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Keith Keffer
Keith Keffer's picture
Rotating Curriculum - Kata

Has anyone tried using a rotating curriculum to teach the Heian/Pinan series of katas? Or for that matter, any series of kata.  I'm curious as to what the pros and cons of doing it were for your school.



Tau's picture

Mike Turbitt of Team Black Belt in Solihull. This is how he teaches his childrens class. 

Philios's picture

This topic comes at a great time for me.  I am currently in the process of designing a hybrid rotating-linear curriculum for our Shotokan club.  I am one of a handful of instructors at the dojo, and although it is great for students to get different perspectives on the same principles from multiple sources, there is a clear need for some consistency in the topics being covered.  In the past, instructors would just teach whatever they felt like covering that day.  There was usually a period a few weeks before testing where we really focus on testing requirements, and then after the test there is a period where all kyu grades are learning new katas.  With minimal senior grades or instructors on hand, trying to teach a different new kata to multiple levels in the same class has proven to be difficult and ineffective.  Worse yet, we've noticed that there is minimal time for students to review past material and therefore they often forget the "lower" katas or portions of them.

As for the success in implementing a rotating curriculum, I know that the Gracie Academy follows a rotating curriculum, and I have heard of quite a few TKD dojangs who have implemented it with good results.  Students all learn the same material so it is easier to teach large groups with less instructors/assistants, the only difference is what they are evaluated on at the end of a rotation.

I am basing my curriculum on the grading syllabus that our karate organisation follows, and although not everyone will regularly do belt grading on a 4-month cycle, the curriculum is framed around a 4-month (16-week) testing cycle.  Our dojo has classes for beginners (beginner to 7th kyu), intermediate (6th kyu to 4th kyu), advanced (3rd kyu to black), as well as an All Levels family class.  I chose to create a beginner curriculum, intermediate curriculum, and an advanced curriculum to match the ranked classes.

Beginners for example will cover Heian Shodan, Heian Nidan, and Heian Sandan in one 16-week cycle.

Week 1 - Heian Shodan

Week 2 - Heian Shodan

Week 3 - Heian Shodan Bunkai Elements

Week 4 - Heian Shodan, Heian Nidan, Heian Sandan Review  (TEST PREP WEEK)

Week 5 - Heian Nidan

Week 6 - Heian Nidan

Week 7 - Heian Nidan Bunkai Elements

Week 8 - Heian Shodan, Heian Nidan, Heian Sandan Review  (TEST PREP WEEK)

Week 9 - Heian Sandan

Week 10 - Heian Sandan

Week 11 - Heian Sandan Bunkai Elements

Week 12 - Heian Shodan, Heian Nidan, Heian Sandan Review  (TEST PREP WEEK)

Week 13 - Heian Shodan

Week 14 - Heian Nidan

Week 15 - Heian Sandan

Week 16 - Heian Shodan, Heian Nidan, Heian Sandan Review  (TEST WEEK)

In any one class there will be one particular kata we focus on, but we will review the other two as a warmup.  Those who don't know the kata will follow along as best they can.  So week 1 for instance, the main focus is on learning the pattern and techniques of Heian Shodan, but before we start there, the entire class will go through both Heian Nidan and Heian Sandan twice slowly.  Essentially you are practicing all 3 kata each class, so a 7th kyu student will still get in some practise that is directly relevant to preparing them for their test.  As I have not yet implemented it in our dojo, I can't say for sure what the result will be.  I think it could be a bit more overwhelming for the brand new students, but after a year of training, they should in theory be proficient at performing those 3 kata, and their applications. 

I have been practising Shotokan for nearly 30 years and I must say that the way I was taught was very linear.  Kyu grades were discouraged from learning katas above their level as they were thought to be "too advanced".  However I now know that the order in which some schools teach kata has changed.  Pinan Nidan (Heian Shodan) is often the first kata a student in Shotokan learns as it is less complex than Pinan Shodan (Heian Nidan) and thought to be easier for the student to digest.  Personally, I think Heian Sandan is a pretty easy kata for a beginner to learn.  The notion of a beginner learning Heian Sandan first would most likely cause my first Sensei's blood to boil.

Kihon and Kumite portions of the syllabus are both broken up in a similar fashion.  There is a fair amount of overlap in requirements for these things amongst white, yellow, and orange belts.  Although the syllabus only requires your standard 3-step yakusoku sparring for the test, we also cover flag sparring to encourage lateral movement and introduce free sparring concepts earlier, as well as basic gripping (like Iain teaches it in his videos) in order to get students acclimated to being grabbed and in very close proximity to an opponent.  

Again taking the beginners as an example, Kihon and Kumite would operate on a 4 week mini-rotation like this:

Week 1 - Kihon 1 to 3 and flag sparring

Week 2 - Kihon 4 to 7 and 3-step sparring

Week 3 - Kihon 8 to 10 and gripping

Week 4 - Kihon 1 to 10 and 3-step sparring (TEST PREP WEEK)

Every 4th week is treated as a review week to prep for grading where we cover the entire syllabus (linear curriculum).  This is treated as a way to assess where a student is at in terms of their progression to their next level.

This video describing a hybrid rotating-linear curriculum by Sean Allen was very helpful for me.


Sorry, I don't have any experience with it, but hopefully this can help you or others.


Keith Keffer
Keith Keffer's picture

Thanks for the replies.


Marc's picture

In one of the dojos where I teach we have a cycling kata calendar similar to what Philios describes.

We have kata blocks of usually 3 weeks followed by usually 1 week of grading preparation. (Holidays not included, so that's 8 blocks per year.) We also throw in the occasional sports kumite lesson about 4 times a year.

For the lower grades (9th to 6th kyu) the kata blocks cycle through Heian 1-4 twice a year. For the higher grades (5th kyu and above) we cylce through Heian 5, Tekki 1, Bassai Dai, Enpi, Jion, Kanku Dai, plus two other katas (dan level katas according to our associations curriculum). Kata training inlcudes learning kata sequences, kihon details and bunkai kumite.

In the grading preparation weeks we focus on the kihon program for each grade as well as required kumite forms (they're really hard to get rid of) as per the testing curriculum of our association. We also briefly review the required katas for each grade.

The students seem to be happy with this format, so we've done it like that for a few years now.

This is the rotation system we run for the adult's classes. For the kids we have different system.

All the best


Iain Abernethy
Iain Abernethy's picture

There was another thread on this a while ago, but I can’t find it. In that thread I said that a rotating curriculum would not work for me and mine due to the way we see the bunkai of the Pinans (Heians) building on each other. You can’t start on Pinan Nidan until the bunkai of Pinan Shodan has been understood to a sufficient level, and so on. It would be like trying to learn trigonometry first and then multiplication later. We have a similar thing with the progression of our live drills, pad drills, etc. Lesson 1 needs to be completed in order for Lesson 2 to be achievable and useful. Our drills all integrate and feed off each other too. It needs learnt in a specific order.

I can see how a rotating curriculum can work, but it won’t work for everyone as much is dependant on what is being taught, to who, and why. If you want children to learn the solo form – and you have limited time and only one instructor – then a rotating cubiculum could work better because you have a group all learning the same thing as opposed to five subgroups group trying to learn five different things. However, if you have adults trying to learn the kata and the bunkai, then it would not work well in my view. In those circumstances, you need a class structure that permits people to be at different rungs of the ladder and learning / refining things appropriate to their current level of development.

All the best,


Marc's picture

Iain Abernethy wrote:

There was another thread on this a while ago, but I can’t find it.

The thread you are referring to is most probably this one:


If people want to jump the the part that's relevant to the discussion here, they may want to start at comment #12:


Iain Abernethy
Iain Abernethy's picture

Marc wrote:
The thread you are referring to is most probably this one ...

That would be the one! Thanks Marc!

All the best,


maverick618's picture

Hi Sir!

I teach Shotokan as well and have thought about implementing rotating curric at my dojo. I was curious to know how this has worked for you? I believe that at the higher levels it can work, but from a training point of view I believe that all info through Heian Nidan should be taugh linear.

Looking forward to hearing back.

PASmith's picture

A few years back I was looking at creating a rolling/rotating curriculum for a Karate club I trained at. To try and get a good balance between variety and covering a good range of material while also ensuring repetition of skills and revisiting regularly what was important.

I've trained at a few clubs in different styles but in almost all found that balance lacking. Some places did something different every week which, while stimulating and interesting, meant you missed out on actually practicing anything consistently and could go weeks or months before touching on something since the last time you looked at it. Other places I've trained at made lessons very similar to each other which meant you got good at doing what those lessons entailed but could get very boring, very quickly.

For my part I looked at "theming" each session in a month (8 sessions over 4 weeks). The first lesson would be kihon and kata, the next kata and bunkai (the second lesson feeding on from the first), the third lesson stand up fighting, next clinch fighting, next ground fighting (to cover the ranges), a lesson on the real world context of what we were doing and IIRC the final lesson of the 4 week block was a testing/bring it all together type of session that would summarise the month. Then go back to the start again. So there was a balance of variety AND consistency. The lessons included differing sparring formats (hands only, ground grappling, stand up clinch, escaping, defending others, etc).

With that kind of over-arcing "theme" approach (rather than doing it based on kata) a variety of grades and experience levels can train together but from different points in the whole curriculum and you can still make the introduction of new material progressive (B follows A, etc).

Sadly I never got to impliment that kind of approach because I left the club but I'd attempt something similar if I ever get round to starting my own club.