Shotokan Karate Kata – Why is Kata so Important?
A Brief History of Kata so you understand where and why it originated:
Shotokan Karate is today probably the most popular style of Karate in the world. Its origins stem from Okinawa Island off the Coast of Japan. Many styles of Karate originated on this island after an influx of Chinese migrants came to the island during the 14th Century. These Chinese martial arts mixed with the indigenous fighting arts combined over many hundreds of years to create what we now call Karate.
For many hundreds of years and right up to the late 1800’s weaponry and martial arts were banned in Japan and they had to be taught under the darkness of night in secret dojos.
To ensure they were not caught learning how to fight the karateka/students were only taught kata – by doing so if anyone found them they could pass the movements off as a folk dance and therefore escape punishment.
Also by teaching all the necessary fighting moves in an easy to remember dance/[pattern formation it made it easier for the students to remember it and also to practice it and to pass it on to others over the years. Karate Kata is what kept karate alive.
In the early 1900’s Gichin Funakoshi brought Karate to mainland Japan was instrumental in making it popular among everyday Japanese through demonstrations and open door dojos.
The modern style of Shotokan Karate was named after Master Funakoshi since Funakoshi used a nickname/pen name of Shoto for his writings and calligraphy poetry. When he opened is his first full time dojo the students called it Shotokan meaning Shoto’s club.
As part of the modernisaton of Karate, Funakoshi had to create a formal teaching method which meant moving away from the old format of learning everything by kata and then developing the bunkai. Instead people started learning basic movements and sparring before they had mastered all their katas.
As Shotokan Karate became more popular and people started thinking of it as a sport more people wanted to start competing and therefore kumite/sparring became the prevalent focus and kata became more of a means by which you could measure your progress come grading time. Kata has become popular nowadays in competition too, but the focus is on how well the kata has been executed and the look of the kata rather than the true meaning of the kata – the bunkai.
Most Karateka nowadays have no idea when they run through the movements of their Karate Kata that they are actually learning very powerful and useful fighting techniques, they think of it more as basics.
So essentially over the years as great as it is to see Shotokan Karate become so popular and see so many people enjoying it – the method of teaching by kata basics has been lost, we have lost the true meaning the Shotokan Karate Kata.
I am not saying this is a bad thing – I am passionate about Karate and about Kata and I truly believe that Karate had to evolve the way it did to encourage participation and to grow the sport. I think the way it is being taught today is exactly the way it was meant to evolve otherwise it would not be as popular as it is. We need to have progress checks such as gradings so participants can feel like they are achieving otherwise they would get bored and leave. We also need to allow people who enjoy kata rather than kumite to still be able to compete.
Teaching by Kata only would not work in this day and age – however if you want to truly master Karate then you MUST master your Kata.
Think about world champions in any sport be it basketball, soccer, golf etc. Do you think the best athletes in these sports only practice the most advanced moves – no way. Basketball players spend hours every week just practicing getting the ball in the hoop, by mastering this they know that when they go out there to play and the pressure is on that they don’t have to think about whether or not they can get the ball in the hoop.
Tiger Woods, he doesn’t just practice down at the driving range to see how far he can hit the ball, he spends hours in the bunker practicing sand shots and on the green practicing his putting.
So why is Kata so Important?
Believe it or not, Kata actually teaches us how to fight! Some of you may be in shock right now, just joking. I know most Karateka understand that Kata is a way of remembering the basics so they can move on to more advanced fighting techniques as they progress. However I believe that Kata is much more than just a way of remembering the “basics”. It is actually the total foundation of learning how to fight – Kata is the foundation of everything in Karate!
Rather than thinking of Kata as just a Kata I strongly believe more emphasis should be put on dissecting each Kata to truly understand the Bunkai of each Kata. (Bunkai is the practical application of Kata into a fighting form). Only when you can perform a Bunkai from any part of a Kata in such a way that it would actually be affective say in a street attack, only then are you truly starting to understand what the Kata is about.
You see modern day Karate is a lot more focused on the sports side of The Art rather than the actual Art of defending yourself, therefore most people focus on Kumite and disregard the Kata as just a way of passing gradings. But just Imagine if you could perform a Bunkai from any part of Kata with speed, accuracy and power and then you adapted these techniques and applied them to your Kumite – your Kumite would improve immensely.
As you can probably tell, I am passionate about my Karate and about Kata. I have created and dedicated this site to share my thoughts and ideas about Kata more so than just Karate as there are millions of Karate websites around already. Therefore all my blogs will be about Kata.
I am by no means a master nor an expert of Karate but I am passionate about it and I enjoy sharing my thoughts and hearing your thoughts and ideas so please feel free to email me with any comments you have.
This site will grow with lots more content, Karate Videos and Bunkai ideas so bookmark it and drop back often.
Please check out some of my other blogs about the different Katas and Bunkai either below or on the right of this page under Categories.
In The Spirit of Karate
P.S. Don’t forget to leave your comments on my blogs – that way we can all explore and improve our Kata together