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deltabluesman's picture
Shotokan Organizations

Hi everyone,

I'm trying to get a better idea of the different Shotokan organizations that exist today (the major ones).  Although I earned my first few kyu grades in a JKA Shotokan school, I did most of my karate training at an independent dojo that taught Shotokan blended with other arts.  We never spent much time talking about other Shotokan schools, so I don't really have a clear picture of how different they are. 

I realize that there are probably thousands of dojos that teach some variation of Shotokan, but I'm only talking about large organizations.  I've heard of JKA, ISKF, KWF, SKA, and HDKI.  And of course, I've seen a long list of different organizations on Wikipedia.  If someone has time, could you give me just a brief overview of the major differences between the most well-known organizations (if any)?  Do they all do one-step/two-step/three-step sparring?  Are the kata significantly different? 

For example, I recently watched some videos of kata performed by Honda Sensei, a graduate of Waseda University.  His Shotokan looks a bit different than what I'm used to:


I realize that there's probably a lot of politics between the organizations.  Let's avoid that . . . I don't want to start a debate.  I'm just trying to learn about the major differences in the way they practice.

Thanks in advance.

SimonSutherland's picture

I am a member of a club in the South of France which studies the Shotokan style. Our club is a member of the French Karate Federation, which registers clubs and members from all different styles of karate and martial arts. Under the heading of karate-do our black belt grading consists of 6 tests:

Kihon There are 3 parts to this test : Three-step, on-the-spot and multi-directional (a maximum of 3 techniques) solo and the jury's selection of 5 from 7 attacks against a target.

Kata The kata section has changed since I've been studying here. Initially the student chose one from the list of 5 and the jury imposed the second. Now the student selects two.

Bunkai A minimum of three examples of bunkai are expected to be presented from the kata of their level. Originally the jury asked the student to perform the kata then they would stop to indicate the sequence to explain, now the student selects the sequences.




The student can decide to do a traditional grading, as described above, or a competition grading, which includes :



Kihon-ippon-kumite and

they have to participate 5 times in either kata or combat competitions

These exams are structured the same for 1st, 2nd and 3rd Dan gradings.

The kata are :

1st Dan : Heian 1-5, Tekki ShoDan

2nd Dan : BASSAÏ DAÏ, En-Pi, Jion, Hangetsu, Kanku Daï

3rd Dan : Gankaku, Jitte, Kanku Sho, Bassaï sho, TEKKI NIDAN

4th Dan : Nijushi Ho, Sochin, JIIN, Unsu, Tekki Sandan

5th Dan : Gojushi Ho Sho, Chinté, Gojushi Ho Daï, Wankan, MEIKYO

Apart from this structure and the techniques that are listed by the federation, which could be asked for in the kihon, there is no common syllabus.

When I joined our club, as a green belt, our classes consisted of exercises which mirrored this same structure. Classes today follow the same structure, with more or less emphasis on kata, bunkai and kumite. Our focus is more kumite now. We have adults taking part in the same lessons as teenagers - all belt levels together.

The Federation's karate emphasis has changed from traditional "no contact" to : light-contact, semi-contact, karate-contact and karate-full-contact competitions. It accepted "Karate Mix" into the organisation around 2016 (our version of MMA).

The French Karate and Associated Disciplines Federation (FFKDA) : "As a delegated federation of the ministry in charge of sports, it alone is competent to assure any relation with the federations and foreign organizations of its disciplines, to establish international regulations and possibly organize international championships and competitions, as well as international, open, cup, or other meetings.". In 1975 the French Federation of Karate and Affiliated Martial Arts (FFKAMA) was formed as an independent organisation from the French Judo Federation. https://www.ffkarate.fr/ffk/

deltabluesman's picture


Thanks for the response.  This is very interesting, especially to hear about the introduction of Karate Mix.  I know you said that there's no common syllabus, but do you have a set of common standards for the kata?  Or are some variations allowed in the organization?

SimonSutherland's picture

Its difficult to say. I know that the jurys that I've had judge me at gradings have come from different styles (mostly wado) and that the criteria for judging are :


Ceremony and Etiquette


Balance and stability

Rythme and tempo

Force ("Techniques must give an impression of effectiveness")


Breathing and Kiai and, finally

Respect of the techniques and the original Kata diagram "The Kata is performed in its original form, that is to say respecting the positions, techniques and directions recommended by the style or school to which the candidate refers. For the first and second Dan of karate do, candidates must refer to the official Kata retained in this regulation. For the other grades, only the very small variations are tolerated, the jury reserving the right to question the candidate on the origin of the variant."

But I have never seen any official document (difficult to articulate on paper) that describes this "original form". So I guess its upto the individual instructors to "pass on" that form. I understand that from time to time the federation (?) indicates a change to a kata - which is easily recognised when people return to karate after many years of absence and find that the kata that they had been taught had changed. I remember when the cross-legged / crossed-arms position in Heian Godan raised the crossed-arms from low to mid-height - probably to make it easier (?!?). [I've seen this sequence "described" as "Technique : Ryoken-kosa-uke/ryoken-juji-uke, translation : Both fists cross block (X-Block), Stance : Kosa-dachi, Target : Gedan, Notes : Tobikomi (tobi)"]. I presume that this is the old definition and the new one might say "Target : Chudan". I agree that "talking kata" & "writing kata" are not as an effective technique of transmission as "doing kata"; but every little helps, or does it ?

There is a meeting coming up soon (held every year) where the people responsible for grading around the country gather. I presume that they discuss the grading criteria.

Also, from the Federation website,

"Thus, 16 state executives and 3 federal executives are placed with the FFK [French Karate Federation] by the ministry in charge of sports to contribute to the implementation of the sports policy of the State. They guarantee coherence between the sports projects of the federations and the priority orientations of the ministry. They hold the positions of National Technical Director (DTN), Deputy DTN (DTNA), National Coach (EN), National Technical Advisor (TNC), thus constituting the National Technical Directorate."

I would guess that the Technical director meetings discuss kata "original form" but its only a guess. This would then be transmitted down through the organisation through training sessions organised through-out the country.

I've found a document entitled "National Technical Guidelines" but the word "kata" doesn't appear and seems more an organisational/responsibilities document.

Someone in the instructor role might be able to shed some more light on the process of transmission. I'll ask at our next training session and continue this thread if anything interesting comes up.

Neil Babbage
Neil Babbage's picture

We're about as far away from a traditional Shotokan club as you can imagine, but the kata are Shotokan versions of the "standard" kata.  We actively encourage Dan graded students to modify kata to better meet their own requirements - I strongly suspect this is exactly what happened right from day one of karate in Okinawa and is the reason why subtle and not-so-subtle differences exist everywhere. Indeed, without a reference point it is easy to find changes appearing in your own kata performance without you even realising it. The way we address this is to choose a single unchanging reference point as the "approved baseline". For no particular reason this is Kanazawa's widely available videos. Personally I think anyone claiming to be performing the correct, pure or original form of a kata is talking rubbish!

Iain Abernethy
Iain Abernethy's picture

Neil Babbage wrote:
Personally, I think anyone claiming to be performing the correct, pure or original form of a kata is talking rubbish!

I’d agree. The claim is based on the premise that an “pure / original” form of a kata existed in the first place. As you say, the evidence is strongly against that:

“There are not now, nor has there ever been, any hard and fast rules regarding the various kata, it is hardly surprising to find that they change not only with the times but also from instructor to instructor”. – Gichin Funakoshi, Karate-Do: My Way of Life.

All the best,


deltabluesman's picture

Hi everyone,

Really appreciate the responses, thanks for the input and for your time.  I see what you mean about the differences in kata.  That was actually part of the reason I asked the question.  I sometimes go to seminars put on by other schools and it's pretty common to hear about the "correct" form of a kata (or to hear instructors talk about the way a kata is taught by a certain Japanese instructor, etc).  You get the impression that there's a set of widely agreed-upon standards for the kata.  And of course, I've never been to any of the major kata competitions, so I honestly had no idea whether that was true.  (I did know that there were major differences between the karate of Funakoshi's younger days and the 3K karate that developed much later on in his life.)

Regardless, it's an interesting thing to think about.  I had always assumed that my instructor or his instructor modified our kata at some point in the past few decades.  But then I ran across the video of Honda Sensei and realized that his Bassai Dai has a lot of the features I thought were "unique" to our version.  Now I'm thinking that these kata variations may actually be significantly older. 

Thanks again for the input, and especially for that quote from Funakoshi.  

Marc's picture

In Germany we have two major associations with regard to Shotokan karate.

There is the German Karate Federation (Deutscher Karate Verband, DKV) who are the official body representing Karate in Germany (they provide the national team). They are a member of the German Olympic Sports Confederation and the World Karate Federation.

The DKV has member organisations in each German federal state. Clubs are members of those federal organisations. Clubs can register as being style specific. Each style division elects a representative into the boards of the federal organisations and the national federation. Shotokan is one of the biggest style divisions within the DKV.

The other important organisation is the German branch of the Japanese Karate Association (Deutscher JKA-Karate Bund, DJKB). It has a centralist structure build around their head instructor Hideo Ochi.

Hideo Ochi was once the national coach of the DKV. When he was replaced in 1993 he left the DKV and founded his own organisation, now the DJKB.

deltabluesman wrote:
Do they all do one-step/two-step/three-step sparring?

The Shotokan branch of the DKV as well as (as far as I know) the DJKB both include X-step sparring in their respective exam syllabi.

The DKV offers an optional different exam syllabus for Shotokan clubs that does not include X-step sparring but instead requires either kata bunkai, self-defence or sports kumite to be shown with a partner.

deltabluesman wrote:
Are the kata significantly different?

As far as I can tell, the standard in both major organisations is pretty good.

If you'd like to see examples of the Shotokan kata versions as taught in Germany you could have a look at national coach Efthimios Karamitsos' Youtube channel:


As a treat enjoy the excellent performance by the German kata team in the 2014 WKF finals.


All the best,


deltabluesman's picture


Thanks for your response and for sharing those links.  I really enjoyed the team performance of Gankaku . . . incredible that they can synchronize their movements like that, especially on the long balancing sequences.  I have a lot of appreciation for their art and devotion.  I don't use that sort of traditional, long-range bunkai, but I do appreciate the control and timing it takes to pull off those sequences at the end.  Very impressive display as a team.

I'm in the USA, so things are much more decentralized.  Most of the karate clubs I've encountered have been independent or are part of smaller organizations.  Lots of variety.  I think it's a good to have freedom for instructors to express themselves independently, but the styles can sometimes evolve so much as to become something else entirely. 

Again, appreciate the feedback and the responses.