Black belt Kata’s


Kanku-Dai is required learning in every school of Shotokan Karate. Further, it is required for competition in the second round of elimination, along with Jion, Enpi, and Bassai-Dai. These four kata together are considered to be the very core of Shotokan Karate kata, and they are frequently referred to as the "Big Four" in Japan. Obviously the biggest of the Big Four kata is Kanku-Dai. Kanku-Dai surprisingly contains many close combat techniques and throws which become apparent if you are looking for them.

The name Kanku is frequently translated as "To look at the sky." A legendary Chinese diplomat named Kung Siang Chung supposedly brought .this kata from China or Okinawa. Other myths say that he created the kata. Others say that his student, Sakugawa, created the kata and named it after his teacher, Kung Siang Chung. The Okinawan way to pronounce the three kanji that make up the name Kung Siang Chung is Ku Shan Ku.

When Funakoshi brought this kata to Japan, he renamed it as part of his efforts to remove Okinawan culture from karate so that it would be more acceptable to the Japanese. He left the same three Chinese characters - Kung Siang Chung - in place, but pronounced them with the Japanese inflection. Kosokun

At some point the name Kosokun was abandoned in favor of the name Kanku and the -Dai suffix was appended when the kata Kanku-Sho was brought into the Shotokan canon. Today we know these two kata as Kanku-Dai and Kanku-Sho



Kanku-Dai is long. It contains 65 independent movements, and requires about 90 seconds to complete. That might not look like much on paper, but when you are at the three quarter mark in Kanku-Dai, you feel like you have been doing the kata for an hour. Kanku-Dai is the longest kata that style instructors teach their students.

Kanku-Dai is considered representative of Shotokan Karate. Kanku-Dai displays some typical Shotokan techniques, and the kata was supposedly Funakoshi's favorite kata. He performed it during his demonstration for the Crowned Prince (Hirohito) in 1922. Basically, the entire kata is like a compilation of the Heian.

The Root Kata

There is a more important reason for Kanku-Dai being such a prominent kata in the Shotokan system: It is the parent kata for the entire database of techniques of this system. It is the central point to which all other kata point.

Kanku-Dai contains many techniques seen in Shotokan Karate kata via the Heian kata. Kanku-Dai is considered very representative of Shotokan Karate, and the kata is revered as a repository of the most fundamental and important of Shotokan's technical practices. There are also many other unusual techniques alongside these primary movements. Kanku-Dai contains the exceedingly difficult two level kick which most Karate players never figure out. The two level kick is actually a kick to the middle level followed by another kick to the high level all within a single jumping action. However, most Karate players fudge this technique by raising the knee of one leg and kicking with the other.

Heian and Kanku-Dai

Kanku-Dai is the source kata for the Heian kata, it is said by some. These people point to the similarity of the Heian kata and Kanku-Dai. Since the Heian Kata act as a set of indexes to the techniques in Kanku, there is an obvious relationship. Perform a single technique in Kanku-Dai, find the same technique in Heian Godan, and you will see that Heian Godan shows more detail of how to perform the same technique or make an application out of it. The Heian and Kanku expand each other's techniques. They act as maps of each other.


Time to Completion

When properly performed, Kanku-Dai requires about 70 to 90 seconds to complete. However, some competitors in tournaments have been known to compress this time down to little over a minute. As time passes by, the kata are becoming performed more and more quickly. Mostly, I think, this is because kata are becoming performance art rather than fighting practice.


1. Look at the Sky - From the relaxed natural stance, bring your left and right hands open with thumbs extended. Overlap your left fingers over your right. Your thumbs should overlap at the thumbnail. The middle fingers should also overlap at the nails. Your index fingers will overlap at the first joint. Don't touch your thumbs end to end.

The hands should form a nice triangle. Likewise, do not bend the wrists. Keep the wrists straight. Pause here for a moment.

Now, keeping the elbows straight, raise the hands up slowly. Keep the eyes looking straight forward. Do not start looking through the triangle until it passes eye level.

Even though you are tempted to give yourself a bird's eye view through the triangle, keep your wrists straight. Raise the hands until your arms are 30 degrees short of straight up in the air. Be careful about the angle. You shouldn't bend backward to look up at the sky. The sky should be visible through your hands without pointing your triangular telescope straight up in the air. Move the arms into position slowly, but not too slowly, or you will bore everyone to death.

2. Big Circle - Part the hands and keep the elbows straight as you draw a wide circle with them. Slowly move both hands around the imaginary circle until they meet in

front of your hips. Close your thumbs almost immediately upon parting the hands.Draw a wide circle, but not so wide that you are reaching behind you and stretching your chest forward. Some people like to part their hands explosively, bursting them apart and then slowing them down for the rest of their journey around the circle. This is not standard, but is becoming more common in tournament performances in Japan. If you do burst your hands apart, only move them fast for about 18 inches in each direction, then slow them down.

When you bring your hands together, your right hand's blade edge will be placed lengthwise down and across the palm of your left hand. The right pinky nail should be over the end joint of the left index finger. The right palm heel is slightly inside and below the left palm heel. The thumbs should be contracted, not folded across the palm such that they appear to be stubby little nubs on the hands. Throughout this and all other open hand techniques, do not curve or curl the fingers of the hands. Try to expand your palms by stretching them open about as far as they go.

Pause at the end of this technique.

3. Two High Level Back Hand Blocks - From your current position, look to your left, and step so that the left foot becomes the front foot in a back stance. Since this is a back stance, don't move the torso forward, rather, simply lower yourself down by bending the right leg that will become the rear leg of the back stance, and shoot the left foot out as a brake.

Simultaneously move the left hand directly from its current position into a high level inside block performed with the back of the open sword hand. The right hand moves directly to the position open and touching the torso below the chest at the top of the abdomen. Again, fingers are straight, and palms are flat.

Now reverse positions into the mirror image. Neither of these blocks contains a folding action to prepare for the block. You simply move from where your hands are. While changing from one side to the other, the torso, this time, does move to the left as the left leg becomes the rear leg of the back stance, and the feet should pivot on the heels. The timing of these two movements is continuous. The first technique is a snap, and the second has a pause after it -> 1-2.

4. Shades of Bassai-Dai - Fold right arm over the left, and place the left hand at the right hip. Pull the left foot in and stand up into the natural position. Move the vertical sword hand out with increasing slowness and increasing tension. After it is fully extended for a brief moment, quickly punch with the right hand without turning your hips or your shoulders. Immediately fold your arms for a right side inside block, but do not turn your hips. Step to the side with the left foot strongly assuming a moderate-depth front stance. Some people turn their front foot to the side, others try to keep both feet to the front. I recommend turning to the side. The stance you assume should be in-line, don't try to give it width by stepping back.

As the foot lands, violently turn the hips and shoulders in synch with your block. It is extremely important that the hips turn with the block as you step. Do not fold the arms as you step, or you will lose the hip rotation from your blocking action. Keep your nose facing forward at all times. Turn your head to the right strongly to prevent cutting your eyes. Stand up quickly and mirror the action you just performed above exactly.


5. Triangle Kick - Step with the left foot out and forward at a 45° angle so that you place your foot at the third point of a triangle drawn from the two foot positions in the last technique. Do not slide the foot horizontally. Pull both hands to the left hip in a cup and saucer shape, and pull the right foot directly up to the left knee. Some people pull their right foot up to their left foot, and then they kick from there. Don't do that. Now that your foot is on your left knee make sure the right knee is pointing in the direction that you wish to kick. Extend the kick to your own shoulder level while simultaneously executing a right handed snapping back fist. Snap both the side snap kick and your back fist at the same time, bring the right foot back to the supporting knee strongly to focus in that position. Bring the back fist back to the right breast.

Look to your left immediately.

Fold the left arm over the right for a sword hand block. Fluidly step down into a back stance with the right leg as the rear leg. Block with the left hand as the right foot touches the floor and the rear knee settles into the stance.

6. Three Swords and a Spear - Pause for a moment, then step forward and sword hand block again. Pause again. Step forward with the left foot and hand and sword hand block. Without pausing, step forward with the right foot into a front stance and stab the right hand forward into a spear hand strike with the fingertips. The thumb should be folded in. The strike should be aimed inward toward the center of your own body. The left hand should be palm down and immediately under the right elbow. The left elbow should be bent at 90° forming a nice rectangle between the two arms and the chest. Kiai on this technique.

7. Title Theme - Look over the left shoulder. Shift the left foot over so that it is ready to become the front foot in a left sided front stance. As you perform this shift, move the left open hand down as if to block to the lower level with a sword hand block, and place the open right hand up in the air with the elbow at a 90° angle as if about to perform an outside block. Continue shifting the weight and turn the hips to the reverse half facing posture. The shoulders should finish facing 45° to the left. The right arm should strike in a round trajectory to the neck level with the palm flat and facing upward. The left hand should be in an open palm block to the upper level. The right elbow should be bent at about 10 degrees, and the right hand should be parallel to the floor. Some people strike with the right hand moving in a forward motion toward the target rather than a rounded motion. In fact, this seems to be becoming more and more popular. The strike should be performed with a round trajectory.

Front snap kick to your own chin height with the right leg, and as you snap the kick back and contract the muscles in the hamstring and calf strongly, pivot on the left leg to the rear. Fold the arms while the foot is still off of the ground so that the right is under the left, palm up, hand open. The left should be up over the right shoulder with the palm in toward the neck. Remember not to wrap your fingers around your neck, but rather keep them straight.

As you set your foot down, assume the Swastika posture. The left arm is moved down into a downward block synchronized with the right arm being moved into an upper level inside block to the rear. There is a trick to doing this movement properly. Make sure that the right arm, while moving upward, takes a curved trajectory. Do not pull it away from your left side in a straight line. Instead, make the right fist travel in a diagonal arc away from your face so that your fist goes over your head and is never close to your head horizontally or vertically. Most people bend their right elbow too much and pull the fist under their chins.

Fold the arms again as you did just before the swastika position, except this time shift your body weight forward into a front stance. Don't shift the front foot out to make room for the hips to rotate. Instead, just do the best that you can with that foot positioning. You won't be there long anyway.

Draw the hands back and slowly make a downward blocking motion as you do. Pull the left foot back and change your stance from low to high as you straighten the both knees and assume an L stance. The heels should be in line. Many people prefer to keep there left foot so that only the ball is touching, however, that is not required.

The timing for the strike, kick, swastika, fold, and pull back is 1..234..55555.

8. Repeat Chorus - Without turning to your rear, step forward with the left foot into a front stance and repeat the Title Theme.

9. Side Snap Kicks and Elbows - Mirroring Heian Yondan, from the down block position you are in now, pull the left leg up to the right knee. The left knee should point outward in the direction that you are going to kick. The left hand should be at the right waist in the cup and saucer position. Side snap kick to the left as you throw a left side back fist strike. Unlike the first back fist strike, don't snap this time.

Rather, left the back fist out after you strike. Snap the kick back immediately, though, and step down into a front stance that has no width - the heel s are in line. Drive the right elbow into the left palm, which is now being pulled back from the back fist strike. The fist of the elbow-strike hand can be palm down or palm inward. Typically n Shotokan kata, when you throw a single side snap kick, the back fist is snapped. When you throw two side snap kicks followed by elbow strikes, the back fist is left hanging extended after the strike.

Be careful not to bend at the waist when you throw the side snap kicks. Your shin, shoulder, hip, and knee should all form a straight line om target to chin upon the maximum extension of the kick.

From this position, pull the right knee to the left leg, turn the head to the other direction, and throw the mirror image of this technique.

10. Sword Hand Fan - Immediately following the elbow strike, turn 180° and assume a back stance. Throw a left handed sword hand block. Step forward and to the right at 45° and throw a right sword hand block. Turn to the right, and re-chamber the hand, throwing another right handed sword hand block. Step forward and to the left at 45°, and throw another right handed sword hand block.

Be careful to strongly and properly fold the arms for the sword hand block on each technique. Do not get sloppy because of the changing body dynamics caused by the different stepping and turning directions. Snap the head in the direction you are about to move quickly in a bird-like fashion between each step.

11. A Clean Kill - Pivot to the left and perform the strike-block combination with the open hands from the Title Theme of the kata. Front snap kick. As you step down, however, do not turn, but rather bring the left hand out in front of you with the open palm facing down at stomach level. The right fist should be somewhat behind the head, and right elbow should point from between the eyes. Pull the elbow down strongly as you lunge forward and plant the right foot, finishing by pulling the left foot forward into a crossed feet stance. This looks like a vertical back fist strike.

Now step back with the left foot, and fold the arms for a right side inside block. As the hips are snapped to the side, block with the arms in synchronicity with the hips

turning. Ideally, the stepping back, hips turning, and the blocking outward motion all happen simultaneously. Be careful to keep the nose pointed forward as you rotate the hips. Now throw two punches quickly, the first one snapping and the second one a thrust punch.

The rhythm of these techniques decreases with each technique you throw. The pause between the initial strike and the following front kick should be the longest pause in the sequence. The following techniques have less time between each, until finally the two punches have no time between them. 1....2...3..4.5.

12. Duck and Cover - Pivot in place on both feet, looking 180° to your rear. Pull the right hand from its punching position so that it raises up into an uppercut type of motion with the top of the fist even with the top of the head. The left arm leaves the hip and meets the right wrist half-way, applying a reinforcing action to the right wrist with the open left palm. The tip of the left middle finger should be even with the right wrist, and the left hand should be stiff and flat, not wrapped around the shape of the right arm.

As you perform the upper cut with the right hand, lift the right knee strongly into the chest and straighten the left knee. Just as fast as you raised up, now duck. Drop forward, with the left foot in place, putting both palms on the floor. Your hands should point inward so that they form a large triangle. Your front foot need not be flat on the floor, and your front knee is bent extremely deeply. The left leg is straight, and the left foot is turned to the side and on the floor.

13. Two Sword Hands - From that position, stand up and pivot to the left into a very deep back stance and throw a left side lower level sword hand block. Next, step forward and throw a middle level sword hand block.

Usually, this is the exact point when you begin to wonder if this kata will ever end, and it is also the point when you slow down to about 80% effort. This is where you want to give yourself a psychological boost so that you are not simply trying to finish, but rather are pushing very hard to look as you did in the very first techniques.

14. Inside blocks and punches - Turn 270° by pulling in the left foot to the right, pivoting to the left, and then stepping out with the left into a front stance. Throw an inside block, pause for just a moment, and then throw a reverse punch.

Now move the right foot to the right as you turn right 180° so that it becomes the front foot of a right side front stance. Throw a right handed inside block, pause, and then throw two middle level punches - the first one a snap, the next a thrust.

15. Who's Making This Stuff Up?  - I think these techniques are appended onto the end of the kata by someone back in history. Up to this point, the kata has been very balanced. When it moved left and right, there were always mirror image techniques.

When it moved straight up and back, the techniques were long, large, and usually involved stepping actions. From this point forward, the kata becomes, short, extremely variable, and choppy.

16. Side Snap Kick - Pick the right foot up, move the right fist to the left waist, and then side snap kick and back fist to the right side simultaneously. Snap the back fist back to the right breast, and then step down with the right foot, making it the rear foot in a left back stance. As you land sword hand block with the left hand - make sure to fold the arms before you set the foot down.

17. Spear Hand - Step forward into a front stance and execute a middle level spear hand as you did back during the first kiai. This set of three techniques, finishing with this one, is a sort of mini-version of the first batch of techniques in the beginning of the kata.

18. Anti-Jujutsu - Escape from a wrist lock. Move the right open hand up so that the elbow bends at a 90° angle and the fingers point at the ceiling. Rotate the right wrist so that the right palm points to the right. The wrist should turn counter-clockwise.

Pivot on the right foot as you step forward with the left foot and turn counter clockwise. As you step out with the left foot, you should finish into a horse riding stance. As you turn, raise the entire arm assembly over your head. As you begin to finish, pull the right hand down and back into a draw hand. The left arm should come down vertically in a back fist strike (no snap) from above. Shift to the left six inches and change the left arm into a bottom fist strike as a second, whippy technique.

Leave the arm out. Whether or not you fold the arms prior to this last movement is entirely optional.

19. Shades of Tekki - Pull the left arm back, open the palm. Strike with a right elbow strike into the left open palm. Twist at the waist, but do not allow the knees to move, collapsing the stance. After the strike, immediately pull both hands to the left waist in a cup and saucer action. Look to the right, and down block with the right arm to the right side from this horse riding stance position.

20. Circular Bell Ringing - Raise the right arm up as if doing an upper block, but bring the fist around a little so that it comes in from the left side. Pivot to the right so that the hips are fully facing the right side as you step up. Pull the left knee up into the chest as you step. Continue turning and stepping until you stomp down into a horse riding stance facing the opposite direction. As you stomp, reverse your arm positions. Both fists should be moved around the torso drawing a big circle. The upper block is more of a round punch, and the down block is actually a scooping inside block to the lower level. It is important these two techniques draw this circle.

As you draw up the knee, be careful to turn, lift, lower, and continue turning. If you lift, turn, then lower the knee, you'll be pivoting swinging your leg around. Keep the action tight like an ice skater's spin.

Punch straight down with the right fist downward and inside of the scoop block so that your arms cross at the wrists. This looks like an X-block in a photo, but it isn't, is it?

21. X-Block - Now comes the X-Block. Stand up by pulling both feet inward to the natural posture quickly as you straighten the knees. Shoot both hands upward in their fixed position, but open them on the way up. A strange rule of Shotokan Karate kata is that X-blocks are fists to the lower level and are open sword hands to the upper level. Bend your elbows at 120° and do not straighten them further. Look at your wrists - keep them straight. For some reason, there is a tendency to bend them upward. The shoulders should also be open to 120ůpward.

22. Crunch!  - Pivot on the right foot and turn to the right by stepping forward with the left foot. Continue looking around until your forward stepping left foot is now stepping backward and settling in to be the rear foot of a front stance. As you settle in, pull the hands down and ball them into fists.

23. Two Level Kick - Push off with the right leg as you lift and kick with the left leg to the middle level. Continue rising into the air (hope it was a good push) and now kick with the right leg to the upper level. Most people try to turn this into a knee raise and a single jumping kick. There should be two kicks performed in air - middle and high.

Hold the fists in the X position without tensing your shoulders or arms as you throw the two kicks.

24. Vertical Elbow Strike - The left foot will land first, then the right. Before the right foot lands, fold for the vertical back fist/elbow strike you did before. Finish into a front stance and perform the strike. Kiai.

25. Will It Ever End?  - Pause for a moment, and then scoop inside outward to the low level across the knees with the right arm as you pivot on the right foot and turn around 180° into a natural stance. Don't bend over at the waist. Straighten the knees as you finish the turn, and then raise the left hand from the hip as well so that both hands are headed upward drawing a wide circle with the elbows straight. Cross the arms at the wrists overhead, and then uncross them about chin height. Now lower the arms into the natural position.