The aim of this paper is to clarify the origins of the modern kata in karate-do by examining the 15 kinds of kata, or forms, described by Gichin Funakoshi in his major study that appeared in three volumes: Ryūkyū Kenpō Karate (1922); Rentan Goshin Karatejutsu (1925); and Karate-dō Kyōhan (1935), in which the term “toudi” was changed to “karate”.
The kata are divided into three phases: “initial movement”, “development of technique”, and “closing movement”. The first and last of these phases are most important when trying to understand the similarities and differences in terms of movements, and when seeking to comprehend the styles of, and transitions in, kata.
When demonstrating karate-do, the principle of “begin with rei; end with rei” was established by adapting modern Japanese educational manners to both the “initial movement” and “closing movement”. The presence of onlookers at a demonstration had a particularly significant effect not only on these two phases, but also on the transformation of the symbolic movements made. One may therefore conclude that karate-do was transformed into a new system of techniques. The influence of modern physical education can be seen in the concept of group practice, in the way performers occupy a space and stand to attention, and in the teaching method involving the giving of orders to performers.
It is clear that Funakoshi’s system was not modeled on any Chinese exemplar. He makes no reference to Chinese martial arts and manners in his 15 kinds of kata, nor is there any mention of these three phases of kata in the Bubishi, a study of Chinese martial arts that was widely known in Okinawa during the Taisho and Showa eras.
For these reasons, we must conclude that Funakoshi based his karate-do on a Ryukyu style of karate that belonged to a post-Chinese culture, and founded it to promote modern physical education and Japanese martial arts.