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Commentary on Saifa kata

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This commentary is an introduction to Saifa kata for students of Sodokan Goju Ryu.

Whilst Saifa is one of the traditional Goju Ryu kata it is performed in many different ways. The structure and sequences are usually the same but there are differences in speed, force, height and individual interpretation. There is no one right way of performing or using this kata. Kata should not be changed, but it does evolve through awareness and perception. If the original principles are still contained within the physical movements then it holds true to the Goju Ryu teaching.

Being able to perform a kata well does not necessarily imply understanding as this requires that you have the knowledge of how to use and can empathize with the opponent so as to feel when to use

I have used English for the majority of the terminology. This is because martial arts should be taught in the native language so that instructions and principles can be clearly understood. The Okinawan's do not teach in Chinese and the Japanese do not teach using the Okinawan dialect. However as the international language of karate, it is well worth knowing the Japanese terms, especially the correct pronunciation. In the dojo both native language and Japanese terms should be used.


Believed to have been introduced by Kanryo Higaonna from China, although some claims have stated that Miyagi may have introduced saifa. If the Geki kata are the introductory kata for children and adolescents, then Saifa can be considered the adult equivalent.

Saifa kata is comprised of two kanji Sai and Ha , the Okinawan pronunciation though of Ha is Fa.

The kanji Sai, as in Gekisai, is to 'smash'. The second kanji Ha/Fa means to 'tear'. This can be translated as, 'Smash and Tear', i.e. to Rend. The folding techniques contained in the kata reflect the name with its joint manipulations used to smash bone and tear muscle.

The main visual difference between the Okinawan and Japanese performance is in how the descending hammer fist strike is performed. In the Okinawan version this strike is performed to the side standing in a parallel stance, with the Japanese version, the hammer fist strike is to the front standing in Sanchin.

Both methods are correct. Striking to the side is a training method to develop the required relaxed circular movement in the shoulder joint to develop Whipping power. Striking to the front shows a specific variation of a practical fighting application


Key principles developed are Folding, Grounding and Whipping.

Folding is collapsing the joints i.e. wrist, elbow and shoulder enabling the limb to be controlled. Saifa uses efficient leverage principles by employing the elbows to bend and lead the opponents arm prior to a dislocation, lock, break, throw etc.

Grounding is where the body is aligned so that when the body weight is dropped the feet press against the ground and then the force rebounds back along the same path to amplify the technique. Correct posture and a firm lower abdomen are required.

Whipping requires shoulder, elbow and wrist to be relaxed in a pliable and firm way. Rib power is required, not bicep and shoulder strength. An example of whipping is the use of a back fist as demonstrated in the opening sequence. As the fist extends outward toward the end of its range, the elbow is pulled back and down, the wrist being relaxed 'whips', because of the sudden acceleration.

Sodokan Goju Karate Association
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Mike Clark 1997-2005. Reproduction of material on this site is not permitted