Shotokan Myth #4 Returning to the starting point in Kata

Must we really return to the starting point in our kata?

When we do kata is it really mandatory that we come back to the exact spot where we started?  I can almost hear your reply; “Yes. Nakayama sensei said so in Best Karate.“  You are absolutely correct.  He listed 6 important points for kata in that famous book:

1. Correct Order

2. Beginning and End

3. Meaning of each movement

4. Awareness of target

5. Rhythm and timing

6. Proper breathing

For item 2 above, he clearly stated that “Kata must begin and end at the same spot on the embusen.  This requires practice.”

If you are in a tournament this is absolutely a requirement, isn‘t it?  If you are off by, say, one meter, I am sure those careful judges will take some points off of your performance.

Have you ever wondered why there is such a requirement?  Nakayama sensei did not explain why in his book.  Maybe it is such a natural thing and you may think I am wasting my time asking this.  But, I have wondered about this and foolishly investigated why for many years.  I was curious to know if the creators of kata (Itosu for Heian kata for an example) really designed all kata in such a way a performer will always return to the starting point.  After much investigation and direct questioning I concluded that this was not the case.  Someone changed the rule and created this new requirement of coming back to the exact starting point.  I wanted to find who was behind this and for what reasons.  This is a mystery and I wish to share my findings and my theory on this mystery with you today.

If you are a Nidan and above, you must have learned Chinte and this kata could be your tournament kata, especially if you are a female practitioner.  We know this is a very unique kata (Chinte literally means “unique or strange hand”,) but do you realize it also has a very unique (strange) ending (three hops backward)?  I have researched for many years and asked many sensei about these ending steps.  For the longest time, no one could give me a believable bunkai for these “unique” moves with the feet in heisoku dachi and hands clasped together.  It had been a big mystery to me, as I could not figure out the meaning of these strange hops.

The following is what I have found in the process of investigation.  One Japanese sensei, whose name I cannot reveal, told me it was for balance training.  Yes, it is indeed difficult to keep the balance with your feet and hands put together.  But if you think it through, it just does not make any sense as you wonder why they were put at the end of the kata.  After the final delivery of a kime technique (right gyaku zuki to chudan with ki-ai), we can expect a zanshin move as seen with the last step in Enpi.  However, why would anyone put three backward hopping steps that are not stable as a zanshin move?  Even if you buy this idea of having this balancing move there, why hop with two feet together?  Hopping with only one foot is more of a martial art move (like a tsuru ashi dachi in gankaku.)  No matter how much I considered the possibility, I cannot buy into this theory. (read more...)


Shihan Yokota has published numerous articles and books:

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  • R James says:

    One bunkai for the last moves of Chinte involve a choke with fast backward jumps to make the opponent fall backwards and enhance the choke effect. I’m surprised this wasn’t mentioned.

    Finishing at exactly the same place as starting a kata isn’t so important. It can change depending on the size and build of the person. It’s more important to perform the kata taking best advantage of one’s individual build and skills.

  • Sui Takahashi says:

    I just have one question. Is there any kata that anyone can think of where you don’t end up where you began? I can think of only one. In some systems of Shorin Ryu, in Pinan (Hinan) Godan, you end ahead of where you started. I would like to know if anyone knows why. I don’t know any valid reason for this.
    ~Sui Takahashi

  • Richard says:

    In some kata IT is not posible TO start en finish At The Same spot, look At The Bassai-Sho.

  • Perhaps the real goal is to worry less about the end location and instead focus on the nuance of correct technique. The kata is to teach skills, if you worry about the finish line you don’t pay attention to the curves along the road.

  • MIke O'Leary says:

    just for those that are not aware, Nihanchi, Nifanchi, and Tekki kata are all the same kata with the translation of the name being different dialects of Okinawa Hogan and Japanese. If you watch them it is obvious that there from the same root even if after years of separation they have a few subtle different moves.

    Mike O’Leary

  • MIke O'Leary says:

    Not all kata are designed this way, Nihanchi , Nifanchi, or Tekki kata do not do equivalant steps in either direction, They start with a half step. Therefore will always be a half step out in the end. The exercise , and that is exactly what ending up on your starting point is, is designed to standardize your stance in each movement. It was designed with the invention of tournament in this century. Tournament is not real fighting therefore most of the moves in the kata have been altered to make a pretty kata instead of a sylabus of fighting techniques. If you read Funakoshi he says that the low deep stances are for exercise, when you fight stand up. For example doing a deep horse stance in kata is good to strengthen the legs, but when you fight it is actually held much higher. If you dont hold it higher you cant move as fast. REturning to the original spot does work in some kata.. but not all… so it was one of those little exercises a sensei would get you to do to work on focus, stance, and all that stuff, but it is not a requirement for training to defend or fight.

  • Edward Brien says:

    In Shotokan..If you rotate on your heels,pay attention to your angles,and make sure your stances are consistent and the correct length,plus have paid attention to the correct distances of jumps etc you will end up back where you started.
    Now based on where you end up you have a formula to correct your form.
    That’s part of the discipline and the challenge.
    As for Chinte my personal feelings about the hopping tell me the Kara was unfinished for some reason,and the hops represent an effort to not add to someone else’s work and still end up at the beginning.
    Bunkai for the hops I don’t see any.


  • Roberto says:

    Nakayama just borrow Funakoshi’s Teachings. On his Original KARATE DO KIOHAN Funakoshi states that you must start and finish at the same spot.

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