Chito-ryu Kata

By Rune Ingebrigtsen.

This is from the Soke Cup 2007 phamplet.


Compared to many other styles, Chito-ryu has relatively few kata. O’Sensei learned a great number of kata over his life from many different teachers. When he decided to design his own system, however, he chose to bring into it only kata which would promote the principles he had decided should form the basis for proper training. He also removed techniques from some kata, where these techniques were repeated several times. For this reason, many of the Chito-ryu kata are shorter than similar ones in other styles.

The sequence you learn kata in Chito-ryu is not an accident. It is structured so that you first learn basic techniques and principles, and then move on to more advanced skills. In this way you are building skills while you are practicing one kata, that are based on previous kata and at the same time you are preparing yourself for the more difficult techniques you will learn in the next kata. To make the kata easier to learn it will normally contain some techniques and principles found in the previ- ous kata you were taught.

The kata in Chito-ryu are distinguished first and foremost by being very different from each other when compared to the curriculum of other styles. In Chito-ryu a progression is in place where your technical skills improve as you practice, get better, and move to more advanced kata. Typically the lower kata contains techniques that are forceful and that use fists, while the higher kata are more based on soft and flowing techniques using open hands.

A problem when comparing kata from different ryu, is the understanding of what the Japanese word “kata” really means. It is common to understand kata as set pattern of karate techniques, and if this pattern is changed, it is not the same kata any more. However, this might not be a very insightful interpretation of how the word kata can be used. On a slightly deeper level of understanding, one can say that the word kata represents one or more principles of how to deal with an opponent, or one or more training doctrines to prepare for this. In this way we can say that a particular kata represents a certain model or strategy of how to deal with the problems of facing a hostile situation – for example evasion by dropping down (Kusanku), counterattacking by strong defense (Seisan) or attacking before the attacker has completed his attack (Ryushan).

With the latter understanding in mind, we can see that one kata can have different forms or combinations of techniques depending on the style and still represent the same principles. It is then our challenge to grasp the models that are present in each kata and express these when we perform the techniques of the kata.

When practicing kata in this manner, kata becomes more meaningful in relation to application and self-defense. You can apply the strategies from different kata into the practice of bunkai and kumite. Training bunkai should be a laboratory situation for you to test which strategy works best in certain situations and against certain opponents and how you must apply your strategies to make them work.

It must be understood that the above interpretation of kata can be applies to other dogma in the study of karate. For example dachi – do you think that seisan-dachi is a fixed, predetermined way to place your feet on the floor. Or could it be better understood as a principle of how to use your body in order to achieve maximum mobility and strength in your waza? Anyway, this has a lot to do with the understanding of Shu-Ha-Ri and is a bit beyond the scoop of this article.

In Chito-ryu each kata has its own characteris- tics and its own history. Below is a little infor- mation about the background of the Chito-ryu kata:



Shi – the number four
Ho – side,direction
Hai – pray or greeting


Shihohai can be translated as a greeting in four directions. This kata is only found in Chito- ryu and styles that is derived from Chito-ryu. O’Sensei told us that this kata was used in formal ceremonies at the court of the King in Naha. O’Sensei learned the kata from Aragaki. The techniques in Shihohai are simple, direct and strong. The kata provides practice for the basic principle Ichi gan ni soku san tan shi ryoku.



Sei – formal, correct San – line up, position

O’Sensei learned this kata from Kyan. Our version has a lot in common with many of the styles that trace their tradition back to Kyan. Funakoshi gave the kata the Japanese name Hangetsu. The kata teaches how to defend using counter-attack. It also gives good training in correct stances.



Ni – the number two Sei – the number ten Shi – the number four


Niseishi is an old fashioned way of expressing the number 24. In modern Japanese the pronunciation would be Nijushi. The name of the kata is normally interpreted to mean 24 steps or 24 techniques.

Chito-ryu Niseishi is not the same kata as the one know as Nijushiho/Niseishi in other styles.

The origin of the kata is somewhat uncertain. O’Sensei wrote that he learned the kata at from Aragaki, but the way he has passed it on, it is certain that it has been supplemented with techniques and principles from the Chinese martial art, White Crane.

Niseishi is also considered preparation for the kata Sanchin. O’Sensei changed the breathing techniques and positions in Niseishi because he felt that the usual way of carrying out these techniques could be damaging to one’s health when practiced over many years.



Batsu – draw out, remove, transition Sai – close, set up, prevent


Bassai is normally translated to mean to storm a fortress or penetrate a defence.

O’Sensei learnt this kata from Kyan, and our version has much in common with the kata taught by the styles that consider Kyan their origin. Kyan himself had been taught the kata in the village named Tomari form a master named Oyadomari Kokan.

Bassai is considered one the oldest katas from Okinawa. It is characterized by hard, direct techniques that require a soft, energetic and flexible body technique if it is to be performed properly. Many compare these skills with movement of a snake when it attacks its prey.



Chin – calming, muffle To – easterly direction


The best translation of Chinto is fighting techniques from the east.

Chinto is found both in the shuri-te and tomari-te traditions, and is used in many modern styles. Funakoshi gave the kata the Japanese name Gankaku, which translates into crane on a rock.

O’Sensei was taught this kata by Kyan, and adapted it by removing techniques that are repeated several times. For this reason our version is shorter that of other styles.

The usual interpretation of the kata is that it mimics the movements of a hawk when it attacks its prey. Soft, alert movements with whip like lash is important here.



So – forceful, brave Chin – calming, muffle


O’Sensei tells us that he learnt this kata from Aragaki, who also taught a version of the kata to several other students, among others Mabuni and Funakoshi. Their versions of the kata is, however, quite different from the Chito-ryu version of Sochin.

The techniques in Sochin is to be performed with strength and force from a low stance. It is suggested that the kata mimics the movements of an ox as it attacks.



Ro – crane Hai – mark


Rohai can be translated as the mark of the crane or the symbol of the crane. Many styles have katas that are named Rohai, but none of these resemble the two Chito-ryu versions.

O’Sensei indicated that he learned the Rohai katas from Higashionna, but many historians have suggested that this was not possible since no such kata is found in Naha-te. When the question was raised with Hokama, the well know expert on karate history, he felt that it was possible, since Higashionna had contact with practitioners of Tomari-te, where the kata is found.

The Rohai katas should be performed with energetic and light movements. Quick counter attacks, turning movements and avoidance movements characterizes Rohai.



Ten – roll, turn Shin – body

Tenshin simply means to turn the body. It most likely that O’Sensei developed this kata him- self, based on his own experience and knowledge.

Tenshin is without a doubt a very demanding kata, even though it appears simple. If you have poor balance or imprecise stances, you will find out in a hurry while performing Tenshin.


Quick rotation and shifting, avoidance and counter attack are the characteristics of Tenshin.



San – the number three Shi – the number ten Ryu – the number six


The usual translation of Sanshiru is the number thirty six. The Chito-ryu Sanshiru is quite different from katas with the same name in Goju Ryu or in Uechi Ryu. Most likely the Chito-ryu version is based on the kata Gojushiho (54 steps) that O’Sensei leant from Kyan.

This kata, which emphasizes strong defense techniques, must be classified as a very complicated and difficult kata.



Ryu – dragon San – mountain


Ryusan, which is normally translated as dragon that climbs a mountain, is a very rare kata, and is found in only a few styles outside Chito- ryu.

O’Sensei was taught the kata by Hanashiro, who in turned had learnt it from the Chinese master Gokenki. Gokenki was a practitioner of the Chinese martial art White Crane, and he trained with many karate practitioners on Okinawa around 1920.

Ryusan is very difficult kata based on steady coordination and force from the ground. All techniques are performed with an open hand.


The normal perception is that Kusanku is a name and does not describe the kata. Many historians make reference to Kusanku as a Chinese sailor that was shipwrecked on Okinawa. He lived in a cave and instructed the local population in karate, sometime around middle of 1700.

O’Sensei learnt this kata from Kyan, who in turn had got from Yara, who lived in the village of Chatan. Chatan Yara was a friend of Sakugawa, who had been a student of Kusanku, the Chinese sailor.

The Chito-ryu version of Kusanku is shorter than the one used in many other styles. Defence and attack in darkness of night is the special theme of the kata.

Sanchin, which stresses breathing techniques and muscle control, is by many seen as an exercise in meditation to achieve harmony between body and soul.


Kusanku is a very widespread kata. Funakoshi re-named the kata by the Japanese name Kanku, which means to look to the heavens.



San – the number three Chin – war, fight

Sanchin is common kata in the Naha-te tradition (Goju Ryu, Uechi Ryu, Shito Ryu, Isshin Ryu etc.) It has its origin in the martial arts practiced in Fukien in South China.

O’Sensei learnt the kata from Higaonna, who in turn had traveled to China to learn martial arts. In most of the styles using the kata, it is taught to relative beginners, but in Chito-ryu it is normally reserved for practitioners of 3.dan and higher.

The Chito-ruy version of Sanchin contains elements of the Naha-te kata Sanchin and a Goju-ryu kata called Tensho. Tensho was designed by Miyagi, who was a good friend of O’Sensei.


Sanchin, which stresses breathing techniques and muscle control, is by many seen as an exercise in meditation to achieve harmony between body and soul.

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