Rank is used in karate to indicate experience, expertise, and to a lesser degree, seniority. As with many martial arts, Shotokan uses a system of coloured belts to indicate rank. Most Shotokan schools use the kyū / dan system but have added other belt colours. The order of colours varies widely from school to school, but kyu belts are denoted with colours that in some schools become darker as a student approaches shodan. Dan level belts are invariably black, with some schools using stripes to denote various ranks of black belt. Gichin Funakoshi himself never awarded a rank higher than Godan (5th dan black belt). Have a look at our belt order within ESKA.


Kihon (basics) is the practice of basic techniques in Shotokan Karate. It includes stances, blocks, punches, kicks, various displacements and their combinations, as well as the practice of Kihon Kata like: Taikyoku Shodan, which was developed by Yoshitaka Funakoshi, the son of Gichin Funakoshi, as a basic introduction to karate kata. (Yoshitaka also developed Taikyoku Nidan and Sandan.) This first kata consists of successive restatements following the theme of gedan barai—oi zuki, and performing three oi zuki by following the known "H" pattern or Embusen.

Russ Sensei performing Nijushiho at the ESKA 2017 Championships


Kata is often described as a set sequence of karate moves organised into a pre-arranged fight against imaginary opponents. The kata consists of kicks, punches, sweeps, strikes and blocks. Body movement in various kata includes stepping, twisting, turning, dropping to the ground, and jumping. In Shotokan, kata is a performance or a demonstration, with every technique potentially a killing blow (ikken hisatsu)—while paying particular attention to form and timing (rhythm). As the karateka grows older, more emphasis is placed on the health benefits of practicing kata, promoting fitness while keeping the body soft, supple, and agile.

Within ESKA, the order of our kata is as follows:

Taikyoku shodan (太極初段), Heian shodan (平安初段), Heian nidan (平安二段), Heian sandan (平安三段), Heian yondan (平安四段), Heian godan (平安五段), Tekki shodan (鉄騎初段), Bassai dai (披塞大), Kanku dai (観空大), Jion (慈恩), Ji'in (慈陰), Jitte (十手), Enpi (燕飛), Hangetsu (半月), Gankaku (岩鶴), Chinte (珍手), Bassai shō (披塞小), Tekki nidan (鉄騎二段), Kankū shō (観空小), Nijūshiho (二十四步), Sōchin (壯鎭), Meikyō (明鏡), Tekki sandan (鉄騎三段), Unsu (雲手), Wankan (王冠), Gojūshiho shō (五十四歩小), and Gojūshiho dai (五十四歩大).


Kumite, or sparring (lit. Meeting of hands), is the practical application of kihon and kata to real opponents. The formalities of kumite in Shotokan karate were first instituted by Masatoshi Nakayama wherein basic, intermediate, and advanced sparring techniques and rules were formalised.

Shotokan practitioners first learn how to apply the techniques taught in kata to hypothetical opponents by way of kata bunkai. Kata bunkai then matures into controlled kumite.

Kumite is the third part of the Shotokan triumvirate of kihon, kata and kumite. Kumite is taught in ever increasing complexity from beginner through low grade blackbelt (1st – 2nd) to intermediate (3rd – 4th) and advanced (5th onwards) level practitioners.

Beginners first learn kumite through basic drills, of one, three or five attacks to the head (jodan) or body (chudan) with the defender stepping backwards whilst blocking and only countering on the last defence. These drills use basic (kihon) techniques and develop a sense of timing and distance in defence against a known attack.

At around purple belt level karateka learn one-step sparring (ippon kumite). Though there is only one step involved, rather than three or five, this exercise is more advanced because it involves a greater variety of attacks and blocks. It also requires the defender to execute a counter-attack faster than in the earlier types of sparring. Counter-attacks may be almost anything, including strikes, grapples, and take-down manoeuvres.

Russ Sensei in the Men's kumite at the ESKA 2017 Championships