PART I A Modern View of Kata, a Venerable Training Tool
January 21, 2020
“Kata is the sheet music of karate.
With it, you can practice anytime, anywhere.
You can be your own teacher.”
Roy Cadiente, Kyoshi, Founder OCIGK
By Roland Cadiente and Matthew Hemenez
PART I - What is Kata?
Karate people practice kata, kung fu artists execute taolu, tae kwon do has poomse. All three of these martial art styles originated in different countries and different times, yet one common aspect is the use of pre-arranged sequences of techniques as the nucleus of training. Why is this? This article will answer that question from the perspective of karate.
What is kata?
At its base form, a kata (for the purpose of this article, “kata” will be used interchangeably as a singular and plural noun as well as a term for the general practice of kata) is a sequence of prearranged techniques coupled with spatial movement around a small area. The use of kata to practice martial arts hails back to karate’s origins.
In the early 1800’s kata were complex, which tended to discourage newcomers from embracing karate. This included the Japanese military who wanted to indoctrinate soldiers to karate during a 6-week basic training course; but in its form at the time, this was not possible. In response to this, Anko Itosu developed the pinan kata as a means of simplifying the basic techniques into a form that could be learned by most anyone.
In Gichin Funakoshi’s notable Karate-Do: My Way of Life he writes about the kata that he had learned in the late 1800’s: “No one, even now  know how they [kata] had come into being, and people found them difficult to learn.” Like Itosu did with the pinans, Funakoshi went on in the 1930’s to develop and introduce the taikyoku (“first cause”) kata for beginners. These kata have become universally adopted throughout all styles of karate. No doubt that the original Okinawans and later Funakoshi and his contemporaries, understood the value that defined and deliberate repetition contribute to the development of a discipline.
Image by Matthew Hemenez
This provides us with a better definition of kata: variations in kinetic expression of the physical aspects of karate; a sequence of plural movements designed for memorization to temper and discipline oneself; a platform that is in equal measure simple and deeply complex. As we continue into the next section, we will see that the value of kata to our training is far deeper than a pre-arranged sequence of moves.
Next section—Part II explains the “why” of kata. Why we do kata and why it is such an essential tool to karate training.