“Tensho” (転掌) is a Goju ryu kata originally, that emphasizes on breathing, sanchin dachi, flowing techniques and is generally a “soft” and “calm” kata, however, with very sophisticated and powerful techniques. From what I understand, by practicing this kata for some 13 years or so now, the upper body remains relaxed while the lower part of the body remains solid, with a good strong sanchin dachi. Just not TOO strong, you always have to remember to be relaxed, because the philosophy is that you will also have to be able to move and change position when required!

Its “brother” kata is of course the Sanchin kata and they “go together” in a way.
Originally, “Tensho” was invented by o-sensei Chojun MIYAGI, founder of Goju-ryu style of Karate. It is the “soft sibling” of Sanchin kata and it was created in order to compliment Sanchin kata.

A few more words on the origin of Tensho kata, as sensei BOON HENG LEE, 7th Dan from Hong Kong wrote (thank you so much!):

“Tensho kata was a derivative of Rokishu 六基手。It literally means “6 basic ways of hand tech”. This was supposed to be a drill by two people. Goju founder Miyagi sensei brought this over from 精武體育會 (Jing Wu Athletic Association) Shanghai and modified into a solo kata, Tensho. Literally, it means “turning hand”.

Shito Ryu and Chinese Kung Fu do not do hard ibuki breathing like Goju. This Kata will teach you the importance of forefinger and thumb positioning when you twist your palm. Likewise the order of closing the fingers in order to make youe koken solid.
There are still lots of inside tech. As what my sensei said, once you master the Tensho kata, you basically master the entire hand tech of nahate.
Maybe that is why training begins with sanchin and ends with Tensho”



It is also important that we learn to breathe properly. Breathing can be done properly, it can also be practiced in the wrong way. It is said that many karate masters of a specific style, used to do die at very young ages, in their 50s and it was a mystery why this was happening. It was later said that some very heavy breathing techniques they used to do, were done in a very intense way, concentrating a lot of blood in the head and this was very stressing for their blood vessels, causing many serious health issues (that I am not a doctor to explain in full detail, but you get the general picture). However, later on in this article, I am citing a few paragraphs off “Healing by Karate” book by Yamada Haruyoshi sensei and I just noticed that he is also referring to this (about creating strong pressure the veins in your brain causing them to rupture or break). Therefore, it is essential to study properly the breathing techniques and to KNOW why you do everything you do, step by step, detail by detail in a kata. Tensho kata certainly makes no exception!



“The source of inspiration may have been the book, Bubishi, a collection of hand written martial notes by Chinese teachers that was passed on from master to pupil as a Meikyo or master teachers license.”
(source: ).



Sensei Boon Heng Lee, as already cited above, has already given us an explanation. So, “Tensho” means “Revolving Hands” or if you prefer “Rotating Hands”, I believe due to its constant “Mawashi Ukes”. Yamada Haruyoshi sensei (10th Dan) is translating it as “flowing hands” in his book “Healing by Karate” and he is also talking about the “six functions of the hands”.



And at this part, I find it very amusing to mention that while reading several articles online on Tensho kata, I discovered the significance of numbers in kata. Many kata have a number of steps (as we have mentioned before) and therefore, are named after the number of steps they have. Like Suparinpei kata, for instance, it is called “Ippyaku Rei Hachi” or “Ippyaku Zero Hachi” which means “108”, as it consists of 108 steps. But reading more, I discovered something very interesting, on what used to be the basis of these numbers, and I would like to share it with you:

“The Six hands are:

Iron Spearhand – the cutting or chopping hand, using little finger edge of hand
Iron claw drilling hand – seizing technique, with individual fingers squeezing into target
Iron sand hand – palm/palm heel strike, includes the open back hand and wrist
Iron wing hand – ridge hand strike around base of index finger
Iron spearfingers hand – handstrike using the fingertips pressed together
Iron dagger hand – extended index finger.

Tensho contains the first five ‘hands’, but omits the extended index finger as a distinct hand, which is shown in other forms notably GojuShiho, or 54 steps. This is usually practised by Shorin styles, but some Goju schools have adopted this, seeing this as a missing crane form from Naha Te that follows the Buddhist numerological sequence 3, 6, 18, 36, (54), 108 or Sanchin, Rokkishu, Sepai, Sanseiru, (Gojushiho) and Suparipai.”

(source again was Sodokan Goju Ryu‘s website: – and this is a great article, do give it a read! Big thanks to my friends sensei Stergios TSAKALAKIS, 4th Dan, and sensei Nikolaos PITSITAKIS, also 4th Dan, from Heraklion of Crete, Greece, for recommending this article to me)

So, the numbers that kata are based on for their footwork, follow the Buddhist numerological sequence, something that I didn’t know so far! Of course, this does not count for all kata (for instance Nipaipo28)

Returning on Tensho kata though, it is very interesting to read about “the six hands” that are encompassed in Tensho kata. The sixth hand, which as the article also says, is omitted in Tensho kata (the extended index finger as a distinct hand)… or is it not?

Sensei BOON HENG LEE, told me that the 6th hand is normally not omitted, as the above article suggests. He also said that Hashimoto sensei emphasizes on the importance of the index finger and that it should be considered the extension of your palm, which is an extension of your wrist, which is an extension of your elbow, which is also an extention of your shoulder, which is an extension of your whole body. What he tried to explain to me (and I hope that I have understood it correctly) is that your whole arm should act as an extension of your whole body, it should be supported by your whole body. Otherwise, it is not strong and your arm (and subsequently your hand) would then work independently from your body, without its necessary support. This is something that I have not seen in many different organizations and I find it to be a very interesting approach.

You know the part where TENSHO has the 4 “cross” like moves of the hands (up, down, right and left). When you go from down to right, your index finger should be the axis around which your hand slowly rotates. This plays a significant role, as he said to me, in keeping your arm as close to your body as possible when rotating. And your arms, in TENSHO kata, should be as close to the body as possible, leaving no gaps.

Easy to understand in theory, but in practice, I am sure this needs a lot of application and exercise.



As previously mentioned, Tensho kata is the derivative of a more ancient Chinese Kung Fu form called “Rokkishu”. Therefore, I consider quite safe to say that this has also White Crane influences, but please feel to correct me! I am saying this because as far as I know, “Rokkishu” is related to our own “Hakutsuru” kata. And, as I have also written in my previous “Papporen” article, “Hakucho” (or else known as “Hakutsuru” or “Hakkaku” in Japanese or “Baihe” in standard Chinese or “Hofwa” in Okinawan – and also in Ryuei ryu, we find the same kata under the name “Paiho“).
So, “Paiho”, “Baihe” in Chinese, “Hakutsuru” or “Hakkaku” in Japanese, it all means the same thing: White Crane! Just go on YouTube and search these kata names, you will find so many different and interesting videos to watch!

At this point, I would like to write an excerpt off Yamada sensei‘s aforementioned book, from Chapter 2 – page 24 (ISBN: 978-0-9933397-0-7):

“…TENSHO is called “six functions of the hand” because we use six functions of both sides of the hands. We repeat various movements of the hand like in nature, a bird flapping its wings. Here I would like to mention about the breathing.

The Chinese version of six functions of the hands is practiced with very little breathing and the movements are performed quickly, but the Japanese version, the movements are the opposite, deep breathing with slower movements.

It gives the impression of being full of vigour, to amateurs. I think it is possible to display this vigour by the training of Kata with the correct breathing without being a KARATE MASTER who has trained in the extremes of secret techniques.


As I have mentioned earlier, in daily life we are not conscious of breathing.

The correct way of breathing is to first breathe out, then breathe in. In the modern way we are taught to breathe in, then breathe out. In Karate we first breathe out and then in.

There is a Dojo (School, training hall) of “BREATHING METHOD” in Tokyo. The master of the Dojo agrees and says “to practice this breathing, it is necessary to make the abdomen soft.”

This is the basic technique:- By using a softened abdomen, start with breathing out, when we practice this, we recognise it by touching the abdomen, in this condition, breathe in slowly (large breath) through the nose, breathe out slowly (large breath) through the nose. By paying attention to these points, practice the breathing, softening the abdomen. This breathing method is very important, as it can be very useful in the prevention of CEREBRAL INFARCTION, which can occur when using the toilet. It happens when we push the abdomen without breathing.

This creates strong pressure which can cause the veins in the brain to rupture or burst. When we push the abdomen we need to breathe out, this will keep the blood flow to the brain normal.

That is just one example of when we can apply this breathing method, for our general good health in daily life and how correct breathing can have a big influence on our well being.

There is a method of breathing 60 times, in the early morning to keep our good health, this will make your body comfortable and you will move easily throughout the day.

Even if we are fed well nutritionally, without a good digestion it will mean nothing.

Oxygen is necessary for a good digestion.

Every morning, 60 times of breathing out (large breath) and breathing in (large breath) through the nose, helps to keep you healthy.


In Budo we add “STOP BREATHING” to concentrate the power in our body.

“STOP BREATHING” for the Budo-ka (practicioner of Budo) is very important.

For example, if you can imagine how you would react if you have a car accident, when your car is struck from behind. You notice in your mirror a car approaching at speed, getting closer and closer, you stop breathing to be ready for the shock of the collision. By stopping breathing we can store power in an instant, and our body can help to resist the impact of the collision. If you do not notice the car approaching you will not be ready for the impact, even at a slow speed you will receive quite a shock to the body.

This is the breathing in Budo, which also adopts the “STOP BREATHING” method, which is different from the breathing for health.

This means in Budo we concentrate the power by breathing out in a stroke, but in breathing for health, when we breathe in we change this breath to energy and circulate it in the body to store for the flowing energy.”


So, let me not copy paste the whole book here, just let me mention that as Yamada sensei explains, proper breathing techniques help your body produce Serotonin, which is “the substance of happiness”, if you want me to use a general term. If you just Google “Serotonin” and go to Wikipedia, just for your general encyclopedic extra bit of knowledge, the first paragraph is this:

“Serotonin (/ˌsɛrəˈtoʊnᵻn, ˌsɪərə-/

[6][7][8]) or 5-hydroxytryptamine (5-HT) is a monoamine neurotransmitter. Biochemically derived from tryptophan,[9] serotonin is primarily found in the gastrointestinal tract (GI tract), blood platelets, and the central nervous system (CNS) of animals, including humans. It is popularly thought to be a contributor to feelings of well-being and happiness.[10]”


So, by learning proper breathing techniques and by practicing karate properly, we become happy! It’s that simple!

It turns out that, proper breathing and good extensive research of kata like TENSHO and SANCHIN, can be good for your health!

We can therefore see that a kata like TENSHO has so much to offer! Besides an extensive analysis of interesting and useful bunkai, good practice for strong sanchin stances and balance, it is also a “healthy kata”.

In any case, by closing this article, I would like to mention that there are many articles out there that you can find with a simple search on the web. One that I also found quite interesting, was the one of Dan Djurdjevic, entitled “The Origins of Tensho” and I would like to recommend it! You can find it online here:


Thank you for reading this article! So, enjoy Tensho kata and thank you very much for reading this article. I hope you can find the information herein useful.


Kind regards,

Dimitris Petrakis


Special Thanks and Credits go to sensei Chris Denny and his son Brandon for shooting and editing the bunkai video!
Also, special thanks to sensei John CARR, 5th Dan, for assisting sensei Denis CASEY with the bunkai!

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