Philip Rasmussen

Two martial artists stand at the edge of the arena before a crowd. A silence envelopes the audience as the artists bow toward the arena's center and walk toward each other. At a short distance apart they stop, turn to the judges and bow showing their respect. Then facing each other they bow and begin kata, a choreographed dance of martial art techniques.

Kata though is much more than a dance of techniques involving throwing, grappling, striking, kicking, or weapons. Many martial artists look at kata only as a promotion requirement and fail to realize its importance not only to the art the practice but also to their own development. As a result most martial artists study only the techniques and not the philosophy or reasoning behind them. The relationship of kata to free play or application of technique in a "real life" situation can be analogous to that of grammar with the composition of a sentence. It is fundamental to the art and improvement within the art.

To understand kata, the martial artist needs to realize that kata development comes about only after many years of study which encompasses not only a technique or group of techniques but also such areas as anatomy, philosophy, religion, science, art, and the environment, Kata is a tool to develop physical mastery of the body, discipline the mind and to unite mind and body. It allows a martial art to rise above mere self defense or sport, and to become a vehicle to bushido and spiritual conditioning.

Jigoro Kano, the founder of judo, developed several katas based on the principles of maximum efficiency with minimum effort; and mutual benefit and welfare; and the concepts of giving way and mushin. Some of the katas were designed to preserve ancient concepts and techniques, while others were developed for the purpose of teaching specific judo techniques and principles. Regardless of why a kata was developed it was carefully conceived.

In his twenties Kano began to develop Itsutsu No Kata or the Forms of Five. Like Schubert's great "unfinished" symphony many consider this kata to be incomplete, especially when considering Kano's age when he started it. Surely no one so young could conceive and develop a kata that would explain that he microcosmic forces of human combat are essentially the same of the macrocosmic forces of the universe. However, close examination may reveal that the kata is complete while its discussion is incomplete. To understand how this conclusion may be reached we need to look at several things.

Let's first consider oriental philosophy. Oriental philosophy has played a major role in shaping the development of the martial arts. The philosophy is a composition of four philosophical doctrines that are very much intertwined. Two of the doctrines (Confucianism and Taoism) come from China. A third (Buddhism) developed in India while the fourth (Shintoism) developed in Japan. Without these philosophies, the martial arts would not exist as a way of living. Central to these philosophies is the concept of positive and negative (Yin and Yang, or In and Yo) forces that control every aspect of living. This concept is further supported by the concept of the five elements: fire, water, wood, metal and earth (Chinese) or fire, water, wind, earth and void (Japanese). The five elements are thought of as abstract forces and symbols rather than as real substances. For example the nature of water is to flow downward and around, yet it has the strength to destroy and at the same time nurture. Fire provides heat which rises fast and with destructive power. Wind moves in cyclic motion and will bend and twist trees. Void is nothingness and everything at once. And earth provides ground from which all things grow.. The elements are so intertwined they build or destroy each other Understanding this relationship of the elements is complicated by the role that the elements play in such areas such as seasons of the year, colors, taste, numbers, etc.

In addition to oriental philosophy we need to understand the samurai ethical traditions of bushido or "the way of the warrior" which is heavily influenced with Zen philosophy. Bushido focuses on the commitment of the martial artist to mental and spiritual development through martial arts training. Its goal is for the martial artist to do something of good or value for the community and to help others. This concept is also present in almost all philosophies and major religions of the world. The Bushido Code of Honor is simple yet complex. Its simplicity is that the warrior can easily understand each code and yet through in-depth study, concentration or meditation on the concept complexity arises and nothing is as it may seem. Thus, as a result, kata exists in that concern is with the totality and not the parts of whatever is studied.

Kano was exposed to these concepts from birth. As he studied the various martial arts he was also exposed to the teachings of Sun Tzu and Miyamoto Musashi. The teachings of these two individuals form the basis for most fighting strategies throughout the world. Not only did Kano study these strategists but he also studied others as well. He was also influenced by Spencer and Huxley who believed that by studying science all the answers would come, and by Mill and Spencer members of the Victorian Utilitarian movement.

As a result of Kano's background, education, and studies into the foundations of martial arts, oriental philosophy, religion, and science it can now be easily argued that this "unfinished" kata is complete in form and technique. For Kano, Itsutsu No Kata represented the heart of judo. It is a synthesis of body movement and a communion of the five basic principles of earth, wind, water, fire, and void that permeates all oriental martial arts..


    Bahm, Archie. (1964). The World's Living Religions. Carbondale: Southern Illinois University Press.
    Shambhala Press. (1989). The Encyclopedia of Eastern Philosophy and Religion. Boston: Author.
    Gleeson, Geof. (1977). All About Judo. Yorkshire: EP Publishing.
    Gleeson, Geof. (1983). Judo Inside Out. Yorkshire: Lepus Books.
    Kotani, Sumiyki, et. al. (1968. )Kata of Kodokan Judo Revised. Kobe Japan: Koyano Bussan Kaisha.

Itsutsu No Kata

Form Element Action Principles Examples
1 Earth Direct push or dominate force(will) Concentration of energy and action to overpower the opponent.  Uchi Mata, Seoi Nage, Harai Goshi
2 Fire/Dragon Evasion and utilization of the opponents force(suppleness) Reaction and of non-resistance.  Countering principle. Utsuri Goshi, O Soto Gaeshi
3 Wind/Wood Centripetal and centrifugal force(mastery) Cyclic motions of the circle or whirlwind. Hiza Guruma, Ashi Guruma, Te Waza
4 Water Flux and reflux(opportunity) Alternation of the pendulum and acceleration of force.  Usually a series of linked attacks. Ko Uchi Gari To Tai Otoshi To Uchi Mata
5 Void/Metal Rapidity of adaptation Void or inertia or emptiness. Sutemi Waza Techniques Or Uchi Mata Gaeshi

Return  -    -  Main Menu