There are six intermediate kata in the Shotokan style, that is if you include Tekki Shodan as an intermediate kata and not a basic kata. However, based on its technical difficulty as well as its completely different embusen (performance line) to the basic kata, Tekki Shodan is most definitely at the intermediate level.
The six intermediate kata are as follows (for full kata demonstrations please see our members only section):
Kata (forms) are pre-determined sequences of moves practiced in different directions. Some moves are performed quickly and others are performed slowly and the moves are executed as if against an imaginary attacker. Each kata is complete in and of itself and generally starts and finishes in the same spot.
Kata are a way of providing progressively more complex structure to progressively more difficult basics. In other words kata give the Karate practitioner a chance to put strings of movements together in a disciplined manner while providing the basis for improvement of technique through the practice of form.
Without kata Karate would be devoid of character and ultimately of self-expression because although kata sequences are set patterns, the way of performing each kata depends upon the practitioner’s own strengths, inclination and interpretation just like dance. A kata performed without an individual’s true expression of personal honesty in movement is like watching a drab and boring monologue in a play. It is this honest expression of oneself through one’s movements that give kata meaning.
It is often written that kata is the heart of Karate and that without kata Karate would be just another sport. I see why people say this because they believe that kata can inspire individuals to express themselves honestly but at the same time I also see why so many people fail to understand the true meaning of kata.
The true meaning of kata can only be understood through rigorous and constant practice. It is also helpful to watch a competent demonstration of kata by an instructor, by a winning competitor in a tournament or by a master. Strong spirit and character are also developed through this disciplined practice as well as through quality instruction and strong basics. Kata practice also helps other aspects of Karate such as improved focus and concentration and greater understanding of “bunkai” and “oyo” (analysis and application of technique). Practice of kata is probably the most rewarding aspect of Karate.
Master Hirokazu Kanazawa was born in Iwate Prefecture, Japan in 1931. He started Karate at the age of 18 after studying Judo and decided he liked it better because he didn’t have to use size as an advantage. After enrolling in Takushoku University he gained his black belt and continued to progress through the ranks including graduating from the Japan Karate Association’s rigorous Instructor Program. He was then sent abroad to Hawaii as a 4th degree black belt to spread Karate internationally and subsequently to the United Kingdom and Germany.
In 1977 he formed his own organization called Shotokan Karate International Federation and he continues to be the Chief Instructor of his own organization. Currently at the age of 73 he is to my knowledge the only living 10th degree black belt in Shotokan Karate. A 10th degree black belt is the highest rank possible in Karate and indeed in most martial arts. It has taken a lifetime of study for Master Kanazawa to reach this level but there is no doubt that he is worthy of the rank. His organization now includes over 2 million members in over 100 different countries around the world. To say the man has had a profound influence on the spread of Shotokan Karate is an understatement.
Outside of his phenomenal ability in Karate, Master Kanazawa has also attained the highest possible rank in Tai Chi, a Chinese martial art dealing with internal power and energy. Kanazawa-sensei feels that his Karate practice of strong and powerful techniques is perfectly balanced by his study of the smooth and flowing movements of Tai Chi.
If ever you were seeking a complete Master of Martial Arts then Kanazawa-sensei is a perfect example of a man who has dedicated his whole life to the perfection of his own character and ultimately to the development and personal improvement of literally thousands of other practitioners.
Discipline comes in several different forms. There is general discipline, meaning how you behave around others and how you relate to others; there is self-discipline, meaning the ability to control yourself when faced with temptation or when faced with trying circumstances whatever they may be; and there is a discipline, meaning something that is studied carefully, pursued for self-improvement or simply followed as a way of life, be it an art, a hobby or a religion.
Karate, and other forms of budo (martial arts), comprise all three stated forms of discipline. Karate requires interaction with other practitioners according to certain expected manners and forms of behavior. Karate requires self-control, often self-restraint and therefore self-belief in one’s abilities; and finally Karate is a martial discipline, that is to say a martial art that requires very strict adherence to set methods and rules in order to ultimately be successful and to reach the higher levels.
Regarding general discipline, an instructor has the responsibility to show the student the correct michi/do (path/Way)of Karate. It is the instructor’s responsibility to set expectations regarding proper etiquette in the dojo (training hall), expectations regarding how a Karate student should behave and finally some goals for each and every student, in order to help the student individually to become a good Karate student but more importantly to help the student become a productive and respected member of the dojo. The instructor’s responsibility of course does not stop there but this should be one of the main goals of any martial arts instructor – to set expectations, to help a student transition into the role of a good club member and to set goals for the student’s growth.
The second form of discipline that is mentioned, that of self-discipline, is one that the martial arts instructor, or any teacher for that matter, has only indirect control over. Self-discipline, as in the nature of the word “self”, has to come from within the student. It can only be encouraged, cajoled and modeled by the instructor but the ultimate responsibility lies with the student. However it doesn’t lie in a student’s technical ability or knowledge of Karate, it lies instead in a decision that the student must make for him/herself. That decision is simply, “Is Karate (or in real life, anything you want to replace this word with) important enough to deserve my full attention and my best effort?” If the answer is ‘yes’ then you need self-discipline, if it’s ‘no’ then go and find something that inspires you (and by the way you will still need self-discipline!).
Karate is a discipline as well as being a form of discipline. I believe it holds endless challenges for those who make the decision to follow the path or the Way but if it’s not for you then you should make that decision too. After all you owe it to yourself!
As well as being a physical activity that improves both health and fitness, Karate is also a mental and spiritual discipline.
The physical benefits are noticed fairly early on in your training, in terms of more stamina, flexibility and strength, but the mental and spiritual aspects are very hard to quantify and take many years of hard practice to really appreciate. However, it is important to have some mental goals to strive for and the ‘perfection of character’ is one such goal, which is closely associated with Karate and martial arts training in general. ‘Perfection of character’ has almost become a cliché in martial arts circles, used constantly in written text as some ultimate goal of martial arts, strived for by the masses, yet attained only by the few.
Let’s throw this thinking out of the window straight away before we start and instead, let’s begin with some basic logic and then focus on why ‘perfection of character’ really does play an important role in Karate and martial arts.
Basic logic states that perfection of anything is ultimately impossible and is in essence something God-like. The reason why is simply because if you can put a value on something then that value can always be bigger, better, more, higher, longer, etc., and ultimately infinite in nature. If the world and the universe is infinite, then perfection can not possibly exist. Many people have differing opinions on this of course.
So if perfection is impossible, then why are we striving for ‘perfection of character’ anyway? Isn’t that a waste of time? Some people would say yes but I disagree. The point being that by striving for perfection we constantly improve and polish ourselves. Our techniques become stronger, faster and more focused. Our etiquette and spirit improve and we become calmer and more in control of our lives and our emotions. Essentially all we are doing is getting closer to perfection than we were before, despite knowing that the ultimate goal may be unattainable.
Indeed it is perhaps the fact that our ultimate goal is unattainable that the challenge of Karate will never diminish and actually gets harder as we gain more experience. After passing my 3rd degree black belt I wrote in my notes that “the more I learn the less I know” and this just underlines further the point I am trying to make. Our path in Karate and any martial art is that of the exponential graph that starts off slowly, picks up speed but as it gets closer to the goal it takes longer to get there. Just like the graph we will never quite reach perfection but at least by trying we too get closer and closer to our goal.
This is the true meaning behind striving for “perfection of character”.
1st Degree means you now have a black belt and are recognized as a senior student (sempai) and in some cases an assistant instructor.
2nd Degree means you are now recognized as an instructor (sensei).
At 3rd degree level you can now open your own club or organization and be recognized as the Chief Instructor of that club or organization as well as becoming an expert in Karate technique (taisho). This last item however is a little debatable nowadays.
4th Degree means you are continuing all of your good work in Karate and are now a very experienced instructor who is able to adapt Karate to each student’s strengths plus one’s own strengths.
Upon obtaining 5th Degree you have now become something special. You not only have great experience as an instructor and club figurehead but you have also reached your physical peak in many cases. From now on you have to rely on adrenaline, stubbornness and sheer willpower to do the things that once came naturally to you.
At 6th Degree you are still fighting with the fact that the physical aspect of Karate is starting to become more difficult yet your knowledge and insight have become deeper and more profound. You have obtained a very high level of Karate and in some cases have been recognized as Master Instructor (Shihan).
7th Degree Black Belts are relatively rare and are entering into the realm of being a highly sought after commodity. They have experience, skill, insight, as well as still having phenomenal technical ability that will put any 3rd degree in his prime to shame. They command respect and generally have been practicing Karate for about 35 years. The average 7th degree is about 50 years old, could be your Dad or Uncle (depending on your age) and scares the **** out of you.
The 8th Degree Black Belt is in his mid 50s or approaching 60 and has come to terms with his decline in physical prowess. However his movements are now more fluid and efficient. He has vast experience and many stories to tell about fellow masters and teachers. Listen to every word he has to say with a tempered mix of awe, respect and a mild pinch of salt. He is on the verge of being a revered Master.
9th Degree Black Belts have made it in Karate terms. They are everything you dream of becoming.
10th Degree Black Belts know everything yet claim to know nothing. They have been wearing their black belt for so long that it has become white once more and they think they are beginners all over again (or so they say).
*Please take this article with the pinch of salt that is meant to accompany it. I am still only a 4th degree black belt and as such I really have very little idea of what each black belt degree really means. My assumptions are based on pure observations of my own instructors and other high ranking Karate-ka and what I learned from them! My purpose in writing this article was purely for a little fun. My gut feeling however on this whole charade of rank is that it really doesn’t mean much to anyone but the person holding the rank and the person who gave the said rank to them!