Requisites for Training

Aspects of Training

Kihon is the practice of fundamental techniques: blocking, punching, striking, and kicking. These techniques are the beginning and end of karate -- a karateka (practitioner of karate) may learn them in a matter of months, yet fail to master them after a life's worth of training. Hence, basic techniques demand regular practice, applied with as much concentration and effort as possible.

According to the late Sensei Masatoshi Nakayama, the karateka must practice kihon with the following in mind:

Form - Balance and stability are necessary to basic techniques. Kicking -- in which one leg supports the entire body -- is an example of technique that depends on the karateka's sense of balance. Karate movements involve shifting the body's center of gravity, which demands good balance and control of the body. In addition, the karateka requires stable joints, stances, and posture to deliver (or withstand) maximum impact in (or from) a blow.

Power and speed - Karate would be meaningless without kime, the ability to concentrate the greatest amount of force at the point of attack (or block). Those with great muscular strength do not excel at karate if they never learn to use their muscles to the greatest effect. The karateka who excels does so by maximizing her muscular power through kime. In addition, the karateka's power is directly related to the speed of her techniques. However, speed is ineffective without proper control.

Concentration and relaxation of power - The karateka cannot generate maximum power if her punches rely on the arm's muscles alone, or her kicks on the leg's muscles alone. The greatest level of power comes from concentrating all of the karateka's strength, from every part of the body, on the target. In addition, the karateka must generate power efficiently, using power when and where it is needed. Maximum power is required only at the point of impact. Until then, the karateka should stay relaxed and avoid generating unnecessary power. By tensing the wrong parts of the body or tensing at the wrong time, the karateka only diminishes the amount of power that goes into her block or attack. While she is relaxed, the karateka should stay mentally alert.

Strengthening muscle power - The karateka must not only understand the principles of kihon, she must give them effect with strong, elastic muscles. Strong muscles demand constant, earnest training. They also require the karateka to know which muscles to use in her techniques: well-trained muscles will lead to strong and effective karate.

Rhythm and timing - Karate has its own rhythm that karateka should come to recognize and understand. No technique takes place in isolation; in combining basic techniques, the karateka should pay attention to the timing of her techniques as well as the techniques themselves. A master karateka's movements not only contain a great deal of power but also rhythm and, in their own way, beauty. A sense of rhythm and timing will help the karateka understand the techniques and the art in general.

Hips - The hips are a crucial, yet oft-neglected component in executing karate techniques. Hip rotation adds power to the upper body, and is thus essential to strong blocks and punches. The hips' proximity to the body's center of gravity make them the foundation of strong, stable movements, good balance, and proper form. The karateka cannot move as smoothly, quickly, or powerfully if the hips are passive. For this reason, teachers often remind their students to "block with your hips," "punch with your hips," and "kick from your hips."

Breathing - The karateka should coordinate breathing with her techniques. Breathing enhances the karateka's ability to relax and concentrate maximum power in her techniques. Correct breathing -- fully exhaling when finishing a strike, for example -- is necessary to developing kime. The karateka should not breathe in a uniform manner; her breathing should change with the situation. Proper inhaling fills the lungs completely. Proper exhaling leaves the lungs about 20 percent full -- exhaling completely makes the body limp, leaving the karateka vulnerable to even a weak attack.

Kata are formal exercises which combine basic karate techniques -- blocking, punching, striking, and kicking -- into a series of predetermined movements. Kata combines offensive and defensive techniques, proper body movement, and changes in direction. The kata teach the karateka to dispose of numerous attackers from at least four directions. Although the kata do not involve visible opponents, the karateka, through serious study of the kata, learns the art of self-defense and the ability to calmly and efficiently deal with dangerous situations. For these reasons, the kata have been the core of karate training since ancient times.

According to Sensei Nakayama, there are five characteristics of kata:

  1. For each kata, there are a fixed number of movements. (The basic Heian kata have 20 to 27 movements; advanced kata can have over 60.) One must perform the movements in the correct order.
  2. One must begin and end the kata at the same point on the floor. Each kata has its own "shape" -- depending on the kata, the karateka may move along a straight line or a "T"- or "I"-shaped formation.
  3. There are kata that all karateka must learn, and kata that are optional. The former consist of the five Heian kata and three Tekki kata. (Today, Tekki 2 and Tekki 3 are usually optional.) The optional kata are Bassai-dai (although most brown belts practice this for their black belt exam) and Bassai-sho , Kanku-dai and Kanku-sho, Empi, Hangetsu, Jitte, Gankaku, Jion. Other kata include Meikyo, Chinte, Nijushiho, Gojushiho-dai and Gojushiho-sho, Hyakuhachiho, Sanchin, Tensho, Unsu, Sochin, Seienchin, Ji'in, and Wankan.
  4. There are three aspects to performing a dynamic kata: (1) correct use of power; (2) correct speed of movement, be it fast or slow; (3) expansion and contraction of the body. The kata's beauty, power, and rhythm depend on these aspects. One bows at the beginning and end of the kata. Bowing is part of the kata, too.

Kumite and kata are complementary training methods. In kata, one learns basic techniques; in kumite, one applies them with a sparring partner. The principles of kihon (see above) still apply to kumite: the karateka must apply proper karate techniques, demonstrate correct power and speed, and, above all, exercise good control -- contact is prohibited. One must remember that, while kumite is a useful application of the fundamentals learned through kata, it is not a substitute for kata.

There are three types of kumite: basic kumite, ippon (one-step) kumite, and jiyu (free) kumite.

Basic kumite, consisting of five- or three-step sparring, permits the karateka to cultivate basic blocking and attacking through prearranged techniques. It is a useful introduction to sparring for beginning students.

Ippon kumite also involves basic, prearranged techniques, but adds emphasis on body movements and proper distancing from the opponent.

Jiyu kumite, techniques are not prearranged. The karateka may freely engage her physical and mental powers, but must strictly control her attacks -- contact is prohibited. The karateka must be well-trained and disciplined enough to make a powerful blow that stops just before it reaches its target. For these reasons, only advanced students may practice jiyu kumite.

(Note: Most karateka learn jiyu ippon kumite -- a combination of one-step and free sparring -- as brown belts. In this semi-free form of sparring, both sides must use basic, prearranged techniques, but may act according to their own rhythm and timing. Jiyu ippon kumite often serves as a bridge between ippon and jiyu kumite.)


Standing bow Stand with your heels together, feet pointing slightly outward (like a "V"). Keep your knees straight, elbows straight and relaxed, hands open and at the seams of your pants (the outside of your legs), and fingers together. Bend at the waist, about 20 degrees forward. Unbend. The whole bow takes about a breath's length.

Kneeling (seiza)  Place your left knee on the floor, then right knee. Sit down on your feet. The big toes of your left and right feet should overlap (either one on top). Keep your back straight and shoulders relaxed. Rest your left hand (hand open, fingers together) on your left thigh and your right hand on your right thigh, so that your fingers point inward. For anatomical reasons, men should have about a fist or two's width between their knees, and women should have their knees together.

Bowing in seiza   Slide your left hand from the thigh to the floor immediately in front of the left knee (not too far in front, i.e., your left elbow shouldn't touch the floor). Do the same with your right hand, so that the right hand motion is slightly behind (in time) the left hand motion. Your palms should touch the floor to show deep respect. Bow at the waist, taking a little longer than for a standing bow (forehead comes close to the floor, but does not touch it). Slide your hands back up to their initial position on the thighs, this time with your left hand slightly behind the right hand.

Entering and exiting the dojo:  Bow, standing at the entrance, facing the dojo or towards the front of the dojo, whenever you are entering or exiting the dojo.

Lateness: First of all, try not to be late. But if you are late, bow in, then quietly kneel near the entrance. Wait until the instructor acknowledges you. Then bow while kneeling, get up, and quickly join the group. If you arrive just as everyone is kneeling during the opening sequence (see below), don't move or make any noise -- just wait until class begins warming up, and bow in as when the instructor acknowledges you, in the manner described above.

Opening sequence

When you hear "Line up!" or "Seiretsu!", quickly form a line, standing shoulder to shoulder, facing the front of the dojo, in rank order. Try to line up so that the instructor, standing before your line, is right in the middle of the line. If class is so big that the senior student says to form more than one line, try to line up so that the lines are approximately the same length.

Seiza! Sit down in seiza, so that knees are aligned with the person on your left.

Mokusoh! Quiet meditation -- just lower your gaze, relax, and breathe.

Mokusoh yame! End meditation.

Shomen ni rei! Bow to the front of the room (which shows respect for your training space, to the institution of karate, and to the line of instructors who brought it to your instructor).

Sensei ni rei! Bow to the instructor. When you're bowing, you can say onegaishimas, which, roughly translated, means "Please," i.e., please teach me, please help me, please hold class, etc. (You may also say oss, the ubiquitous sign of respect in karate.) At the signal of the instructor, get up quickly, without necessarily waiting for the person on your left to rise.

Closing sequence

Same as the opening sequence, except that after the meditation ends (mokusoh yame!), the senior student lead the class in a recitation of the dojo kun:

Dojo Kun

Seek Perfection of Character - Hitotsu! Jinkaku kansei ni tsutomuru koto.

Be Faithful - Hitotsu! Makato no michi o mamoru koto.

Endeavor to excel - Hitotsu! Doryoku no seishin o yashinau koto.

Respect others - Hitotsu! Reigi o omonsuru koto.

Refrain from violent behavior - Hitotsu! Kekki no yu o imashimuru koto.

Repeat the dojo kun in unison and loudly, but not so loudly that your voice stands out. During the bow to the instructor, sensei ni rei!, you may say domo arigatoh gozaimashita, which means "Thank you very much." At the end, the instructor will get up and perform a standing bow, indicating that the training session is finished. Remain in seiza as the sensei exits the training floor. Afterwards, the senior student will turn to face the other students and say otagai ni rei!, at which time all the students will bow and may then take leave of the dojo. 

Clean-up - Before class starts, there is usually some sort of dojo-cleaning process. During this time, the junior rank students should actively participate to the extent they can.


Pronunciation Assistance:

Vowels are short and pronounced as follows:

 "a" as in "father"
 "i" as in "teen" except shorter
 "u" as in "boot" except shorter
 "e" as in "bet"
 "o" as in "boat" except shorter and without the off-glide

Longer vowel sounds are the same sounds as above, but given more time.

 "aa," a longer "a"
 "ii," a longer "i"
 "uu," a longer "u"
 "ei," a longer "e"
 "oh," a longer "o"

Except for the above, if you see two or more vowels in a row, they are each pronounced clearly without becoming a single diphthong. An apostrophe is used where a glottal stop occurs (like between the "n" and the second "a" when pronouncing "an apple").

Consonants always take their "hard" sounds. So "gi" is pronounced with a hard "g" (i.e., not "ji"). "Ch" is always as in "cheese."

The hyphens don't mean anything but serve to distinguish separate syllables when it might be ambiguous, or to separate a word into two semantic parts. There shouldn't be a pause for hyphens.

Parentheses are used whenever a word might be omitted by some people, or if the translation could mean more than one thing. For example, "nukite," literally only means "spear hand," which is just the name of the "weapon" you form with your hand, but it is also often used to mean the attack, "spear-hand thrust." So "thrust" is in parentheses.

Quotation marks are used on the English side to distinguish between literal translations of the Japanese terms from their more figurative meanings (quotes indicate literal translation).


  ichi       1          roku       6
  ni         2          shichi     7
  san        3          hachi      8
  shi        4          ku (kyuu)  9
  go         5          juu       10

When counting for class, just pronounce the first syllable of bisyllabic numbers (i.e., ich, rok, shich, hach), for shorter, sharper counting.


  hachinoji-dachi -- ready stance
  zenkutsu-dachi -- front stance
  koh-kutsu-dachi -- back stance
  kiba-dachi -- horse stance / saddle stance
  neko-dachi -- cat stance
  sochin-dachi / fudoh-dachi -- sochin stance / "immovable" stance
  sanchin-dachi -- "hourglass" stance
  hangetsu-dachi -- "half moon" stance

Arm attacks:

  tsuki -- punch
  oi-zuki -- lunge punch
  gyaku-zuki -- reverse punch
  kizami-zuki -- jab punch
  nukite -- spear-hand (thrust)
  ura-ken -- back hand (strike)
  empi -- elbow (strike)

Leg attacks:

  keri -- kick
  mae-geri -- front (snap) kick
  mawashi-geri -- round house kick
  (yoko-geri) kekomi -- side thrust kick
  (yoko-geri) keage -- side snap kick
  ushiro-geri -- back (thrust) kick

Attacking levels:

  joh-dan -- "upper level" / face
  chuudan -- "middle level" / stomach / solar plexus
  gedan -- "lower level" / groin


  age-uke -- rising block
  ude-uke -- "arm block", often used to mean outside block
  soto-uke -- outside block (see above)
  uchi-uke -- inside block
  gedan barai -- down block / "lower level sweep"
  shuto-uke -- knife-hand block
  nagashi-uke -- "flushing block" / deflecting block
  kakiwake-uke -- two-handed "separating" block
  juuji-uke -- two-handed "cross" block


Translations are approximate transliterations of the Chinese characters used to "spell" the kata names.

  kata -- form(s)
  heian shodan -- "stable and secure" / "stable peace,"  "first level"
  heian nidan --  "stable and secure" / "stable peace,"  "second level"
  heian sandan -- "stable and secure" / "stable peace,"  "third level"
  heian yondan -- "stable and secure" / "stable peace,"  "fourth level"
  heian godan - - "stable and secure" / "stable peace,"  "fifth level"
  tekki shodan -- "iron horseman," "first level"
  tekki nidan -- "iron horseman,"  "second level"
  tekki sandan-- "iron horseman,"  "third level"
  bassai dai -- "destroying a fortress," "greater" version (*)
  bassai sho [shoh] -- "destroying a fortress," "lesser" version (*) 
  empi -- "flight of the swallow"
  jion -- "compassion and favor" (This is a Buddhist term and possibly   
  the name of some temple.)
  kankuu dai -- "observing the sky/emptiness," "greater" version (*)
  kankuu sho [shoh]--"observing the sky/emptiness," "lesser" version(*)
  jutte / jitte -- "ten hands"
  hangetsu -- "half moon"
  nijuushiho -- "twenty-four steps"
  gankaku -- "boulder crane" (the bird on a rock)
  sochin [soh-chin] -- "strength and control" (*)
  unsu [unsuu] -- "cloud hands"
  gojuushiho (dai) --  "fifty-four steps," "greater" version (*)
  gojuushiho sho [shoh] -- "fifty-four steps," "lesser" version (*)
  meikyo [meikyoh] -- "bright mirror"
  ji'in -- "compassion and shadow" (Possibly another temple.)
  chinte -- "rare hands"
  wankan -- "king's crown"

(*) kata with "lesser" or "greater" attached ("sho" or "dai") don't really mean "lesser" or "greater" in any quantitative sense. It's just a way of distinguishing two different kata.


  kumite -- sparring
  (kihon) gohon kumite -- (basic) five-step sparring
  (kihon) sanbon kumite -- (basic) three-step sparring
  (kihon) ippon kumite -- (basic) one-step sparring
  jiyuu ippon kumite -- semi-free one-step sparring
  (jiyuu) kumite -- free sparring

Other words:

  kihon -- basic(s)
  ki-ai -- "spirit focus" / a focusing yell
  kime -- "decision" / focus
  rei -- bow
  yoh-i -- "get ready" / often a command to stand in hachinoji-dachi
  yame -- stop 
  yasume -- rest, relax
  maware / mawatte -- turn
  hajime -- begin
  mokusoh -- "quiet meditation"
  dojo [doh-joh] -- "way place,"  the place where you train
  dojo kun -- dojo desiderata
  seiza -- "proper sitting" / kneeling
  sempai -- senior student
  koh-hai -- junior student

Rank Tests


Rank tests are given locally, three times a year, and are designed to assess the participant’s level of mastery of the 3 aspects of training, kata, kihon, and kumite. Belt ranks below the Black Belt level are earned in a numerically descending sequence:

Black Belt tests are usually held in conjunction with regional and national training camps as well as the national tournament. Black Belt ranks are earned in a numerically ascending sequence.