Is Kata Useful or Useless?
Many martial artists think kata is useful because it teaches things such as memorization, balance, basic techniques, visualization, etc. Moreover, they think it is especially useful for younger color belts and/or when used as bunkai (practicing kata attacks and defenses with a partner). Others are in the middle. They think sparring with a partner is much more useful. However, they see solo kata as useful if you have to train alone (i.e. outside the dojo). Similar to using a kicking dummy, solo kata is seen as a way of practicing techniques without a live partner. In contrast, there are many martial artists who feel that kata is a waste of time. They believe it is impractical because it does not teach students how to deal with a live and unpredictable opponent. For more information, you should visit the wiki section on the pros & cons of kata.
On Black Belt Wiki, we have a poll that asks about the utility of kata. Most “voters” have answered that they loved kata (almost 50% of the poll voters). Only 6-7% said that they hated kata and/or that kata was not practical. What do you think about kata? Useful? Useless? Or somewhere in between? For more information about kata, please visit the main wiki section on Kata & Forms.
Wiki Community Responses
I started off in shotokan. then kyokushinkai. i used to enjoy kata as a workout. but dropped it in favour of muat thai which has no kata. i turned pro as a boxer and thai boxer and did no kata for many years. i “rediscovered” kata after retiring from pro fighting and saw the value of having a foundation for your fighting system. some solid paterns to practice specific technique as well as the all round health benefits of doing kata. it is also good to look into the practical application(s) of the movements and techniques. i thought it was fun when i took up martial arts. forgot about it. then discovered the great value of practicing kata. it is incredibly important and stands you in good stead your whole life. obviously though it has to be taught properly…and ideally not changed by commanding ranks every couple of years. it also gives the practisioner a syllabus to work to when not at the dojo…or on holiday etc.
Another way to look at kata is to consider the following supposed you were in the far East in the 1800’s and you came upon a martial art master who was willing to teach you techniques from his style. You spent some time with him and learned many techniques. How would you remember what he has taught you you ask. He says to you within the katas I have taught you there are all the techniques you have learned from me. I leave you with this wisdom. I also leave you with one other bit of information every move you have learned has within it both defensive and offensive techniques. All you have learned is contained within them. So keeping this in mind take a kata that you have learned and see how many self defense applications you can find. You will be amazed,
The great question of katas. There are techniques within katas that are very useful. If we look at basic blocks such as a high defend open hand. We know that it is useful. Basic front kicks, side kicks and round house are useful as well. These type of moves are incorporated into our katas, or at least some them. Right? After all being a black is only stating that you have or should have mastered the basics techniques in your art. If we are honest with ourselves full contact fighting shows us a good idea of what works and what does not in our art and our technique as well as our true skill level. I also was not talking about full contact on a professional level either. Amateur and novice full contact under controlled environments works too.
I help out with training children in my local dojo, and the way I teach new starts kata is using bunkai. Kata can be boring, but add some imaginary ninjas to it and the kids start wanting to learn (then you have that one kid who wants to fight frogs). In my opinion as we inevitably get older, the constant repetitive motions of kata can become a way of warding off senile dementia/alzheimers. Plus if you go perform every kata you know (for me it’s a miniscule 12) sequentially, given it ‘speed and power’, my instructor likes to make us do this, it can help with weight loss (or gain if you decide to stuff your face after a hard lesson).
I personally can’t think of a negative of Kata, but I am not sure it is taught correctly often and the importance gets missed. My first Style was full contact karate. No kata, just kick boxing. I thought kata was pointless because I wanted to defend myself against the bullies in my school and town. But it was only later as I grew older, which my art did teach me in fact, that I realised there was more to karate than sport and self defence. But even now as I pre-grade for my Brown Belt in Shotokan today, I will watch people waltz through their Katas because they just have not got it yet, because the penny has not dropped for them. And if that is true for some who do study traditional forms, then a practitioner of a modern style which avoids forms or kata completely is not going to get it either!
I would say it depends a lot on the specific martial art you are learning. Kata is a part of how Classical Japanese martial arts are taught, Bowing when entering the dojo isn’t strictly necessary in order to learn how to actually fight but it is still part of the etiquette of traditional Japanese martial arts and therefore is part of the structure. Personally I think that kata are an ingenious way of learning techniques. The very essence of a fighting method has been over centuries (in some cases) distilled into a set pattern of techniques that if learned correctly will become ingrained in both mind and muscle memory. I think the key to understanding kata lies in actually focusing and correct visualization. If you are just going through the motions because your Sensei has told you to while thinking to yourself ‘I can’t wait to get through this and spar’ then you are missing the point and also missing an essential element of the art you are supposed to be learning.
When asking if kata is useful, you must ask useful for what. Kata it is useful for exercise, developing balance, and practicing certain techniques. This is my experience from doing Taekwondo forms for three plus years. Kata is useless for fighting. In Taekwondo sparring I never used anything from forms. My kicks, defenses, counters, and footwork came from constant drilling done in fighting stance, not a kata stance. As a kickboxer as well I think something like shadow boxing is much better, because you can practice all the things I did in forms, but in a realistic fighting stance. Though today many people take martial arts for various reasons, and have no intention on ever fighting in competition.
As an older participant returning after a few years’ lay off, I find kata great for retraining my body, doing moves slower and feeling where to adjust my weight etc.
I am a 55 year old ex boxer and have also trained with world class fighters. Shadow boxing is exactly like a kata. It keeps you sharp and alert at all times. Please !!! Do not underestimate the use of a kata or any imaginary fighting practices , they all work. I’m still an active boxer and shadow boxing is the most important tool for me today.
Kata – Why It is Taught