Kata or Forms

Kata or Forms

The word kata, coming from the Japanese meaning ‘formal exercise’ is basically a prescribed sequence of movements which demonstrate the techniques and principles of pre-defined martial arts moves. They are also known as forms and patterns in non Japanese arts.

Kata is usually performed by an individual against an ‘imaginary’ opponent, akin to shadow boxing, but can also be performed by 2 people each taking turns to practise and defend against a series of techniques.

However, generally speaking when someone uses the word kata they’re referring to the ‘step, punch, kick and block type choreographed movements,’ performed by an individual.

In some martial arts, the kata(s) form a solid and important base on which all the other techniques are built on. They are a valuable vehicle for transmitting the knowledge, techniques, and movements of the art and were invented, perfected and recorded (by way of repetition from teacher to student) early on in the history of the art.

Although the IAJJ uses 3 rather simplified kata’s in it’s curriculum, one for novice students, one for orange belt candidates and a black belt version it’s generally the stand up kicking and punching arts such as Karate, Tae Kwon Do etc that rely heavily on katas and patterns.

They’ve come in for a lot of criticism from some quarters of the martial arts community, ridiculed as pure choregraphy and maligned as having little or no value – an unfair and biased assessment.

Katas are an integral and important part of the martial arts that use them. The only issues I see with modern Kata and the way they are taught are thus.

Issue 1
I don’t know when the idea first started, but it’s very common at karate demonstrations and competitions to perform katas to music. Now there’s no denying the dexterity, skill and presentation of the practitioners performance; the lightning bolt snap of a heavily starched gi, the ballet-like poise and balance but I dislike the damn music! I realise that this may be a minority view compared to those who regularly support this type of Kata demonstration, but it’s an honest one none the less.!

Issue 2
Is the significance behind these predefined moves fully understood? Are teachers explaining to their students that the moves they’re practising actually translate in to something meaningful?

I once asked a karate black belt what was the significance of a particular move he’d just skilfully executed in the middle of his kata. “Well, it’s just part of the Kata, a block I think.”
I’m no expert, but even I could see it wasn’t just a block, it looked like a parry and a sort of wrist grab then pull.

So, I ask the question again Is the significance behind these predefined moves fully understood? I think in a lot of cases it’s not. Learning the moves by repetition, making them cohesive, snappy quick and precise is pretty damn useless if you’re not fully aware of what you are doing. It’s all very well accepting kata as a physical recording of the prescribed moves but if the understanding of the elements behind those moves is absent what are you left with?

You might as well just add music and call it a dance!

So in conclusion don’t knock Kata and the people that use them – providing they know what they’re using them for; and as for the music, well I could always buy a set of earplugs!