Reader Question: The Gojushiho Riddle! Who Knows the Answer?

Yesterday, we received a question by one of our readers, Brian. He asked:

I wonder why the two Gojushiho kata names seem to be reversed. Gojushiho Dai looks like a Sho and vise versa. Have you any information on this?


As the most of you know, “Dai” stands for big and “Sho” stands for small. You find this distinction in Gojushiho, Bassai and Kanku Katas. The Dai version usually tends to be longer and more difficult. That is why it is called the “big one”. “Sho” Katas are mostly shorter and less difficult.

However, we want to stress the word “mostly”! Brians refers to the fact that Gojushiho Katas show a slightly opposite pattern. According to Albrecht Pflügers 27 Shotokan Kata system – we guess, that the most of you know his drawings of Shotokan Katas -, Gojushiho Dai has 62 and Gojushiho Sho has 65 movements. How come?

We already talked to some Kata experts. But nobody had a theory. Thus, we wanted to ask you and utilize the wisdom of the community.

What explains the switch of Dai and Sho by the Gojushiho Katas?

If you have an answer we will be delight about a comment. If you have a longer explanation we will love to receive an email. We would publish the explanation then.

To give you some food for thought we have two videos from Ayano Nakamura, the new queen of Kata, attached. In the first she performs Gojushiho Dai and in the second Gojushiho Sho.

8 comments

  1. In Ryukyu you used ‘big’ and ‘small’ after a persons name to distinguish the older from the younger generation as you would do here with ‘senior’ and ‘junior’. Itosu learnt an older version of Kanku/Kushanku, which he named ‘Kushanku Dai’ and he devised a newer Kushanku, which he called ‘Kushanku sho’ to distinguish it from the older kata. So Gojushiho Dai probably is the older kata, compared to Gojushiho sho (reference: Henning Wittwer, Shotokan – überlieferte Texte & historische Untersuchungen Band 1, 2007 – page 144).

  2. The legend goes that a senior JKA sensei in a demonstration once announced he would perform Gojushiho Sho and he performed the Dai version instead (or vice-versa, can’t recall precisely), and since then JKA, and its derivative organizations, do it like that. Kanazawa sensei reversed the names to the original forms when he formed SKIF.

  3. The *actual* answer (as mentioned by Kanazawa himself, is that he changed the names because “Dai” is big, and “Sho” is small. Why did the JKA have them the other way around? Because it one time there was only one Gojushiho practiced – the one passed down via Kanken Toyama. Later, when Funakoshi asked Nakayama to go and learn some of Mabuni’s kata, the Shito-ryu version was included in the Shotokan syllabus. The JKA called their new one “Sho”, and the old one “Dai” despite it being obviously smaller.

    • Can you point me to the interview or something where Kanazawa says such? I’m not trying to imply it isn’t true, but recently sat through the Shotokan Times Kanazawa interview records and would love to have the direct information from Kanazawa if you can find it. I looked online and could not track it down. Thanks!

  4. Hi,

    I should mention at this point that I have been a member of Kanazawa’s organisation for many years and have heard him mention this particular question a fair few times in seminars and at dinner. I hadn’t heard the story about Ueki getting the names mixed up at a tournament until Rob Redmond posted it on the 24FC website many years ago; along with a hefty caveat saying that it was *just a story*. It seems to have taken on a life of its own since then, even appearing on the Wikipedia entry for Gojushiho – until I removed it 🙂

    There is an article in Traditional Karate Magazine (May 2003!) describing a course that Kanazawa held where he explained this, and the article is also mentioned in Harry Cook’s “Precise History” book.

    Additionally, some detail is provided in Kanazawa’s “Karate – The Complete Kata”. The annotations provided for the two Gojushiho kata are still not entirely clear about this (although a million times better than those provided in the earlier SKI kata books). I quote selectively here because the text is unfortunately rambling and somewhat incoherent:

    “I have assigned the ‘Dai’ designation to the Gojushiho kata that contains the flowing cloud block…”

    “Through Master Kanken Toyama, the kata ‘Koryu Gojushiho’ […] was introduced into the Shotokan style…”

    “The author believes that the ‘Sho’ and ‘Dai’ designations […] became reversed at the time of their introduction…”

    Now, this on its own is perhaps not quite enough, but we know that in 1943 there was only one “Hotaku” kata being practiced (there’s a list of kata on p59 of Karate Nyumon). We also know that later on Nakayama learned, at Funakoshi’s request, Nijushiho and (a second) Gojushiho from Mabuni.

    If we look at examples of Toyama’s and Mabuni’s Gojushiho kata (there are two books from the 1950’s with the kata shown in them) we can see that Toyama’s is clearly the “small” one and Mabuni’s the “large” one. We know that Mabuni’s was introduced after Toyama’s – so the older kata became “Dai” and the new one became “Sho”.

    There’s a lot of additional interesting stuff to consider regarding Gojushiho and its inclusion in the JKA syllabus; and of course “our” two kata are far more similar to each other than they are to many of the Okinawan versions that are kicking around!

    Hope this is of interest.

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