But why 54?
A very brief and simple answer is 54 times 2 equals 108. 108 is a number associated with purity and perfection in the orient. On New Year's Eve the gongs of the temple are rung 108 times. Each time is to cleanse the old year of one of its defilements and to celebrate the New Year's clean and fresh start. One hundred eight is a symbol of perfection, totality, and circularity. (Please note that Yang style Tai Chi as we practice it has 108 movements for the same reason.)
54 is half of 108. Traditionally there are 54 shrines in a Buddhist temple. Each shrine has a significance. Each kata in a 54 kata system also has a significance. The martial artist views his kata system with the same reverence that a Buddhist views his shrines.Thus it only make sense to have 54 kata in the system, as there are 54 shrines in a Buddhist temple.
Most systems with 54 katas also have a kata named Gojushiho or Useishi (54 steps). The number 54 is used by the kata because the number has significance. Numbers have significance within the Book of Changes (I-Ching) and other Chinese Classics. And most old masters, including O'Sensei Kim were very much into the Chinese Classics.
ust because a system teaches fewer than 54 katas does not mean that the system is not legitimate. You will find most Shito-Ryu styles with about 36 kata, most Shotokan styles with about 20 kata, most Goju-Ryu systems with 18 kata and most Wado-Ryu with 10 kata. Other systems, such as our system, have expanded on the 54-kata systems. There are many reasons for doing this. A poor excuse for expanding on the 54-kata systems would be following the line of thinking that, "More is better.” O’Sensei Richard Kim, master of our system often said that, “Quality is better than quantity.” Then why did he teach more than 54 empty-hand katas? O’Sensei Kim taught more than 54 katas to his senior students (or veteran instructors) to increase their knowledge of Traditional Karate. For example, in our system O’Sensei Kim passed on three versions of Patsai Dai, two versions of Patsai Sho along with the Matsumura and Oyadomari Patsai katas. The average student was not expected to learn all the variations of the katas. But veteran instructors were, thus increasing their depth of knowledge of the art. If you look at our list of over 80 empty hand katas and deduct the pinan katas and variations of the same kata you will find that although you will have more than 54 katas you are coming close to a 54 kata system.
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