3 Aspects of Training
Kata literally means “shape” or “model.” Kata are a formalized sequence of movements which represent various attack and defense postures. These postures are based on idealized combat applications. Every style of karate practices kata; some styles practice an active syllabus of ten, while others may study upwards of forty.
Some kata use low and wide stances. This practice develops leg strength, correct posture, and gracefulness. Vigorous arm movements enhance cardiovascular fitness and upper body strength. Kata vary in number of movements and difficulty. Longer kata require students to learn many complex movements. Diligent training and correct mindfulness lead to real understanding of combat principles.
Kata were developed before literacy was commonplace in Okinawa or China; physical routines were a logical way to preserve this type of knowledge. Because various techniques have multiple interpretations and applications the applicability for actual self-defense is very flexible. There is no definitively correct way to interpret all kata.
As such, kata are living traditions that have been passed from teachers to students for generations; there are differences in the interpretations of kata between styles and even teachers who represent different lines of transmission from a few core individuals.
Just like any professional sport that practices a set of core fundamental skills, martial arts also have their own set of basics; kihon. High level techniques and kata built on poor kihon will not be effective and will appear to look “loose” or haphazard. For this reason, Kihon is extremely important in the practice of good Karate.
Karate is a defensive art. It is not meant to be used as an aggressor, but to cultivate a set of defensive skills that nullify aggressive action quickly and effectively. However, in order to understand distance and acclimate to a situation that presents confrontation Karate students must spar.
Sparring in Karate is called kumite. It literally means “meeting of hands.” Kumite is practiced both as a sport and as self-defense training. Levels of physical contact during sparring vary considerably.
There are many types of Kumite designed to teach these concepts while developing control and accuracy, then speed, strength and technique. Without Kumite, Karate is mearely a dance with no real meaning or connection to it’s historical and therefore martial roots.