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Goju Ryu Kata: the Essence of Okinawan Karate

Goju Ryu Kata ListGoju ryu katas list changes

The list (and order) of Goju-ryu katas varies from organization to organization. There is no single standard one because, on the one hand, many of Miyagi’s senior students originally learned their katas out of order, and on the other hand, there was a rearrangement of the syllabus after the varied organizations were created after Miyagi’s death in 1954 to reflect the founding teacher’s ideas concerning the logical order of the katas.

Goju ryu kata and kanjii

The kanji for the katas’ names also do not exist except for the obvious ones (Sanchin=Three Battles/Conflicts; the Gekisai katas, created by Miyagi in 1940; Seipai=Eighteen; Seisan=Thirteen; Sanseru=Thirty-Six; Shisochin=Four Direction Battle; Suparempe=One Hundred Eight; and Tensho, also created by Miyagi.) When Higaonna Kanryo brought the katas he had learned in China home to Okinawa, he only gave the names of the katas verbally. There was no written syllabus. The names then—“Seyunchin, Saifa, Kururunfa”-- were simply spoken or written down phonetically.

Sanchin, Saifa, Seyunchin, Seipai, Shisochin, Seisan, Kururunfa, Sanseru ichi, Sanseru ni, and Suparempe katas

One thing is common: all agree that Sanchin kata belongs in the Kihon (basics) category because it teaches the foundational stance, breathing methods, punching, and blocking in coordination with the breathing. This kata, however, is taught differently by different organizations. In some, it is performed with three steps forward and three steps backward; the reason is, after the War, when Miyagi was ill and only observing the students perform, they did not want to pivot and turn their backs to him; so the kata was modified to only go forward and back to continuously face him, out of respect.
Otherwise, the kata contains a pivot where the student goes three steps the opposite way, then pivots again to return forward. In many organizations, this longer kata is referred to as “Higaonna’s Sanchin” as opposed to the shorter one, called “Miyagi’s Sanchin.”
Kaishu katas or moving katas
In our Federation, since the kata was learned originally by Seko Higa directly from Higaonna, it is performed the long way.
Breathing patterns also differ between organizations. In many, it is soft, with a “hut” sound at the end of the exhalation. In ours, it is loud, almost a roaring sound.
The Kaishu katas (“open hand”) or moving katas: the order here varies greatly, though all begin with the Gekisai kata dai ichi and dai ni. In our Federation, we follow up with Saifa, Seyunchin, Seipai, Shisochin, Seisan, Kururunfa, Sanseru ichi, Sanseru ni, and finally Suparempe.
The addition of Sanseru ichi is unique in our Federation; it does not exist in other organizations. Performance of technique and rhythm also differ from organization to organization; this truly sets them apart from one another. This is comparable to various dialects of the same language spoken in the same country.
The Heishu kata (“closed hand”) is Tensho kata; though seen as the softer complement to Sanchin, it is on a different level of technique. The breathing also is softer.

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