive. I think teaching a limited number of techniques than can be learned well and can be drawn from like a tool box is a better way to go. If every fight started with both opponents squaring up and starting to throw hands, I would agree kata is unnecessary. The few fights I've been in or witnessed start with some type of pushing or grabbing.

4th September 2001, 02:35
Dont get me wrong Steve, techniques are good. But Kata for katas sake does not a martial artist make. (cool that rhymed :)) Ive noticed in my many years working the doors in my home city that no one waits for you to execute a 23 move kata on them. I know that kata are an aid to help students understand movements, principles and so on, but having so many that none are learned to the point of understanding them is for the birds. I think. Im no expert. I could well be wrong.

Dave Gordon

Steve Jamison
4th September 2001, 04:20
I'm pretty sure we said more or less the same thing. Having too many they can't be remembered is a bad thing. Doing the moves and not thinking the application is also pointless. Well, it is good exercise for all the right muscles and smoothing out your dachi changes. The kata is not intended to be one long battle but rather a "reminder list" of the applications you should have already learned. Unless the moves are practiced repeatedly so they come out without thinking they are of limited value. If you have to think, it is too late. Which brings us back around to practicing kata *while thinking the applications.* Believe me, I am no expert either. I'm starting all over, only this time around I'm going to do it right.

Kyoshi Perry
7th September 2001, 08:06
Hello everybody,

This will always be a difficult question since kata don't come with instructions, and there are different interpretations, especially between the Okinawan and Japanese kata, styles and systems. Kata are what we make of them, and an awareness of what we are practicing is most important.

I prefer to refer to kata as the "encyclopedia" of self defense that usually include the basic and advanced techiniques found in the particular martial arts systems we train in. Through our kata we share hundreds of years of experience from the great masters before us and gain further awareness of the basic concepts and principles that make the many styles we practice different from eachother.

Bustillo, A.
7th September 2001, 11:05

Some of the katas are not that old.

Many were formulated after the 1900's.

Antonio Bustillo

Walt Harms
7th September 2001, 12:54
Anyone who may be interested,

Patrick McCarthy made an interesting post on Kata
at the Karate forum. He always has interesting
things to say. I guess my original thoughts
on kata/kyu(rank) creep and unbalanced training
caused some interesting replys but I still can
not figure out what happened over the last 25
years so many extra ranks, so many kata and oh so
many masters/grandmasters/soke/hanchi/shihan.

Walt Harms

Kyoshi Perry
7th September 2001, 17:34
[QUOTE]Originally posted by Bustillo, A.

Some of the katas are not that old.

Many were formulated after the 1900's.

Antonio Bustillo

Seisan, Saifa, Shisochin and Kururunfa are kata that were brought from China by Ryuryo Ko before he taught them to Kanryo Higaonna, but the original creators of many of the kata are unknown. Many of the kata were learned by Higaonna while he studied in China between 1863 to 1881. Is must be remembered that several students that trained under Higaonna went on to open their own schools and the essence of the kata he taught them is still being praticed by some of us today. Of course there are katas that are even older than the ones I just mentioned, but that wasn't really the point I wanted to focus on in my comments.


Bustillo, A.
7th September 2001, 17:47

You are correct, to a point.
Most of the katas bear little resemblance to the old Chinese forms.

What we see now are relatively new, distinctly Okinawan forms, because they have changed so much.

A. Bustillo

Kyoshi Perry
10th September 2001, 08:25
Originally posted by Bustillo, A.

You are correct, to a point.
Most of the katas bear little resemblance to the old Chinese forms.

What we see now are relatively new, distinctly Okinawan forms, because they have changed so much.

A. Bustillo
Another thought:
I'm not concerned much with how a kata looks and whether or not they resemble "old" Chinese forms. I would rather focus on the essence of the kata and its possible underlying meaning or principles which connects its past to our present.
Change is Constant and Form is our Manifestation.


Bustillo, A.
10th September 2001, 13:13

I was simply addressing the point you made about kata.
You mentioned;

1) forms passed down through hundreds of years.
2) the katas Kanryo Higaiinna brought from China

Now you say you don't care about how old they are or that the forms have changed.

Perhaps, I misunderstood.

Either way, your focus on forms, be it the handed down through hundreds of years, the ones brought from china, the okinawan versions, or your focus on the essence and none of the aforementioned...is to be respected.


Antonio Bustillo