The Three Bird Kata

Empi -  Flying Swallow

(1st of 3 Bird Katas)


Empi is generally the first of three bird katas taught in Shotokan karate. It is a beautiful and popular kata for competitions. Empi meaning flying swallow is supposed to mimic the way a bird flies through the sky, gracefully changing direction and heights in a sudden movement.

This kata first appeared around 1683 in Okinawa and was a martial art of Tomari-te it was said that this kata was influenced by Chinese boxing and was originally called Wanshu but the name was changed by Gichin Funakoshi when he moved to mainland Japanese in the 1920’s  

This kata is designed around throwing and jumping on attackers. A theory around this is because of a story about an official called Sappushi Wang Ji who served in Okinawa and spread the kata using his habits of throwing and jumping on his opponents.

This kata is the only kata out of all 26 Shotokan kata to use Age Zuki (rising punch) which also make it a unique kata.


Gankaku -  Crane on a rock

(2nd of 3 Bird Katas)

The kata Gankaku (meaning “Crane on a Rock”) is said to have been developed by either Master Sokon Bushi Matsumura (1796 - 1889) or Yasutsune Itosu (1830 - 1915), however it is unclear exactly who created the kata as both masters were alive at the same time. It is possible that both masters created this kata together.

The name “Crane on a rock”, gives us an insight as to how the kata applications should be performed and where. The movements within the kata closely resemble the bird. The use of the cranes ability to effortlessly stand on one leg comes into play in the kata frequently and the movement of the bird’s wings is also mimicked.

In Shotokan Karate, every kata has a theme behind it, whether this be numbers, animals, places etc. Although some of the themes may not be quite so easy to see at first, after training and research their deeper meanings become clear. The theme to this kata is unusual in that it does not take place on the ground. The Embusen is the same as that of the Tekki kata, but instead of moving from side to side, this kata move forwards and backwards in a straight line.

The theme for this kata is stairs. It was developed so that we could safely defend ourselves from an attack on a staircase, allowing us to defend against opponents lower and higher than ourselves. Using the upper body when we are lower than the attacker and the lower part when we are higher. Once we have reached an even level or an open space, all parts of the body are used once more to defend.

This kata requires a lot of balance, posture, concentration, outside thinking and quick reactions. It is a favourite for most competitors at competitions, as it can showcase all elements mentioned above.


Chinte – Strange Hands

(3rd of 3 Bird Katas)

Kata Chinte is the third and final bird kata out of the 26 Shotokan katas and is probably one of the strangest katas to understand.

Its meaning can be translated into strange hands. The origin of this kata was believed to have been China, which would explain the big circular movements with the arms, which you see in Chinese martial arts such as Kung Fu.

This kata has many changes in direction as well as tempo, alternating power from Sochin Dachi to Zenkutsu Dachi and was designed for woman and incorporates many quick techniques to deal with larger attackers. The use of the arms and fingers can be used to cause fatal strikes to vulnerable areas such as the eyes with Nihon Nukite and the use of Hiza Geri to the groin is also used.  

This is an easy kata to follow to learn, however its applications are still not really known and many versions of what the actual movements are keep being presented forward. This kata has two sections in that are yet to be confirmed as the true and clear application.

The first is the two big circular movements halfway through the kata, in which you swing both arms around the body and slide to the left and then swing the arms the opposite way and slide to the right before balancing on one leg.

The second application is the ending. Where we bring our feet together and hands come up into an egg in the nest posture seen at the start of Jitte, Jion and Jiin and then we proceed to jump backward to the right three times.

If you have never studied this kata before, take a look to see what you think these movements may be and see if you can deliver a good interpretation of the movements.