Kanku Dai is one of the most fundamental kata in Shotokan Karate.
The name “Kanku” is the combination of two characters. The first character is “Kan” (meaning “to view”, or “to see”). The next character is “Ku” (meaning “sky”, “void”, or “air”). Put together, these 2 characters translate as “to look at the sky” – symbolised by the very first move in the kata. Finally, “Dai” means “large”, as Kanku Dai has a little brother called Kanku Sho (a smaller version of the same kata).
The essence of this kata was supposedly brought from China to Okinawa by a Chinese diplomat called Kung Siang Chung, in the 18th century. Some say he created the kata himself, which was therefore named Ku Shan Ku (the Okinawan way to pronounce Kung Siang Chung and translating into “Mr. Government Official” or “Mr. Diplomat” …). When Funakoshi brought this kata to Japan, the kata was renamed to remove the Okinawan inflection and make it sound more Japanese. It became Ko So Kun before turning into Kanku. The “Dai” suffix was appended when the kata Kanku Sho was brought into the Shotokan canon. The kata was apparently one of Funakoshi’s favourite katas. He performed it during his demonstration for the Crowned Prince (Hirohito) in 1922.
Dai means Dai
Kanku-Dai is one of the longest kata in the Shotokan syllabus. It is made up of 65 independent movements, and takes about 90 seconds to execute (a very long time during a grading examination!). It is considered representative of Shotokan Karate in general and it appears to be a good summary of the Heian katas (plus Tekki). In fact, it is said to be the root kata from which all the Heian katas were created. (and interestingly its enbusen resembles the kanji “Hon”, which may mean “book”, “source”, or “root”).