As most of you reading this will already know, within Karate the Kata are known as forms through their Japanese Kanji or character representation 型. These are a set pattern of movements that are generally practiced solo, but not always, with there being many teachings and discoveries to be made from their practice. Even though on the outside one may only see a sequenced array of punches, strikes, blocks and kicks, there is so much more contained within. In many ways Kata can be likened to a strategical letter of guidance that has been passed on from Masters of old.

Personally, I have always seen Kata as a double-edged sword when it comes to Karate training, because as Karate Ka you can either gain so much from their practice, or in contrast, very little to nothing at all. To the point that if the value of Kata is not fully understood, appreciated and respected, then one’s training time would probably be better spent elsewhere for sure. 

One of the first major lessons ingrained in me whilst being a student of Slater Williams Sensei, was that one’s basis Karate Kata must be practiced regularly. This being a fundamental concept that is well-known to anyone who is a student of a Sensei and Dojo on Okinawa. Karate Ka who do not practice a certain Kata for a month or so, or can barely remember the sequence of movements, are missing the point entirely, as the lack of regular practice approach to Kata is not only totally meaningless, but it lacks substance and value. You can not just jump in and out of practicing certain Kata and expect any benefits, because you will find none. And as I have mentioned here often, this is why my Sensei will make his students practice every Kata of the school, every time they turn up for training. There is no compromising…

Teachers like Mabuni Sensei were well known to be collectors of techniques or Kata, and I kind of see the reasoning, but in many ways they would hoard. Just knowing the sequences of many Kata is kind of counterproductive, with few benefits inherent. Whilst going against the teachings of many well-known and respected authorities of old for sure.  You also need to be appreciative of time spent when it comes to Kata practice and value things accordingly, just as one should generally do in both life and in your Karate practice too. If you practice Karate every day for one hour, (which few people do,) even this is only seven hours per week. This being a major reason why a lot of the older Ryu or schools on Okinawa have few Kata, as realistically there isn’t the time to deeply understanding any more with so many other aspects of Karate to be working on also. Generally, Uechi Ryu has 8 Kata’s and Goju Ryu 12 Kata’s, plus if one happens to practice Kobudo Kata too there are more still to practice… And for those who have thirty or more Kata in their system, I’d advise delving deeper into those that work more for you. And wasn’t this the advice of Gichin Funakoshi Sensei anyway…

Kata applications, Bunkai, Imi, Oyo, or what ever you my wish to call things. This seems to have become the in thing over the past few years. Yes! effective techniques and pair work practice drills may well have been the mother and father that proceeded and gave birth to Kata. But you cannot reverse principles or the process of gaining a deep understanding of techniques. Focusing to much on studying lots of Kata applications from a poor base understanding of Karate will be disadvantageous. Serious Karate Ka should get inside the Kata first and acquire the skills of efficiency and effectiveness that Kata teach through Irikumi, Tenshin, Atifa, Chinkuchi, Zanshin, Muchimi and so much more. If you work on getting the basics or fundamentals right first, then one’s ability to make things work effectively application wise will follow. 

At times Karate Ka can and do concentrate on aesthetic form. Yes, there are some excellent tournament Karate Ka out there who are very talented and able athletes for sure. And of course, this way will bring along many benefits, including impeccable form together with crisp sharp techniques, not forgetting a high level of fitness. It must be accepted here though that the emphasis and reasoning for practicing Kata has changed with this approach, with form taking precedence over function. So, I’m not sure if there is any real deep understanding of the Kata’s true teachings to be gained here though, but in many ways it’s all on the individual. Kata must be effectively precise but not necessarily about being aesthetically pleasing to the eye. On the conflicting, a Kata practice that is all about roughness and spirit whilst lacking good form, may of course get you through when it comes to conflict, but skill in effectiveness should really be the goal and the wiser approach. So a compromised balance needs to be fully understood here.

Regardless of what Kata’s you practice within your Dojo, or how many, as a serious Karate Ka you should practice them all regularly, intelligently, and efficiently with precise and effective movements in mind. Then and only then will you start to understand the letter of Kata that Masters of old left you behind.