"Rotating palms"







Meaning and origins

This dynamic tension and breath control exercise is the second of the fundamental kata ("heishugata") of Goju. The character "ten" means rotating, revolving or changing, while the character "sho" refers to the palm of the hand. The name describes the movements of the palms that characterise this kata.

Tensho was developed by Chojun Miyagi after his return from China in 1916 where he had been researching the origins of Okinawan martial arts.  Traditionally he is said to have developed the kata from an older White Crane form named Rokkisho (6 machine palm).  However neither the Tou'on-ryu practice drill of this name nor the Rokkishu 6 hand positions shown in the Bubishi (a classical text of Okinawan and Southern Chinese martial arts) have any resemblance to Miyagi's Tensho kata1. 


Tensho kata




Instead it seems that Tensho might be based on a form Miyagi learned in Fuzhou.  There were certainly many White Crane (or White Crane derived) kata that would have taken a form similar to Tensho, including forms from Ngo Cho Kun (5 ancestor fist) and even Wing Chun1 (see "Comparison with Yong Chun Baihe"). There is also the possibility that Miyagi based Tensho on a form he learned from his friend and White Crane master, Gokenki.  

A more interesting, and perhaps more likely, theory is that the kata  is based on basic techniques practised in the expatriate Kojo training hall in Fuzhou1 where Miyagi and other Okinawans were known to have trained2.  To this day, such basics continue to be practised in many karate schools (including ours) despite the fact that they do not appear in any kata.

Two examples of such basics are illustrated in the gifs on the right:

  • In the first example, known simply as "nukite" (knife hand), the left hand effects a keito uke/uchi (chicken head block/strike) while the right simultaneously effects a palm vertical knife hand strike.  The keito uke is similar in shape to the "blood pool hand" shown in the Bubishi and is a commonplace blocking and striking technique in Fujian White Crane (see the link to Ba Fen in the Yong Chun Baihe system, below).  Tensho kata appears to substitute ko uke/uchi (rising back of wrist blocks/strikes) where keito uke/uchi would be used in White Crane.  The keito uchi/uke hand finishes as a shotei uke (heel of palm downward block) which is also commonplace in White Crane and appears in Tensho.

  • In the second example, known as "age nukite" (rising knife hand), the left hand effects a teisho uke/uchi (heel of palm block/strike) while the right hand simultaneously effects a palm down knife hand strike of the kind seen in Yong Chun Baihe and Uechi-ryu.  Again, the teisho movement is quite common in White Crane, and appears in Tensho kata.

It seems quite plausible that Miyagi might have decided to package some of these basics into one kata so that they would not be lost or forgotten.  In a similar vein the Academy has included the above 2 basics into the Shisochin Embu.



Blood pool hand as it appears in the Bubishi


Nukite (featuring blood pool hand)

Age nukite  (featuring teisho uke/uchi)



 Purpose of Tensho

Where Sanchin is regarded as the cornerstone of Goju, Tensho is regarded as its crown.  Tensho not only employs far more sophisticated hand techniques, it also teaches a far more efficient and subtle form of body tension.

As with the senior practice of Sanchin, Tensho fulfils the same function as zhan zhuang (a form of rooted posture mediation) in the internal art of Yi Quan.

Tensho is required for Nidan 1 to 3.



    Tensho kakie

There are a number of push hands drills that the Academy teaches in conjunction with Tensho kata.  These utilise movements from Tensho however they were not created by Chojun Miyagi.  Rather they are of Taiwanese White Crane origin.


Tensho kakie

Comparison with Yong Chun Baihe

Regardless of whether Chojun Miyagi utilised hand positions from basics practiced in the Kojo training hall in Fuzhou, he must certainly have seen, and been influenced, by Fujian White Crane practitioners.  In particular it is interesting to note how similar some Yong Chun Baihe forms (in particular a form called Ba fen) are to Tensho in their execution, even though the hand positions differ subtly (the rising block are closer to the keito uchi/uke as performed in nukite than the ko uchi/uke of Tensho).  Clips of Yong Chun forms can be found on the video page of the the Yong Chun Baihe site.



1 See Mario McKenna's notes at:



2 See Matheiu Ravignat's article "The History of Goju Ryu Parts 1 - 3" in Meibukan Magazine Nos. 2, 3 and 4 at:





Yuan Ze Ming performs Ba Fen (click to go to the Yong Chun Baihe videos)

Click on the picture to go to the Yong Chun Baihe home page