How to remember the Kyokushinkai Karate Syllabus
Are you a Kyokushin Karate practitioner? Are you struggling to remember which techniques go with which grade? This article aims to provide a few methods that might help you.
Even if the syllabus has changed since writing this, or maybe your own branch of Kyokushinkai uses a different syllabus (this one is based on the IFK one in 2020), then hopefully you can adapt these methods’ main principles to suit your own situation better.
If you’re a complete beginner this might not work for you because many of the cues used will stem from having experienced quite a bit of training. I felt that as people progressed through the grades they often get confused as to which techniques are associated with which grade. Hence the need for a memory jogger like this.
Many of you probably already have sets of movements that incorporate a grade’s set of techniques. If you just need something to remind you which set go with which grading then this should really help a lot. It might also be a good idea to go over this in stages. That way you can focus on one or two grades at a time before moving on to the next.
So, let’s get started.
I’m going to start at the end. These are the keys that will mean a lot more to you by the end of the article, so you don’t have to read them now, they are here for those who are curious where we’re heading for.
10th Kyu’s Key is 10, the First and the last, 10 out of 10. Fudo-Dachi, Zenkutsu-Dachi, everything flows from Zenkutsu-Dachi.
9th Kyu’s key is 9, and the square root of 9 (which is 3). Imagine a Karateka in Kokutsu-Dachi doing Seiken-Chudan-Uchi-Uke. 9 is like the head of a person.
8th Kyu’s Key is 8. The reflection of a Karateka in a lake, standing in Kiba Dachi who twists then Kicks Mai-Geri Jodan.
7th Kyu’s Key is 7, the bend in the leg of Neko-Ashi Dachi whilst doing Testsui-Komikami. The neck and the knee. Straight knee in Ke-Age.
6th Kyu’s Key is 6, a ball on the end of a chain, Uraken, Yoko-Geri, Tsuruashi-Dachi – Pinan-Ni.
5th Kyu’s Key is 5, the top of which recalls Shotei & Hiji-Ate. The bottom, Mawashi and Ushiro Geris
4th Kyu’s Key is 4, recalls Shuto, and High Yoko, Ushiro and Mawashi Kicks.
3rd Kyu’s key is 3, reminds us of Kake-Dachi, Juji-Uke and SANshin (with Kiai).
2nd Kyu’s key is 2, the curve of the knuckles for Hiraken, the bend of the Koken wrist & the Haisho trajectory and flatness.
1st Kyu’s key is 1, The ridge of the knuckles, the single knuckle fists, the kicks’ straight downward trajectory, the straightness of Yantsu and the directness of Tsuki-No-Kata.
If you read that before reading the rest of this, I can assure you that it will mean so much more later on.
In terms of this recall system the 10th Kyu one is probably one of the least effective of the lot, which is pretty convenient given how easy 10th Kyu is to remember. So, if you’re pushed for time and you already know 10th Kyu, it might be worth jumping to 9th Kyu.
The key for 10th Kyu is the numbers 1 and 0, and 10
Think of the number 1 as a karateka standing up straight in Fudo-Dachi
Now use the 0 to remind yourself of the pattern of movement in Yoi-Dachi. Can you make that link?
Now keep in mind that Yoi Dachi includes Uchi-Hachiji-Dachi.
Now let’s put the 1 and 0 together to form the number 10, we can use it to remind us of Zenkutsu-Dachi. One leg is straight, the other is bent.
Entering Zenkutsu-Dachi should nearly always include Seiken-Mai-Gedan-Barai, which in turn should remind you of the other fundamental block. If you’ve forgotten which one that is, then maybe keep in mind that 10 out of 10 is the top. That’s your cue to remember the other block is Seiken-Jodan-Uke. It blocks strikes aimed for your head, which if hit might knock you out for a count of 10.
Now keep in mind the 10 out of 10 metaphor and think what strikes are used in 10 out of 10 fights. Yes, it will almost definitely always include a Seiken-Oi-Tsuki strike. Seiken-Oi-Tsuki should lead you to remember Seiken-Morote-Tsuki
In terms of the kicks the 1 can represent the up and down vertical movement of Hiza-Gammen-Geri, and the 0 can represent the shape of one of the targets for Kin Geri.
The Kata is the 1st of the “Grand Ultimate”. Symbolically that is number 1 of the Ultimate katas.
And finally 1 should remind us there is an Ippon Kumite for this grade
Now let’s start to pack this information:
I am going to use the symbol = to mean “CUE” or “Reminds us of” when I list out the cues.
1 = Fudo-Dachi
0 = Yoi (which incorporates Uchi-Hachiji-Dachi)
10 = Zenkutsu-Dachi,
Zenkutsu-Dachi = Mai-Gedan-Barai = Jodan-Uke = Seiken-Oi-Tsuki = Seiken-Morote-Oi-Tsuki
1 = Hiza Geri
0 = Kin Geri
1 = Ippon Kumite
10 = Taikyoku-Sono-Ichi
Now practice remembering the moves for 10th Kyu, but start with the number 10 as your Key.
See if they flow in your mind?
The key for 9th Kyu is the number 9
But I’ll add a label to this memory package:
“and the square root of 9 is 3”.
Think of the shape of the number 9, now link that in your mind to an image of a karateka standing in Kokutsu-Dachi whilst performing Seiken-Chudan-Uchi-Uke then Seiken-Chudan-Soto-Uke. This is the key image for this grade.
Now either do the following, or imagine the karateka referred to earlier doing it. Move from Kokutsu-Dachi to Sanchin without hardly moving the place of the feet on the floor, it can be done by merely swivelling on the spot. At this point strike Seiken-Ago-Uchi, then finish off by striking Seiken-Gyaku-Tsuki.
The link to help remember the kick for this grade are the blocks. They are both at Chudan height, so the kick for this grade is Chudan-Mae-geri-Chusoku.
Now either do this or visualise the karateka again and watch them bring their heels together in to Musibi-Dachi. This is a stance many of you will associate with Mokuso, a very meditative stance so one can also use this to remember that the first breathing exercise comes on this grade. Nogare.
The kata for this grade can be recalled by the number 9. It looks like a head. That can remind you the punches are aimed for the head.
The square root of 9 is 3. Use that to remember that there is a 3-step promised fighting routine! That may seem to be a bit of an odd memory key to use, but that’s so you remember that the Sanbon Kumite is a little unexpected too.
When it comes to the Sanbon Kumite this grade uses an amalgamation of this and the previous grades techniques. The Sanbon Kumite involves moving forward with 3 Oi-Tsukis, each one aiming at the head, solar plexus and groin consecutively. With that in mind the defence and counter is initially obvious, with Jodan Uke blocking the Jodan Oi-Tsuki, Chudan Soto Uke blocking the punch to the solar plexus and Seiken-Mai-Gedan-Bari blocking the punch to the groin. The Counter is a little less intuitive in that whilst the Gyaku-Tsuki seems to be an expected response the final movement is a further Seiken-Mai-Gedan-Bari. That’s the odd bit that the odd key should help you keep in mind.
Finally, there’s the Renraku (I have now written an article that focuses on remembering the Renrakus. You can view it by clicking here)
This uses just two of the techniques introduced in this grade, firstly Seiken-Gyaku-Tsuki (at both Chudan and Jodan heights) and then a Mai-Geri-Chudan-Chusoku, then return and cover. It’s really just 3 movements, strike, kick, cover…. So, by using the square root of 9 you can help trigger your memories of the Sanbon Kumite and Renraku.
It might be worth putting the movements listed above together to act as a physical reminder. Like a mini kata that stems from the number 9.
So, to recap, the Key is the number 9
9 = Kokutsu-Dachi = Chudan Uchi Uke = Chudan-Soto-Uke, = Chudan-Mae-geri-Chusoku.
9 = Kokutsu-Dachi = Sanchin-Dachi = Seiken Ago Uchi = Seiken-Gyaku-Tsuki (at either Jodan, Chudan or Gedan heights).
9 = Mokuso = Musibi-Dachi = Nogare.
Square root of 9 = 3 = Sanbon Kumite and the Renraku.
The label on this memory package has “9” and just under the 9 is written “and the square root of 9 is 3”.
Imagine a karateka standing in Kiba-Dachi in a very shallow and still lake. Imagine their refection, what you would see is a big O type shape where their legs meet the water. A small ripple caused by an opponent approaching breaks the O in to two halves and for a moment the O looks like an 8. Now in your mind you have created a link between Kiba-Dachi and the number 8. So now it’s easy to associate 8th KYU with Kiba-Dachi. Once you’ve made that link you can start to unpack more information.
Some people may prefer this as a visual cue
What are the strikes we most associate with Kiba-Dachi?
They are Shita-Tsuki, Jun Tsuki and Tate-suki.
Kiba-Dachi is a very strong looking and determined stance, it reminds of the Samurai and Sumo Wrestlers. That notion of strength can remind us of the brute strength of Seiken-Chudan-Morote-Uchi-Uke. So, when it comes to the blocks, Kiba-Dachi is the clue.
There’s another block and it’s also very much a straight on body one, unlike most other blocks that require the body to be angled. This block is Seiken-Chudan-Uchi-Uke-Gedan-Barai.
Now imagine the karateka in the water twisting sideways in to Zenkutsu-Dachi and Kicking a Jodan-Mae-Geri-Chusoku at the approaching opponent. Can you visualise it, can you see all the water they just kicked up? This is our cue to remember the one kick for this grade Jodan-Mai-Geri-Chusoku.
Taikyoku-Sono-San is the kata for this grade, however the techniques introduced for this belt are not used in this kata, so you’re going to have to find your own way to remember this, but given it’s an early belt it shouldn’t be hard. The same goes for the Renraku.
Let’s pack this one up a bit tighter
8 = Kiba-Dachi = Shita-Tsuki = Tate-Tsuki = Jun Tsuki
8 = Kiba-Dachi = Brute Power = Seiken-Chudan-Morote-Uchi-Uke
8 = Kiba-Dachi = Front on version = Seiken-Chudan-Uchi-Uke-Gedan-Barai.
8 = Kiba-Dachi = the image of the karateka in the lake, turning and kicking Jodan-Mai-Geri-Chusoku.
7 is the Key, it reminds us of a leg with a bent knee. This reminds us of Neko-Ashi-Dachi (by the way Neko is pronounced more like Neck-o rather than Knee-co)
So, 7 reminds us of the bent leg of Neko-Ashi-Dachi
We associate Neko-Ashi-Dachi with Tetsui strikes,
When it comes to the kicks Neko-Ashi-Dachi reminds us of the knee
This reminds us that all for the kicks in this grading don’t bend the knee, as they are all Ke-Age kicks.
Neko-Ashi-Dachi and Tetsui-Komikami is the cue to remember the kata, Pinan-Sono-Ichi
As for the blocks, one is at the end of Pinan-Sono-Ichi, Shuto-Mawashi-Uke
Once you’ve remembered that block you should also remember that the other one is another Mawashi Block comes up across the face and “neck” and ends with the arm near the “knee”, Seiken-Mawashi-Gedan-Barai.
For those of you who link Neko-Ashi-Dachi with Ibuki-Sankai, that might be a way to remember this, but that might be a bit hard to remember for many people, so, rather than making tenuous links to try to remember Ibuki-Sankai as part of this grade it might be simpler to try to remember it using traditional methods. Likewise, the Renraku is hard to make an easy link so maybe just learn to associate it with this grade manually.
7 = Bent leg = Neko-Ashi-Dachi
Neko-Ashi-Dachi = Tetsui strikes,
Neko-Ashi-Dachi = Knee = Ke-Age kicks.
Neko-Ashi-Dachi and Tetsui Komi Kami = Pinan-Sono-Ichi
Pinan-Sono-Ichi = Shuto-Mawashi-Uke
“Neck” and “knee” = Seiken-Mawashi-Gedan-Barai.
I expect you’ve worked this out already, but 6 is the key for 6th kyu
I’m going to approach this one more concisely
6 looks like a ball on the end of a leash or a chain.
Uraken acts a bit like a ball on a chain. So, 6 links to Uraken.
The first Uraken strike in the syllabus is likely to make your opponents eyes water
That’s your cue to remember the two eye strikes.
Now this next cue is a bit more questionable, however, by either thinking about eyes being crossed or the V shape of Nihon Nukite, that may help you to remember that Juji Uke is the block.
What should be an easy cue though is that Uraken links strongly to Yoko-Geri and Kansetsu Geri, and Yoko-Geri and Kansetsu-Geri link to Tsuruashi-Dachi.
Yoko-Geri and Tsuruashi-Dachi both link strongly to Pinan-Sono-Ni.
Kansetsu-Geri is aimed for the knee, this should help us to remember the other two kicks, which also aim for the legs, Gedan-Mawashi-Geri (Haisoku and Chusoku).
These kicks are the basis of the Renraku, the first is a Gedan-Mawashi geri followed by Gyaku-Tsuki, and the second a Mae-Yoko geri followed by a Gyaku-Tsuki.
6 = Ball on Chain = Uraken = eyes watering = eye strikes = crossed eyes = Seiken-Juji-Uke
Uraken = Yoko-Geri,
Kansetsu-Geri = Tsuri-Asi-Dachi = Pinan-Sono-Ni
Kansetsu-Geri= Lower Leg Kick = Gedan Mawashi
The Key is 5
The top of the number 5, the horizontal line bit, that is the cue. It reminds us of the straight-out arm (ok it’s not completely straight) that we see when we see Shotei-Uchi from the side. What stance do we associate Shotei with? Moroashi-dachi.
The lower round part of the 5 reminds us of the kicks, firstly the curve kicks backwards to remind us of Ushiro Geri, (Gedan and Chudan) and its low circular shape reminds us there are Chudan Mawashi-geris in this grade. (Chusoku and Haisoku)
The empty shape of the 5’s lower circle can remind us of an elbow, so does the little top bit of the 5 which reminded us of Shotei, it also looks a bit like a short arm. So, two cues for Hiji-Ate. And which kata uses a Jodan-Hiji-Ate first? Pinan Sono San.
The Renraku starts with Chudan-Ushiro-Geri, so there is the link to the Renraku for you.
So, 5 = Shotei strikes and blocks,
The bottom curve of = Ushiro and Mawashi Geris
Chudan-Ushiro-Geri = Renraku
Both the top and bottom of the number 5 = Hiji Ate.
Hiji Ate = Pinan Sono San.
4 is shaped like a Shuto hand position. (See illustration). The strikes and blocks are all Shuto ones. One of the more out of the ordinary techniques of this grade is Shuto Mawashi Uke, which we tend to do in Sanshin-Dachi, so, that is the cue for remembering the kata which is Sanshin-No-Kata. What might be hard to remember are the stances for this grade, however there is something about Sanshin-No-Kata that may act as a memory jogger for these, as there are moments in the kata when these positions are momentarily taken, well the feet come together as you step forward, and for a moment they might just be parallel with each other at shoulder width (even if they’re not supposed to be… We’re allowed a bit of martial artistic licence, aren’t we?) OK, it’s a tenuous link but it might still work.
The number 4 also looks like someone doing a Jodan Yoko Geri, Jodan Mawashi Geri and a Jodan Ushiro geri. This is the grade of high kicks.
BTW there’s no Renraku for this grade… Phew!
4 = Shuto = Strikes and Blocks = Shuto-Mawashi-Uke = Sanshin-No-Kata = Heisoku Dachiu, Heiko Dachi
4 = high Kicks
The key is: 3
There are 4 number three Cues:
3 reminds us of the shape of the karateka when they do Uraken in Kake-Dachi.
This reminds of Pinan-Sono-Yon
Kake-Dachi reminds of the heel, which in turn reminds us of Mai Kakato Geri, which in turn reminds us of Ago Geri
3 reminds us the two protrusions which reminds of Shuto Juji-Uke [See illustration]
3 reminds us of Ushiro Hiji Ate which reminds us of the Hiji-Ate strikes [See illustration]
3 reminds us there is SAN(3)shin-No-kata
3 = Kake-Dachi = Pinan-Sono-Yon =
3 = Kake-Dachi = Heel = Mai Kakato Geri = Ago Geri
3 = Shuto Juji-Uke [See illustration]
3 = Ushiro Hiji Ate = Hiji-Ate strikes [See illustration]
3 = Reminds us there is SANshin-No-kata (Kiai version)
The main key is the curve in the number 2 as it reminds us of the folded knuckles for Hiraken and the bent wrist for the Koken blocks. You might be able to associate the idea of Koken being used because your fingers are damaged as a contrast to a powerful fist image in order to remember Age-Jodan-Tsuki is also included in this grade too.
The 2 can also be used to remember Haisho, because in that strike there is both a curve and a straight. There’s the arc of the movement and the straightness of the back of the hand.
The number 2 reminds us of Tobi-NI-Dan-Geri, which should remind us in turn of Tobi-Mae-Geri.
2nd Kyu is a bit of a mixed bag for using cues, it works well for the strikes, blocks and kicks, but the katas and Renraku may have to remembered through traditional methods as they aren’t particularly related to the techniques introduced in this grade, although there is a Haisho in Pinan-Sono-Go, so you might be able to use that.
2 = curve of the knuckles for Hiraken
2 = the curve of the wrist for Koken
Koken = Age-Jodan-Tsuki
2 = the movement and straight hand of Haisho
2 = The double jumping kick = Single jumping kick versions.
Now, think of the number 2 and go through the hand positions, it should only take a few seconds and you can see that with a bit of practice you will learn a muscle memory procedure that will help you to remember this too. Hiraken, Koken, Age-Jodan-Tsuki, Haisho.
The straightness of the 1 is our first cue for 1st Kyu
The line of knuckles in Ryotuken
The 1 knuckle Ippon-Kens
The straightness of the edge of the thumb in Haito
The straightness of the hand for Kake Uke
The straightness of the downward target line for the Oroshi-Kakato Geris,
The straightness of Jodan-Uchi Haisoku Geri as it strikes
The spear like straightness of the Tobi-Yoko-Geri kicking leg.
The straightness of the stance in Yantsu
The directness of Tsuki-No-Kata
Strikes 1 = straight line ridge of knuckles that is Ryotuken = Nakayubi-Ippon-Ken, Oyayubi-Ippon-Ken,
Blocks 1 = straightness of the ridge of the thumb side of Haito-Uchi-Uke
1 = the straightness of the edge of Kake-Uke
Kicks 1 = the straightness of the downwards trajectory of the Oroshi-Kakato-Geris
1 = the straightness of the striking position of Jodan-Uchi-Haisoku-Geri
1 = The straight, arrow-like quality of Tobi-Yoko-Geri
Katas 1 = The upright, straight quality of Yantsu
1 = The directness, single line quality of Tsuki-No-Kata’s start
* * *
Here’s a couple of extra paragraphs regarding 10th and 9th Cue
10th kyu is probably the easiest one for most of us to remember anyway, as it’s the one we’ve done the most. Even so, I wanted to create some extra associations for you to use. The first is the symbolism of the number 10. I wanted to focus on it in two ways, the first is seeing it in terms of 10 out of 10, and the second is by separating its two numerals and thinking of them metaphorically. For instance, the one is the first step and the zero is infinity or the end. The alpha and omega. This grade is exactly that. It is the first step but in many ways, it consists of some of the most significant set of techniques that one will return to one’s whole karate life.
In this grade, you learn to how get ready to do a technique (Yoi-Dachi and Uchi-Hachiji-Dachi), stand, move and turn around in Zenkutsu-Dachi, block (Seiken-Jodan-Uke and Seiken-Mai-Gedan-Barai), kick (Hiza-Gammen-Geri, and Kin Geri) and strike (Seiken Morote-Tsuki, and Seiken-Oi-Tsuki), and apart from Chudan-Uchi-Uke, Chudan-Soto-Uke, the Mawashi-Geri and Mai-Geri Kicks these are the most often used techniques for most karateka in their daily practices and sparring. These are some of the most important techniques in karate. Don’t be misled by the word “basics”, think of them more in terms of them being absolutely “fundamental”.
Even the kata for this grade is in keeping with this idea, it translates in several ways, firstly as “First Cause” but also as “Grand Ultimate”. Gichin Funakoshi, who was one of the great forefathers of modern Karate said of it in his book ‘Karate-Do Kyohan’: “This form [kata] is of the most profound character and one to which, upon mastery of the art of karate, an expert will return to select it as the ultimate training kata”
The kata for this grade doesn’t incorporate any of the new techniques introduced in this belt’s syllabus, however it’s worth seeing 9th Kyu as part of the basics so it makes sense that Taikyoku-Sono-Ni is the kata for this grade. It’s also worth noting that this Kata is the next stage along from Taikyoku-Sono-Ichi and is often over looked when in fact it is the more dangerous of the two. Anyone who has witnessed Kyokushin Knockdown fighting will know that a well-trained Karateka can take even a very strong Oi-Tsuki to the torso, but a strike to the head is a whole other matter.
OK, that’s it for now. I have spent some time using these methods and whilst not all of it has sunk in there are quite a few cues that have. I do hope that it’s been of some benefit to you.
Thank you for reading this.