Kata, a Japanese word that means forms or movement patterns, has always been a huge part of most traditional martial arts, whether they use the term ‘kata’ or not. Traditionalists will describe it as an essential combat training tool and in karate it is used mostly in imaginary fights against multiple opponents.
Some may look at kata and ask whether it is actually any good in a real life situation. As a bystander, it looks more like a gymnastic routine or a dance, and MMA fighters love to slate it as ‘girly’ or ‘just a waste of time’.
However, despite it appearing to look totally unrealistic and pointless in the real world, there are several good reasons as to why they really help in developing your martial art abilities and why you still see some of the best, most high-quality, high-level martial arts grandmasters still doing kata.
The imaginary fighting of kata was born out of an era where written traditions would either cost you your life or the enemy could steal them. Training was often done in secret and the techniques could only be passed through physical ‘dances’ fighting imaginary assailants. It was a memory tool that helped masters pass down the traditions to the next generations.
In real life, kata has structural integrity. The movements may be fast and light but they make sense. It may appear that a kick from one leg at head height while spinning in a circle looks impractical, but in reality, if you were to freeze frame that fighter in any moment, he or she would always have complete control over balance and stance. That’s because the kata has kotai, or structural integrity.
Kata makes a flow, and the components work together. This helps you develop your martial arts skills easier and further understand the complexities found within martial arts as a whole. A good Kata is full of structural integrity, coherence and intent, and while we don’t deny there are better traditions out there to be focusing on if you need to get good in the ring or defend yourself on the streets – but with a good kata on the side, you’re skills are only going to improve.
Just check out this guy, he’s so in control!
Controlled sparring with a partner will of course bring better fighters, and will improve your skills far faster than any length of time doing Kata, but together they can be a deadly duo. Use kata to give yourself new ideas and techniques, give you rhythm and flow to your fight, while the techniques and strikes are practiced in the ring. Physically, sparring will also make you stronger than kata but kata is beneficial when it comes to cardio, and the development of explosive, fast-reacting muscles that can help bring speed and ricochet to your fighting style, only ever improving your chance to survive and win.