Most martial arts, especially classical or traditionally based martial arts have kata, but what purpose do these prearranged or choreographed movements serve? I hope to answer that in this article and maybe, by the end convert some of the anti-kata crowd, back to this important training.
Firstly, allow me to explain what kata, forms, poomse, sets et cetera are; Kata is a a series of prearranged movements, strikes, kicks and the like, imitating simulated response to aggressive stimuli. Kata is a training exercise, a practice that most branches of karate, Tae Kwon Do, Kung Fu and martial arts in general, have. Some modern forms of the martial arts reject using kata, such as Jeet Kune Do and Krav Maga, but those who practice traditional arts, couldn’t imagine life without it.
So why practice Kata?
Kata is not an exact science of self defense, let me stress that much, you will not perform kata in the middle of a fight and expect to defeat those wishing you harm. Bunkai or application of specific parts of kata, broken down and taught alongside kata, are where the self-defense applications are. Kata without bunkai, is sorely lacking!
Next, kata is utilized when an individual is training and practicing alone, to work on learning how techniques flow together and can be linked, and how to move with proper form. Just in this facet alone, kata is a highly useful tool for training in the martial arts. Remember, training inside and out of the dojo in equal parts, is required to truly progress in the martial arts.
Kata is also useful as a physical reference manual of techniques, helping students to remember key techniques, to build upon foundational knowledge. Building a strong base is pivotal in the martial arts, as the basics are where all other more advanced techniques came from and return to. A flying side kick, a skipping side kick, a spinning side kick, are just variants of the basic side kick in the end.
Kata is also excellent as a form of cardiovascular workout, bringing sweat like rain and working each and every muscle group in the body in the process. It’s cardio, but with the purposes mentioned above attached to it, far better for the martial artist than just using a treadmill!
In many martial arts styles, the kata will be learned, refined, broken down in bunkai and applied in 2-man versions of the practice, whereas one or more individuals will serve as attackers, while the individual performs the kata techniques in sequence. In using the 2-man methodology of kata, the individuals also further condition their body for combat, while also working on coordination, timing, speed et cetera… in the process.
…then there is free-form kata, whereas a student is expected to on-the-fly, create a kata off the top of their head. This practice allows the student to utilize and learn better improvisation ie. using the techniques they learn, in a spontaneous capacity. This also shows instructors the students knowledge of how the arts techniques flow together and their degree of knowledge of technique.
Kata has innumerable uses and the benefits are truly insurmountable… to the point where some arts are nearly defined by their kata’s. Kata will always have its multitude of uses and will always have a space in the hearts of those who practice them….OSS!