Every Shotokan karate Dojo is different, just as every person is different. The hard part, is finding a Dojo that suits you as a person!
But saying that, many Shotokan dojo follow similar syllabuses. Below is just a rough guide as to how a karateka progresses through the ranks, many dojo practice similar to the order below, other dojo practice different ways.
Please leave a comment at the bottom of this page and let us know how your syllabus differs, or if it is close to our example 🙂
Also, along side these examination training examples below, many different shotokan training exercises in kumite, kata and kihon are practiced.
In many Shotokan Dojo, new karateka start practicing kihon (basics), using just single techniques like choku zuki (straight punch), age uke (upper block), mae geri (front kick), etc from heiko dachi (parallel stance). Once the karateka have the basic technique, they then repeat the same basic techniques, but this time stepping forward and backwards in zenkutsu dachi (front stance). After practicing single techniques for 2 or 3 gradings, the next stage is adding combinations to the single steps, like sanbon zuki (triple punch), age uke, gyaku zuki, gedan barai (upper block, reverse punch, downward block), mae ren geri (double front kick), etc.
At brown belt, the karateka start to practice kihon (basics) from jiyu kamae (free posture), also referred to as fighting stance. After the last karate move in a given combination, the karateka returns to jiyu kamae. So if the last technique in a combination is gyaku zuki (reverse punch), the karateka snaps the punch back, this ‘snapping’ also varies from dojo to dojo. Some dojo leave the reverse punch extended for a split second, before snapping back, others snap back imediately. Although the make up of these brown belt combinations vary from dojo to dojo, here are some examples ~
1. Kizami zuki, oi zuki, gyaku zuki (Jab punch, stepping punch, reverse punch)
2. Mae geri, oi zuki, gyaku zuki (Front kick, lunge punch, reverse punch)
3. Yoko geri kekomi, uraken, gyaku zuki (Side thrust kick, back fist, reverse punch)
4. Mawashi geri, uraken, gyaku zuki (Round house kick, back fist, reverse punch)
5. Ushiro geri, uraken, gyaku zuki (Back kick, back fist, reverse punch)
Black belt kihon sometimes builds upon the brown belt syllabus, so ~
1. Kizami zuki, mae geri, oi zuki, gyaku zuki (Jab punch, front kick, lunge punch, reverse punch)
2. Mae geri, mawashi geri, uraken, gyaku zuki (Front kick, round house kick, back fist, reverse punch)
3. Yoko geri kekomi, ushiro mawashi geri, uraken, gyaku zuki (Side thrust kick, reverse round house kick, back fist, reverse punch)
4. Mawashi geri, yoko geri kekomi, uraken, gyaku zuki (Round house kick, side thrust kick, back fist, reverse punch)
5. Mae geri, ushiro geri, uraken, gyaku zuki (Front kick, back kick, back fist, reverse punch)
This is where the karateka may hear the pharase ‘Ikken Hissatsu’ (finish with one blow). Ikken Hissatsu consists of three kanji, (ichi) meaning “one” , (ken) meaning “fist” and hissatsu meaning “certain kill or death”. The ‘Ikken hissatsu’ philosophy, may have originated from the samurai. Ichi Geki Hissatsu is an old samurai maxim which means ‘One strike, certain death’
A lot of Shotokan kumite revolves around a single attack and single counter, so it is imperative that the karateka put everything into the attacks and counters, as if the karateka’s life depends on it! This will ensure strong kumite.
The first kumite (sparring) practiced is normally Gohon (5 step) or Sanbon (3 step) Kumite. This consists of 3 or 5 oi zuki (stepping punch) to jodan (upper level or head), with the defender stepping backwards 3 or 5 age uke (upper block), finishing on the last block with a strong gyaku zuki (reverse punch), delivered with control. The defender then becomes the attacker and the jodan attacks are repeated again. Next, the first person attacks again, this time with 3 or 5 oi zuki (stepping punch) to chudan (middle level or body), with the defender stepping backwards 3 or 5 soto uke (outside block), finishing on the last block with a strong gyaku zuki (reverse punch), delivered with control.
After practicing sanbon or gohon kumite for two or three gradings, the karateka will move on to kihon ippon kumite (basic one step sparring).
With kihon ippon kumite, the attacker steps back into zenkutsu dachi (front stance) gedan barai and attacks oi zuki jodan and oi zuki chudan. Then from jiyu kamae, attack mae geri, yoko geri kekomi and mawashi geri. Some dojo also add ushiro geri. The defender blocks and counters each attack. This kumite can be practiced from both hidari gedan barai (left downward block) and migi gedan barai (right downward block)
At brown belt the karateka start to practice Jiyu-ippon kumite (free one-step sparring’).
In Gohon, Sanbon and kihon ippon kumite the attacks, blocks and counters are practised in a set and rigid way. One of the problems that arises from set kumite, is that the karateka becomes extremely tense during and after the movements within the kumite and if practiced like this, over time it can lead to the karateka becoming very stiff and robotic. With jiyu ippon kumite the attacker and defender can move in a more practical and efficient way. This enables the karateka to develop their own fighting style and helps them to relax and move more freely.
With both attacker and defender in jiyu kamae the attacks are oi zuki jodan, oi zuki chudan, mae geri, yoko geri kekomi, mawashi geri and ushiro geri. Some dojo allow free block and counters and others have set defences. But however jiyu ippon kumite is practiced, the karateka should be moving more freely, but still apply ‘Ikken Hissatsu’ on every attack and counter.
At black belt there are many different types of kumite, okuri jiyu ippon kumite, Kaeshi Ippon Kumite, line training, one for one sparring, circle training, etc
At many shotokan dojo, white belts start with one of the following two karate kata 1. Taikyoku Shodan/Kihon kata or 2. Heian Shodan, then at each new rank, they move on to a new kata. All five of the Heian kata and Tekki Shodan are normally required before a karateka can move on to the brown belt ranks. At brown belt Bassai Dai, Jion, Kanku Dai, Hangetsu and Enpi are practiced, then the rest of the kata are practiced at black belt.
Lots of Shotokan Sensei are now introducing other kata to their syllabus, but listed below are the 27 shotokan kata.
Shotokan’s 27 standard kata.
1. Taikyoku Shodan (also known as Kihon kata) Means ~ first cause first level Introduced by ~ Gichin Funakoshi
2. Heian Shodan Means ~ Peaceful way first level Introduced by ~ Yasutsune Itosu
3. Heian Nidan Means ~ Peaceful way second level Introduced by ~ Yasutsune Itosu
4. Heian Sandan Means ~ Peaceful way third level Introduced by ~ Yasutsune Itosu
5. Heian Yondan Means ~ Peaceful way fourth level Introduced by ~ Yasutsune Itosu
6. Heian Godan Means ~ Peaceful way fifth level Introduced by ~ Yasutsune Itosu
7. Tekki Shodan Means ~ Iron Horse first level Introduced by ~ Yasutsune Itosu
8. Bassai Dai Means ~ To storm a fortress (dai=major) Introduced by ~ Peichin.
9. Kanku Dai Means ~ To view the sky (dai=major) Introduced by ~ Kung Hsiang Chun
10.Enpi Means ~ Flying swallow Introduced by ~ Wang Ji
11.Hangetsu Means ~ Half Moon Introduced by ~ Bushi Matsumura
12.Jion Thought to be named after the Chinese temple Jion-ji. kata and comes from Tomari te
13.Sochin Means ~ Preserve Peace Introduced by ~Yoshitika Funakoshi
14.Meikyo Means ~ Mirror of the soul and comes from ~Tomari-te
15.Ji’in ~ Named after the saint and comes from Tomari te
16.Gojushiho Dai Means ~ 54 steps Introduced by ~Yasutsune Itosu
17.Jitte Means ~ Ten hands and comes from Tomari te
18.Gankaku Means ~ Crane on a rock Introduced by ~ Bushi Matsumura
19.Tekki Nidan Means ~ Iron Horse second level Introduced by ~ Yasutsune Itosu
20.Tekki Sandan Means ~ Iron Horse third level Introduced by ~ Yasutsune Itosu
21.Chinte Means ~ Incredible hands Introduced by ~ Yasutsune Itosu?
22.Bassai Sho Means ~ To penetrate a fortress (sho=minor) Introduced by ~ Yasutsune Itosu
23.Kanku Sho Means ~ To view the sky (sho=minor) Introduced by ~ Yasutsune Itosu
24.Nijushiho Means ~ 24 steps Introduced by ~ Seisho Aragaki
25.Unsu Means ~ Hands of a cloud Introduced by ~ Seisho Aragaki
26.Wankan Means ~ Crown of a king Introduced by ~ Gigo Funakoshi
27.Gojushiho Sho Means ~ 54 steps Introduced by ~ Yasutsune Itosu