What is Kata ?

There are those who adamantly deny the value of Kata, claiming that it is neither meaningful nor effective for developing fighting skills, either point or self-defence. For the utilitarian-minded, Kata does not seem pragmatic enough. Seeking a direct and simplistic application of Kata to fighting, they cannot see what is `hidden` in Kata, and thus they consider it useful only for competition.

Kata is a series of pre-arranged defensive and offensive movements, including intricate body motions each of which is an actual response to one or more deadly attackers. At its highest levels, the martial artist `fights` these imaginary opponents in deadly earnest.

There are important differences between martial `art` and martial `sport`, just as there is a difference between fighting imaginary opponents for real (as in Kata) and a single opponent for sport (as in tournament sparring). No matter how hard the tournament fighters clash, the game is one of points, the winner is he who scored most often. Obviously, tournament sparring must be this way in order to be safe. However, with a bit of imagination, Kata can be deadly.

Tournament techniques are limited by these safety factors and full-contact techniques even more so. Only in Kata is a martial artist encouraged to perform traditional destructive techniques like one-knuckle punch (Ippon Ken), palm-heel strike ( Haito Kokken), elbow strike (Hichi-Ate or Enpi), knee strike (Hiza Geri), eye gouge (Ippon Nukite), etc..

Moreover, at its highest levels, Kata becomes a kind of moving meditation, in contrast with Zazen (sitting meditation) Kata is considered dozen (moving meditation).

Kata is not without difficulties. Because it contains abstract and symbolic movements, it is not always easy to figure out what is happening without proper guidance. In fact, it is often said that the ancient masters used to hide meanings and special techniques within a Kata in such a way that only the worthiest students would ever discover these meanings. For this reason, Bunkai or Kaiseki (analysis of Kata) becomes very important to the serious student.

Even the most sceptical could not deny the value of Kata as useful physical conditioning. Aside from increasing coordination, Kata practice develops strength, tone, speed, balance, flexibility, and (depending on the rate and duration of practice) it can become good aerobic exercise as well.

Much confusion and misunderstanding comes about as a result of the fact that tournament Kata are increasingly different from the traditional Kata. In a tournament setting, the judges and audience are influenced by a variety of factors. The successful tournament Kata competitor performs his Kata outwardly while the true Kata can be experienced only when it is directed inward. Inconspicuous yet crucial muscle movements and breath control are not obvious to audiences and are often missed by judges.

Breathing and Breath Control

It does not take too long to find out that correct breathing is crucial to maintaining proper physical and mental balance and the proper focusing of each technique.

In general, the rule calls for inhaling during preparation and transition and exhaling at the moment of technique execution. Inhalation should take place through the nose. Concentrate on pushing down on the diaphragm so that each breath travels into the lower abdominal area (Tanden). At the moment of inhalation, the shoulders should be completely relaxed, and even at the execution point there should be no deliberate tightness in the shoulders.

There are, of course, different types of breathing such as quick and short or long and deep. Each approach to breathing is useful and even ideal for different for body shifts and muscle control. Proper Kiai ought to be considered inseparable from breathing.

Power and Strength

One of the advantages of Kata practice is that each individual can find his own pace and perform to it. Therefore there can be no standard way to judge what power and strength should be put into what moves, although it can be said that a good Kata is a powerful Kata. True strength is often hidden within and one must be experienced to be able to see this.


A Kata must be executed to a certain rhythm, this corresponds to timing in sparring. Moreover, each move must be executed with an intensity inseparable from power and rhythm. Correct rhythm means more than dance-like movements. In fact, if you really imagine actual, moving opponents as you perform your Kata, it will certainly come alive.

Because each individual is different, each individual will allow a particular Kata to express his mental, physical and spiritual qualities, just as each individual uses language different from another, conveying the same message with slightly different emphasis and stresses.


Quite simply, the importance of balance cannot be exaggerated. Physical and mental balance is controlled through the centre of gravity, located in each of us, in the lower abdominal area (Tanden). In part, learning a new Kata is a process of learning a new system of balances. Don`t be afraid to lose your balance in learning. With continued practice your balance will become more and more stable until eventually you can perform the entire Kata without breaking balance.

In a tournament setting, balance is probably the most important single quality, since whatever the style or intention, there can be no good martial art without good balance. When a performer has no balance, he easily falls under the control of his imaginary opponent and could be, in a real life situation, handily defeated for that failing.

Eyes and Focus

In Kata it is vital that you remember that you are always in the midst of enemies, and that you execute each technique to opponents you could actually see. Setting your eyes on opponents is called "Chaku-Gan" and is considered crucial to Kata execution. The beginner is likely to use his physical eyes alone; in fact, total attention (Zanshin) is what is called for. Moreover, when your eyes are properly set, you can focus your techniques more crisply and with more confidence. The focus of technique, or Kime, is indispensable in any Karate technique and the source of its power.

Simple and Complex Kata

A simple and easy Kata is very important for developing the basics, and simple, beginning Kata should be practised by advanced students as well as beginners. An advanced student is able to make simple Kata look good. By contrast, having a beginner attempt a more complicated Kata doesn`t make the beginner look like anything more than a beginner. In general it is safe to say that a Kata which addresses many different situations is better and more varied than the one with simple techniques and movements. A better Kata should contain a variety of blocks, attacks and body-shifting movements, and for its complexity, is more suitable for tournament competition. Obviously a well done difficult Kata will outscore a well done simple Kata.

Discipline of Kata

The performance of Kata should equal the purpose of the Karate-ka practitioner. Kata may be practised slowly by a student seeking to gain the primary benefits of health and revitalisation, since the movements bring many muscles of the body into function. The tempo of Kata can readily be adjusted in order to suit the requirements and abilities of the student. When performed sharply, while emphasising power on each movement, the forms not only provide the benefits of exercise, but also an increased understanding of self defence. When maximum strength is used, imagine the presence of an attacker or opponent, keep your eyes focused in the direction of the attacker. Body movements in Kata should be EYES first, FEET and HANDS second. EYES, FEET AND HAND movement are essential in performing the Kata techniques in a precise and effective fashion.

Kata movements represent techniques typically involving more than a single application, and should be learned and practised properly prior to executing the next move. Knowing the movements may not prove overly tedious but performing them as a unit does require a large amount of determination and practice. The transitional moves in Kata demand steady powers of focus and concentration. When executing 180 and 270 degree turns in a particular stance while shifting to a different stance, upon completion of the rotation, a students body must move with extreme precision that can best be accomplished through maintaining body and mind control.

While studying and practising the movements of Kata, it is very important to be aware of bad habits, such is the case in positioning. This is because bad habits become more second nature once a Kata has been committed to the mind.

Kata teaches a student discipline over the body and should encourage and embrace a stable mental state of mind. This unique training allows the practitioner to install good and positive habits, that can overflow into other activities within our daily lives. Habit is what drives human beings, therefore the practice of Kata is certainly an activity which warrants follow through and dedication.

A consistent routine of Kata practice is always more beneficial than disjointed involvement. Daily goal setting for practice routines is highly advisable and recommended. Karate Masters in ancient times often spent their mornings in practice. A habit which began with their first activities after awakening. The duration of Kata practice is that of an individual choice. A minimum of 15-20 minutes per day is generally acceptable for the serious and dedicated martial arts students. A practitioner should enjoy the time spent performing the Kata, and never considered a task that simply needs to be completed. Each practice session and performance of Kata should be slightly better than the previously performed Kata.

With consistency, focus, concentration, motivation and patience, a Karate-ka will be reinforcing a positive mental attitude, which in turn leads to the path of perfection.

Physical Aims of the Kata

Kata is a metaphor ... the actuality hides behind the visible aspect. If you have not experienced it, it is quite difficult to understand. On the surface, Kata training strengthens bone and muscles, that helps to maximise one's biomechanics. This refers to developing optimum performance with the least amount of energy, and includes the ability to vibrate, to torque, and to rotate the hips and expand and contract the muscles: the total summation of the forces. One learns to build, contain, and release Qi energy through regulating the breath and synchronising it with the expansion and contraction of muscular activity. Kata is also an excellent source of oxygenating the body and cultivating Qi energy that has an incredible positive therapeutic effect upon the body both internally and externally. In short, Kata serves to develop a healthy body, fast reflexes and strong movements, increasing one's ability to respond effectively to potentially dangerous encounters.

The deepest physical benefits of Kata include of strengthening of bones, muscles and tendons, regulating the neurologic-system; promoting circulation; massaging the internal organs; and balancing hormone production. This is accomplished when our energy channels are fully opened and appropriate alignments are cultivated. That is why in the root posture the back must be straight, shoulders rounded, chin pushed in, pelvis tilted up, feet firmly planted, and the body remain pliable: so that energy can be circulated unobstructedly.

The Kata improves concentration, co-ordination, and the functions of various organs of the body. The controlled breathing techniques, vigorous twisting of the body and oscillation of the limbs, and the contraction and expansion of the muscles unimpedes jingluo (blood and lymphatic vessels) and improves the functions of the skeletal and muscular structures as well as the digestive system.

Kata`s Non Physical Aims

In agreement with Uechi Kanbun (1877-1948), the founder of Uechi-Ryu tradition, Nagamine Shoshin said " that only through the relentless study of Karate-Do could one achieve the highest standards of inner beauty and strength". The fusing of the body and mind through Karate-Do is indescribably beautiful and spiritual. When totally absorbed in Kata, one is brought into complete contact with the central core of their being. It is there that the essence of Karate-Do is to be discovered.

Shito-Ryu founder Mabuni Kenwa, concluded that understanding Karate-Do's deepest meaning first meant transcending ego-related distractions and finding inner peace. In an abstract poem, Mabuni Sensei wrote, That " when the spirit of Karate-Do (written as Bu for Budo) is deeply embraced, it becomes the vehicles (described as boat) in that on is ferried across the great void to the enlightenment (that Sensei Mabuni described as an island).

Correctly studied, the Kata reveals both the physical and the metaphysical precepts of Karate-Do.

The Magnitude of Kata

If we were to consider the myriad of self-defence related phenomena to that a single Kata applies, it would become readily apparent why Kata is in itself an entire tradition. That is also why old masters of orthodox Karate-Do once advocated the mastery of only one of two Kata rather than the pointless but popular, accumulation of many Kata.

In addition to the seizing, holding, grappling, throwing, joint locking, dislocation techniques, strangles, traumatising of anatomically  vulnerable location present in the Kata, let us also consider some of the other principles with that the Kata is concerned: "Yoi no Kishin"; mental preparation; "Inyo", yin/yang; Sen no Sen and Sen, the two levels of combative invitation; "Maai", understanding engagement distance and how to utilise; "Ma", the space or interval established trough body change (Tai Sabaki; the principle of balance and leading control); "Tai no Shinshuku", expanding and contracting, gyration of the hips, body mechanics, and the summation of the total joint forces; "Chicara no Kyojaku", the proper amount of power for each technique; "Kiai-Jutsu", building and release intense Qi; "Waza no Kankyu" the speed and rhythm of the technique; "Ju no Ri", the principle of resiliency and the willingness to bend in the wind of adversity; "Kokyu", synchronising the breath with the expansion and contraction of muscular activity; "Taekuean", understanding the application of each technique; "Zanshin", mental alertness and continued domination before and after the fact; "Seishin o Choetsu", transcending the thoughts of life and death.

Understanding the magnitude of Kata, especially when it is combined with spiritual doctrines, it becomes perfectly clear how a single paradigm (Kata) can represent an entire fighting tradition.

Once a student comes to grip with the gravity each Kata represents, their personal training will take on a new direction and more meaningful dimensions.