Many books refer to kata as a fixed sequence of fighting movements performed against an imaginary opponent. While technically correct, this explanation is misleading; it misses the essence. Actually, kata is a training methodology aimed at teaching an effective proven fighting strategy.
Thus, kata training is staged. You first learn the sequence and then train to perfect movements, correct breathing and the way tension and relaxation are balanced. You then start learning the kata basic applications. They are fixed prearranged fighting sequences that apply the movement of the kata. Next, the kata principles are applied in rendori or free-fighting.
In actuality, these stages are further refined. In addition, training is circular, i.e., kata performing then application training then rendori and back to kata performing etc.
Goju-Ryu is unique in that there are additional traditional supplement exercises and equipment used with the intention of perfecting the kata. They include chi-shi (stone lever weight), nigiri game (gripping jars), makiwara (striking post) and others.
For example, it is typical to see a Goju-Ryu training that moves from repeating a kata movement to chi-shi training and back to kata movements to chi-shi training until the movement is perfected. Another example is the “mystical” concept of grounding made very concrete and realized through walking with the nigiri game (gripping jars).
Goju-Ryu has twelve kata. They are divided into “open-hand” kata and “closed-hand” kata. “Closed” here means that muscles are kept tensed throughout the kata performance. The “closed-hand” kata are Sanchin and Tensho (Rotating Palms). Both Sanchin and Tensho can be categorized as a form of Taoist mediation or chi-kung techniques. Sanchin has two variations, Higaonna Kanyro Sanchin, and the version developed by Miyagi Sensei.
Miyagi Sensei developed this kata from his research in Fuzhou, southern China during the period 1917 to 1921. It is also known as Rokkishu. The “open-handed” kata are listed below with a short explanation of each. This is also the order in which the “open-hand” kata are learned today.
Traditionally, a person would begin his training with Sanchin and learn one “open-hand” kata chosen by his teacher that would fit his body structure and character. All of the “open-hand” kata originated in China with the exception of Gekisai Dai Ichi and Gekisai Dai Ni which were devised by Miyagi Sensei.
The Kata exhibit different fighting methods and are all based on the movements of the white crane and the tiger. In particular, the last 3 kata contrast and combine go (hard) and ju (soft). These kata also contain the true fighting techniques of goju.
Gekisai Dai Ichi
This kata was created by Miyagi Sensei in 1940 out of his desire to popularize Goju-Ryu within the high school system in Okinawa.
Gekisai Dai Ni
This kata was created by Miyagi Sensei in 1940 out of his desire to popularize Goju-Ryu within the high school system in Okinawa. Gekisai Dai Ni introduces open-hand techniques and neko ashi dachi movements.
Saifa utilizes tai-sabaki (body-shifting) and many escape techniques. Movements are flowing and free of tension.
This kata introduces grasping, pulling and unbalancing techniques. As a result, shiko dachi is used throughout the kata. The kata fits a strong, well-formed person and emphasizes balance. Some of the applications are go (hard) in nature and include stepping forward into the attack.
This kata is said to have been the favorite of Miyagi Sensei in his later years. The kata employs joint-locking and close-quarter fighting techniques. It also includes four directional fighting. The first movement is likened to a tiger stalking his prey.
Sanseru , 36 hands or movements
Sanseru employs many entry, joint attacks and defenses against kicking attacks. The kata pattern is slow smooth movements followed by fast explosive ones (as in the first movement of the kata). The kata also includes four directional fighting.
Sepai , 18 hands or movements
Sepai uses many movements that require coordination between the hips and hands. It also includes movments that are part go (hard) and part ju (soft).
Kururunfa is a very quick kata perfectly balancing go and ju. In addition, tai sabaki is extensively used in several ways – and twisting the hip.
Sesan , 13 hands or movements
Sesan contains many unusual techniques and demonstrates and combines go and ju – circular and straight, speed and heavy-muchimi techniques are combined.
Suparimpei , 108 hands or movements
The most advanced and intricate kata of the Goju-Ryu system. The kata contains a lot of open double hand techniques.