Goju Ryu karate style has only 12 katas in total. Though not as many as some other karate styles, quantity does not equal effectiveness or quality.
Mastering a kata, even lower-level ones, and being able to use it effectively in actual combats, requires years of dedicated practice.
Below is a list of 12 Goju Ryu karate katas divided into 2 groups accompanied by videos of performances by masters and world champions.
- Gekisai Dai Ichi
- Gekisai Dai Ni
Kaishu katas or kaishugata literally means ‘open-hand kata’ but practically means these katas are performed with the body remains open, relaxed, and in a ready state.
This state allows the techniques to be executed with speed and power and the body is only tense for a brief moment at kime points.
There are 10 katas in this group: Gekisai Dai Ichi, Gekisai Dai Ni, Saifa, Seiyunchin, Shisochin, Sanseru, Sepai, Kururunfa, Sesan, and Suparunpei.
Gekisai Dai Ichi 撃砕第一
Before the creation of Gekisai Dai Ichi and Gekisai Dai Ni, new students of Goju Ryu karate were taught Sanchin for years before being introduced to other katas.
Realizing that Sanchin was a difficult kata for beginners and wanting to introduce a more basic karate form to a wider audience, Chojun Miyagi Sensei created Gekisai Dai Ichi and Gekisai Dai Ni in 1940. They are also a means to strengthen and prepare students physically for future rigorous training. 
Geki means ‘to attack’. Sai means ‘to smash, break, crush’. Ichi means ‘first’. Gekisai Dai Ichi, therefore, means ‘to attack and destroy number one’.
Gekisai Dai Ichi is taught as the first kata in the Goju Ryu Karate syllabus. Students are required to perform this kata for their yellow belt grading.
Below is a beautiful demonstration of this kata by Sandra Sanchez, a multiple time world kata champion from Spain.
Below are two performances of this kata by Tetsuji Nakamura Sensei, and Morio Higaonna Sensei.
Gekisai Dai Ni 撃砕第二
Gekisai Dai Ni (meaning to attack and destroy number two‘) is almost the same as Gekisai Dai Ichi. It is taught to beginners after Gekisai Dai Ichi and is a part of the grading requirements for the orange belt.
This kata introduces open-hand (mawashi uke) and circular techniques (tora guchi or tiger mouth block) and neko ashi dachi stance (cat stance).
Below are two performances of this kata by Morio Higaonna Sensei and two other instructors.
Saifa means ‘to destroy and tear‘. This kata is thought to have originated from white crane kung fu and was brought to Okinawa by Master Kanryo Higaonna.
Saifa introduces some advanced techniques, including tearing one from an attacker’s grip and countering with a heavy back fist and circular striking techniques.
This kata is a part of the grading requirements for the green belt level.
Below are four performances of this kata by Tsuneo Kinjo Sensei, Tetsuji Nakamura Sensei, and Morio Higaonna Sensei.
Seiyunchin means ‘to control and pull‘ in battle.
Seiyunchin involves the use of close-quartered striking, take-down, throwing, and escaping techniques. Low shiko dachi stance is also a prominent feature of this kata.
This kata is a part of the grading requirements for the purple belt level.
Below are demonstrations of this kata by Sadayuki Taira Sensei, Tsuneo Kinjo Sensei, and Tetsuji Nakamura Sensei and others. There are minor differences between the performances, but the essence of the kata remains the same.
Shisochin means ‘to destroy in four directions‘ or ‘four directional battle‘.
The name reflects the four palm-heel strikes at the beginning of the kata.
Another interpretation of ‘four directions’ is that it represents the four elements: Wood, Fire, Metal and Water with man representing Earth.
Shisochin has many open hand techniques such as yon hon nukite or spear hand and teisho uchi or palm strikes. It also includes blocks, circular movements, and powerful linear attacks.
Shisochin is said to be one of Chojun Miyagi’s favorite katas in his later years who said it suited his body well.
This kata is a part of the grading requirements for brown belt and first-degree black belt.
Below are 4 performances of this kata by Zenei Oshiro Sensei, Tetsuji Nakamura Sensei, Morio Higaonna Sensei and Tetsuya Furukawa Sensei.
Sanseru means ‘36 hands‘.
Some sources say 36 representing 6×6. The first 6 are eye, ear, nose, tongue, body, and spirit. The second 6 are color, voice, smell, taste, touch, and justice.
Other sources say the name refers to a systematic method of certain groupings of vital acupressure points.
Sanseru teaches close-in techniques, complex punching combinations, defense against multiple attacks, joint attacks, fast and explosive movements.
This kata is a part of the grading requirements for the second-degree black belt.
Below are 2 performances of this kata.
Sepai means ‘18 hands‘.
Like Sanseru, there are a couple of interpretations of the meaning of the kata name.
One is the attack of 18 pressure points with 18 being half of 36 meaning one set of attacks and defenses from the Sanseru kata.
The other interpretation is 18 is 6×3. Six represents color, voice, smell, taste, touch, and justice as in Sanseru. Three represents good, bad and peace.
Sepai involves both 45-degree attacks and four directional movements constituting both long-range and close-range combat techniques. These techniques include unexpected hand, foot, and body movements.
This kata is a part of the grading requirements for the third-degree black belt.
Below are 4 performances of this kata by Takayuki Miyakozawa Sensei, Sadayuki Taira Sensei, Morio Higaonna Sensei, and Atsuko Wakai (four time world champion).
Kururunfa means ‘to hold on long and then strike suddenly‘.
Kururunfa techniques are based on the Chinese praying mantis style and are a great example of ‘Go’ and ‘Ju’ technique combinations.
This kata emphasizes the use of open hand techniques, hand-hip coordinations and neko ashi dachi movements.
This kata is a part of the grading requirements for the fourth-degree black belt.
Below are performances of this kata by Takayuki Miyakozawa Sensei, Sadayuki Taira Sensei, and other instructors.
Sesan means ‘13 hands‘ or ‘13 movements‘.
Sesan is thought to be the oldest of all Okinawan Goju-Ryu Kata and is practiced in many other martial arts styles.
Sesan has many advanced powerful techniques for close-quarter fighting.
This kata is a part of the grading requirements for the fifth-degree black belt.
Below are a few performances of this kata by Norihiko Masuda Sensei, Ryouki Abe Sensei (a world kata champion), Kazuo Terauchi sensei and others.
Suparimpei means ‘108 hands‘ or ‘108 movements‘. The number is made up of 36 x 3, combining 36 elements of Sanseru kata and number 3 representing past, present, and future.
This is the longest and most advanced kata of the Goju Ryu style. It is said to contain all the techniques from all Goju Ryu katas and has many hidden elements.
Below are 3 performances of this kata by Morio Higaonna Sensei, Tetsuya Furukawa Sensei and world kata champion, Antonio Diaz.
Heishu katas or heishugata are performed while under constant tension of the whole body.
Sanchin means ‘3 battles‘.
This is the most important kata of the Goju Ryu style. It has the simplest techniques of all the katas but is the most difficult to master.
The whole kata is performed in sanchin dachi stance which is a high and practical stance, looking simple but very difficult to get right.
In this kata, all muscles are tensed throughout while techniques are performed coordinating with breathing. It requires total mental concentration and coordination of the mind and body. The concept of qi, the powerful energy force, is also introduced in the kata.
This kata is taught to beginners but is considered a black belt kata. It takes years if not decades to master even for dedicated practitioners.
Below are demonstrations of this kata by Tsuneo Kinjo Sensei and Goshi Yamaguchi Sensei.
Tensho means ‘turning or flowing hands’.
Tensho was created as softer Sanchin in 1921 by Chojun Miyagi. This kata combines both hard dynamic movements with deep breathing and softly flowing hand movements.
Below are performances of this kata by Tetsu Gima sensei, Morio Higaonna Sensei, and others.
Other articles you might be interested in:
Goju Ryu Karate’s Dojo Kun and Their Philosophical Meanings
The Precepts of Okinawan Goju Ryu Karate-do
What Is the Philosophy of Karate?
The Intended Meaning of Karate Ni Sente Nashi
Choki Motobu’s Wisdom in “My Art and Skill of Karate”
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