The number "108" and karate kata names

& the relationships to Buddhism

The significance of 108 in Martial arts and Buddhism & Kata Names

Sanchin, Seipai, Sanseiru, Gojushiho, Suparinpei

by Greg Scovell, 4th Dan Shito-ryu

We see the influence of Buddhist teachings in various forms of martial arts, including Indian, Chinese and Japanese martial arts. In particular I will explore the significance of 108 and its derivatives.

Early Hindu scholars studied a series of lunar eclipses Saros cycle of 18 years 11 days 8 hours, (note1). So this means that if there was an eclipse now, in 6585.322 days from now;

- There will be another new or full moon occurring,

- The Sun and Moon will be roughly the same distance

- The Earth and Moon will be roughly the same distance apart as they are now.

3 cycles of eclipses (54years) would also bring the eclipse back to approximately the same place. They also believed that 6 cycles would not only result in the full eclipse being seen in the same longitude, but the alignments would be the most harmonious, with Jupiter being in the same place and the eclipse most clear, complete and focused. Therefore, 108 eclipses (6 Saros cycles) constituted a complete cycle in the Buddhist and Hindu worlds. This manifested itself in various Indian religious forms. A few examples are;

- Hindu deities have 108 names.

- Krishna is said to have danced with 108 `Gopis` (cow-herd girls)

- Shiva Nataraja (Hindu god of Dance) dances his cosmic dance in 108 poses.

- Buddhist temples in Japan chime their bell 108 times to bring in the New Year. Each ring is to represent one of the 108 earthly temptations you must overcome to achieve enlightenment.

- Japa mala (a bracelet used for repetition of mantra during meditation), contain 108 beads.

- Many Buddhist temples have 108 steps or its derivatives to symbolize the journey to enlightenment.

- In traditional Buddhist thought, people are said to have 108 afflictions. There are six senses (sight, sound, smell, taste, touch, and consciousness) multiplied by three reactions (positive, negative, or indifference) making 18 "feelings." Each of these feelings can be either "attached to pleasure or detached from pleasure" making 36 "passions", each of which may be manifested in the past, present, or future. All the combinations of all these things makes a total of 108

Therefore when Buddhism arrived on the scene (around 400 BC), 108 was already firmly entrenched in Indian religious beliefs.

Bodhidharma (note2) studied the Mahayana school of Buddhism and is attributed with bringing Chan Buddhism into China (later known as Zen Buddhism in Japan). In particular he taught from the Lankavatara Sutra (note3) which According to tradition, are the actual words of the Buddha as he entered Ceylon, (Sri Lanka) and conversed with a bodhisattva (a person whose aim is to become fully enlightened). In the Mabunia Kenwa text "Karate Kenpo" written in 1934 he stated that "Bodhidharma's first idea on developing health was a kata referred to as 18 forms. The kata was later expanded to 36, 72 and 108 forms" (translation by Mario McKenna).

The Lankavatara Sutra is known as the cornerstone of Zen Buddhism and features in this book the 108 statements (note4) followed by the 108 Negations used for the path to enlightenment .

This is the teachings attributed to Bodhidharma bringing Zen (or Chan) into China.

Bodhidharma is also thought to have introduced martial arts to the monks, due to his philosophy of Strong mind, Strong body and Strong spirit, he found the Chinese monks physically unable to achieve the long hours of meditation, so taught them various exercises (note5) so as to improve their fitness. Some historians believe that these exercises started the Shaolin temple on its path to the martial arts.

Zen Buddhism and Martial arts made their way across to Japan, where the Zen concept struck a chord with the Samurai and their concept of Budo and Buddhist belief to accept and prepare for death. As Taisen Deshimaru writes in his book, The Zen Way to the Martial Arts. “Martial arts plus Zen equals Japanese Budo.”

We also see 108 in Chinese and Southern style Indian martial arts, which recognizes 108 Marmas. (note6) It is believed that these 108 pressure points can be stimulated, of these, 72 can destroy someone’s fighting ability, and 36 of these can seriously injure or kill them. (However I am unsure if this number is due to any Buddhist/Hindu religious influence). This could possibly be one reason for the Kata name Sanseiru and Suparinpei.

In Japanese Martial arts we see various kata that have direct ties to the Buddhist

Concept of 108, such as;

Sanchin 3 battles San (3) Chin (battle)

Can be interpreted as the battle to unify mind, body, and spirit.

Seipai (note6) 18 Sei (10), and pai (8). (note7,8)

18 hands of Lohan, a Shaolin form that Bodhidarma is said to have taught the Chinese monks to improve fitness. (note5)

6x3, 6 senses= sight, sound, taste, smell, touch, and consciousness.

3 reactions= positive, negative, or indifference

See the video on Seipai on this website...

Sanseiru (note6) 36 San (3), sei (10), and ru (6). (note7,8)

Also another Buddhist concept is 3x36, praying thrice to Buddha. Mala bracelets are often divided into 3 groups of 36 beads.

36 is the number of pressure points some historical archives suggest are able to seriously injure or kill.

6x6, 1st 6= eyes, ears, nose, tongue, body, and spirit.

2nd 6= sight, sound, taste, smell, touch, and consciousness.

Gojushiho 54 steps Goju (50) shi (4) ho (steps)

Some Buddhist temples have 54 or 2x 54 steps

With each step takes you further towards enlightenment.

Sanskrit word pada can also mean step or footstep as written in the Lankavatara Sutra

See the article on Gojushiho on this website...

Suparinpei 108 hands (note7,8,9)

108 the highest level of enlightenment

108 pressure points 108 afflictions


1. Earliest discovered historical record of the Saros cycle is by the Chaldeans (ancient Babylonian astronomers). Babylonians called it the Sharu cycle and Edmund Halley named it the saros cycle.

2. A 5th century Buddhist monk from southern India (470 - 543).

3. The Lankavatara Sutra is the cornerstone of Zen Buddhism and features in this book, the 108 statements, followed by the 108 Negations used for the path to enlightenment.

4. (Sanskrit word for statement is pada which literally means "foot-step, a footing, a position").

5. controversial belief is that he initiated three sets of exercises: the Book of Muscle-tendon Changing (Yi Jin Jing), the Book of Bone Marrow and Brain Washing (Xi Shui Jing) and Eighteen Hands of the Lohan (Lohan Shi Ba Shou). From these three, a set of self-defence techniques was developed and the Shaolin fighting arts (Quan Fa) are thought to have been born.

6. The Marmas or marmastanas are like energy intersections or pressure points. (Indian word)

7. In Okinawa, Te (hand) is often added.

8. The pronunciation is an Okinawan rendering of the Fujian dialect (a Chinese province).

9. I am unable to accurately cross reference this breakdown of Suparinpei, however one source suggests this: Su (1) Pa (hundred) Rin (0) Pei (8).


Lankavatara Sutra Translated from the original Sanskrit By DAISETZ TEITARO SUZUKI

108 Steps The Sino-Indian Connection in the Martial Arts

By Joyotpaul Chaudhuri

Karate Kempo: The art of self defense mostly authored by Kenwa Mabuni. 1934.

Early Chinese Zen Re-examined A Supplement to Zen Buddhism: A History

By Heinrich DUMOULIN

Manual of Zen Buddhism





This research was undertaken after a discussion with Shihan Jason Armstrong whilst learning the Kata Sanseiru, and the possibility that it was so named after 36 pressure points or 36 hands. A few months later led to another talk with one of my Deshi, Andrew (who studies and teaches Buddhism) about 36 and 108 and why are these numbers significant?

It is by no means complete and is only a thought that the saros cycles have led to the importance of 108 and its derivates, and a further leap in faith that this may have some bearing as to how 108 pressure points came about. (It is interesting to note that in the Bubishi it states that Feng Yiyuan discovered the 36 vital points initially, and later at the Shaolin temple it was eventually increased to 108.)

Thanks go to

Shihan Jason Armstrong and Sensei Garry Edwards for their input.


Greg Scovell

Sandan Shito Ryu

Mappleton Dojo