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Kevin73's picture
Taikyoku and other beginning katas and bunkai

I know Iain and others have done LOTS of good and solid work when it comes to the applications of the pinan/heians and other katas.

Here is a question though.  Take a kata like Taikyoku for example.  Do you think that it has the more in depth bunkai as the other Pinans, or do you think that it was more stripped down to teach basic principles of movement to beginning students and applications were NOT the factor in creating it?

I have seen some VERY strange applications for some of the moves and it seems to go against common sense.  It almost seems like Sigmund Freud's comment is very applicable, "Sometimes a cigar is just a cigar".

Nomad's picture

Great question.  My personal take would be that the Taikyoku kata are valid tools to teach a few solid applications (such as applications of the down block), while still being effectively stripped down versions of the Heian katas that were designed for beginners to teach some basic movements and patterns.

At the level that the Taikyoku katas are generally taught, it can be easy to overwhelm someone with applications; a few solid techniques is better than a whole bunch of variations here, IMO.  If you're going back and working them from a higher level then going into more depth might be useful, though personally I see little reason to use these katas specifically over the Heian katas (which contain nearly identical moves/combinations) for this purpose.

In other words, yes.  And no.

Tau's picture

I learned Taikyuku Shodan and Sandan whilst doing Budokan Karate. Looking at the order of the Pinan/Heian Kata brings the purpose of the Taikyuku into question. I've learned both Pinan and Heian at different times. Like probably most of you, I learned Pinan Nidan* before Pinan Shodan* and subsequently learned Heian Shodan* before Heian Nidan*. Given that Iain believes (and I don't dispute) that Heian Shodan should be learned first on the basis of simpler Bunkai, by learning Taikyuku, we're actually reversing this. We're learning (relatively) more complex, followed by less complex, followed by an advancement on the earlier-learned more-complex. It's 03:30, I'm at work and I'm rambling. There's probably a more succint way of expressing this. My conclusion is that quote used Kevin ("Sometimes a cigar is just a cigar") is right; the Taikyuku are simply a method of starting the beginner student in learning basic movements and nothing more, unless you really want them to be.

I question when the Taikyuku were devised and guess no earlier than 1920 and possibly as late as 1960. Certainly after the creation of the grading system as we know it, for I see no other purpose for them other than to be a White Belt kata.

As we have a Korean section here, it's worth noting that Taekwondo have their own "Taikyuku" in the Saju Jirugi patterns-that-aren't.

I suspect that we're all on the same page, but just in case, by Pinan Nidan and Heian Shodan I am of course referring to Mr Downwardblocky-Hammerfist and by Pinan Shodan and Heian Nidan I'm referring to Mr Doubleblocky

Leigh Simms
Leigh Simms's picture

Tau, if I understand correctly are you saying that;

a) Heian Nidan came before Heian Shodan orginally, so

b) We should teach Heian Nidan first.

c) Taikyoku Kata were created from Heian Shodan, therefore

d) Teaching Taikyoku Kata first is illogical because they are based on Heian Shodan (Pinan Nidan)

Is that correct at all?

Tau's picture

Leigh Simms wrote:
Tau, if I understand correctly are you saying that;

a) Heian Nidan came before Heian Shodan orginally, so

b) We should teach Heian Nidan first.

c) Taikyoku Kata were created from Heian Shodan, therefore

d) Teaching Taikyoku Kata first is illogical because they are based on Heian Shodan (Pinan Nidan)

Is that correct at all?

From the perspective of a Karate pragmatist, yes that is indeed what I am saying. From a modern perspective of teaching kata in order of advancement based on performace then the role of Taikyuku is valid. I am advocating not looking too deeply at the Bunkai as I can't see what they have that Heian Shodan doesn't, aside from outer blocks found in Taikyuku Sandan and they also abound in the Heian kata.

Oerjan Nilsen
Oerjan Nilsen's picture

I think this has/is allready been/being discuss(ed)smiley Heres the link: http://www.iainabernethy.co.uk/content/kihon-kata

shoshinkanuk's picture

re Taikyoku kata, personally I see no point in them as 'kata' really.

However if I did train and teach them I would use them as Kihon only, no Bunkai - just to focus on basic technique and drilling.

Then start the Pinan and introduce Bunkai at that point.

Iain Abernethy
Iain Abernethy's picture

shoshinkanuk wrote:
However if I did train and teach them I would use them as Kihon only, no Bunkai - just to focus on basic technique and drilling.

Then start the Pinan and introduce Bunkai at that point.

I don’t teach the Taikyoku kata either and I would agree with the above as the best way to approach them.

I guess you could teach applications for the individual motions, but there would be no progression or underlying themes as the Taikyoku kata were designed as “kata to introduce kata”, as opposed to anything directly functional.

All the best,


Joshua.Harvie's picture

The Taikyoku are more of a kata exercise than a worthwhile kata in my opinion. The big benefit it had to me is that it's helped to learn how to learn kata.

JWT's picture

Bunkai can be very personal.  

What one man considers as basic can seem advanced to another.  In some martial systems striking is emphasised first, grappling later.  In others the pattern is reversed.  One man's basic technique is another's beginners work.

When we consider the multiple effective applications that many Karate techniques (and indeed sequences) have, and the different perceptions of different instructors and the different aims that they have, it is easy to understand why one instructor might reverse the order imposed by the other.  Iain and I both focus on close quarter effective application of Karate, and yet despite the same base material (the '5' Kata) our respective flow drills and training aims for each Kata are different.

For me the reversal of Pinan Shodan and Pinan Nidan in the contextr of what I want to train and drill from each Kata and what I see as immediate training priorities makes sense.  In similar vein, the practise of Taikyoku Shodan, as the ultimate 'KISS' Kata before learning Pinan Nidan/Heian Shodan, and as a Kata to return to time and again as my knowledge increases, also makes sense.  If I had initially trained in a system where the Kata were taught in a different order I am certain I would probably have a different approach and opinion. :)

Do I feel that Taikyoku Shodan is 'more' in depth than the Heian?  No.  It is 'as' in depth for the techniques that it has.  What it has is a very good, very simple, very effective repertoire for close quarter stand up fighting.  

As a beginner it was a helpful Kata as it taught me the basic framework of movement that helped me with other Kata.  As a student going for my Dan grade it was useful as a test of how good my basics were because there was nowhere to hide.  As a more seasoned Karateka it is an old friend that houses some of my favourite and most effective techniques. :)

DaveB's picture

I think I spent around 10 of my 13 years in martial arts utterly despising Taikyoku Shodan. The first of the other three was my first year of training when TS was as important a kata as any other. It was even quite helpful to me as it allowed me to focus on the challenge of that 270d reverse turn and nothing else. Once I had that I had no problems performing a kata technique until the 360d jump in Empi.

The other 2 began a few months before my son was born and will likely grow in number until I have another major paradigm shift. Before he was born I began writing out everything I knew about karate and this I found easiest to do through breaking down kata into thier component applications and technical tactical and strategic principles. I had already played with the idea that TS may be useful as pure kihon, but I found that the sheer simplicity of the form encouraged me to look more closely at the components of the movements. I've come away feeling that you could quite happily teach someone to fight quite effectively using only this form.

For me Taikyoku Shodan is the Sanchin of Shorin ryu, i.e a structural form whose simplicity forces your eye to turn inwards and grounds you in the core movement and technical principles of the art. TS has the added advantage of some pretty good combat applications and some fundamental tactical concepts to boot.

Does this make it a worthwhile kata to keep in the face of the Hieans et al? Maybe not, For myself I have condensed my personal fighting system down to 5 kata with 3 or 4 that I play around with for fun. Of that 5 kata system Taikyoku Shodan is an essential part, but even so I still occasionally find myself considering replacing it with Hiean shodan (pinan ni).

Mikky's picture

Hmm, certainly much food for thought to consider there for a mere beginner such as myself, from you guys that have way loads more experience!

I think that, of all the posts on this thread, JWT and DaveB have come closest to what i actually think about the Taikyoku 1, 2, 3 and 4 Katas, but here is what someone else, a past exponent of them, thinks:

To Quote from Funakoshi Sensei: ''Because of its simplicity, Taikyoku Kata is easily learned by beginners, nevertheless, as its name implies**, this form is of the most profound character and one to which, upon mastery of the art of Karate, an expert will return to select it as trhe ultimate Training Kata''

I have to admit, the Taikyoku Kata's are my favourite Kata's at the moment, though i seem to have gotten my head around the first two from the Heian Kata's too, (for some odd reason--i am not that quick at learning something new, prefering the ''slowly slowly catchee monkey'' way of learning, but i am enjoying this process!), albeit in their most basic of movements.

I like this site and hope to learn more as time goes on, thank you for letting me join!

**Taikyoku is a philosophical term denoting the macrocosm before its differentiation into heaven and earth: Hence chaos, or the void.**

Senseidyer's picture

Being an instructor that does teach multiple taikyoku kata, I thought my first post should be on this subject...

While you can teach the Pinan/Heian kata right from the start, I find that using the Taikyoku kata helps establish a good foundation for the higher kata. I have the basic bunkai, but that teaches the process more. For instance, technique and proper sequencing of the meta-steps help the new student get the narrow view of what is going on just when they need it most. There are AFAIK 5 Taikyoku kata and 5 Sokugi Taikyoku kata.

So what can Taikyoku give you that the Heian/Pinan kata cannot? Not sure if that is even a fair question. But as for me and my school, I find the three Taikyoku kata I do teach invaluable and it fits my curriculum.

i do teach the basic bunkai, but I also use the katas as an evaluation of one's ability to discover henka waza and okuden waza.