Kata mudra code

The longer I’m involved in the martial arts, the more mysterious they become to me.

I’ve taken to reading bits and pieces of The Pinnacle of Karate again since summer has started.

On page 47, Robert Trias talks about the “Kata Mudra Code” and lists out the 11 mudras of the Okinawan Shuri-ryu system.

And I’ve just now made the connection that these hand postures are so much more than that.

In Anaku, both hands are touching with the palms turned toward your face, meaning, “a reflection of self and the desire to rise above ideals and discipline oneself by good thoughts, words and deeds.” (I thought I’d note for good measure that, at least in this particular section, Mr. Trias uses AP Style.) Mr. Trias is asking us to look at ourselves, pushing onward through what we think, what we say and what we do.

In Empi Sho, one hand clutches signifying that “I will uphold universal spiritualization (moral and spiritual uprightness) through adherence to all laws, justice, charity and honesty.” Here, Mr. Trias explains that we should be mindful citizens.

So that makes sense now. I had to memorize these for the oral portion of my black belt exam, but hadn’t really interpreted their meaning until now.

I’m not exactly sure why a particular hand posture has a specific meaning. Mr. Trias writes that the mudras in martial arts have “an apparent likeness to” esoteric Buddhism, Eastern Indian war-like dance scriptures and more.

Further, what do the postures have to do with the form as a whole? What does reflecting upon oneself have to do with a swallow pivoting on the beach? How come a form with an elbow smash starts off by upholding justice?

And then there is the issue of bettering oneself while, in theory, destroying a handful of attackers.

Great. I’m finally making sense of the symbolism of the mudras without a clue as to any element of practicality, how they came about, or what their significance is to the whole.

By Adam Bockler

Adam Bockler is a B2B marketing professional, a black belt martial arts instructor, DDP Yoga instructor, and a personal trainer.


  1. Mudra as an English word (it isn’t Japanese, which would likely be 印相 “inzou” or 印契 “inkei/ingei”) refers distinctly the hand gestures used in Buddhist or Yogic practice. I’d be curious to the history as well, and may ask around to see what language is commonly used in Japanese to talk about these formalized gestures in the martial arts community. Knowing the preferred terminology could hold some answers.

  2. Adam, The foot patterns and hand patterns of the old kata form mudras. Kata are temporal based forms existing as a single entity.

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