Gojushiho (54 steps) is a set of two kata (sho/minor and dai/major) that both have their origin in a single kata from the Shorin-ryu style which was called Useishi (meaning 54). In a strange quirk of martial arts history, the kata known as Gojushiho Sho was previously known as Gojushiho Dai and vice-versa, but they got reversed.

Legend has it that in the 1960s or the 1970s during the All Japan Karate Championships, a high ranking karateka of the JKA announced Gojushiho Dai then did the wrong kata. Nobody dared tell him so almost everybody started reversing the name; though Hirokazu Kanazawa for one kept doing the kata the original way around. (Above, Kanazawa performing what is normally called Gojushiho Sho and below, what is usually known as Gojushiho Dai).

This story is unlikely to be true as it really makes little sense when looked at a little deeply. Whoever the mystery competitor was, at least some of his opponents would have been just as highly ranked and expected to be treated fairly in such a major competition, so would not have stood for such a blatant disregard for competition rules.

Sensei Funakoshi attempted to rename the Gojushiho kata ‘Hotaku’ (Woodpecker) but in this instance, the name did not stick. Both Gojushiho Sho and Dai are believed to have been created by Sokon ‘Bushi’ Matsumura and are thought to have been both his best, and final addition to kata that comes from his Tomari-te system.

More Shotokan Kata