Kata and the lesson plan for knife-hand

Kata are not random collections of technique. There is a structure to them which imparts the methods in a logical and ordered way.

In this video, we look at the lesson plan for shuto-uke (“knife hand”) as presented by the kata Kushanku / Kanku-Dai / Kosoken (and Pinan Shodan / Heian Nidan).

The fundamental job of shuto-uke is to get past the enemy’s limbs so the forearm or hand can get to the target. This is “Lesson 1” as presented by the kata.

The kata shows three shuto-uke in a straight line. It is not three techniques that is being shown, but two transitions (Left to Right, and Right to Left). Of course, you only need one right shuto-uke for this.

“Lesson 2” is, therefore, how to transition to the other side should the initial strike be blocked.

When we next see shuto-uke in the kata, it is done at 90-degrees, followed by one at 45-degrees. Having gone through the preceding lessons, the kata is now teaching us how to add in shifting to a 90-degree angle. And then how to shift to an alternate angle should the first method fail. This addition of the angles is “Lesson 3”. This is repeated on the other side; so shifting to both sides of the enemy is covered.

As discussed in the video, there is widescale misunderstanding about what the angles in kata represent. The angle is NOT the angle the enemy is attacking us from; instead it shows us the angle we should be attacking the enemy from. Understanding this greatly helps us make sense of kata. It also has historical authority too:

“The meaning of the directions in kata is not well understood, and frequently mistakes are made in the interpretation of kata movements. In extreme cases, it is sometimes heard that "this kata moves in eight directions so it is designed for fighting eight opponents" or some such nonsense …

“… [The kata angles] show us that we can move either left or right to put ourselves in the most advantageous position to protect ourselves.” - Kenwa Mabuni, Karate-do Nyumon, 1938.

We can see this in effect when it comes to the way the shuto-uke are presented in the kata.

So, there is a very clear lesson plan in effect within the kata:

1 – Learn the method.

2 – Learn to transition to the other side should the method initially fail.

3 – Now add in the use of angles for optimal tactical positioning.

Kata encapsulate full fighting systems. This not only includes the techniques, the drills, the principles, the tactics, etc, but also the lesson plan. Start at the beginning of the kata and work your way through to the end as the kata continually builds on the earlier lessons.

All the best,


PS The YouTube link can be found HERE

Practical Kata Bunkai: Kata and the lesson plan for knife-hand