Kata are the formal exercises of traditional karate, and were the essence of training in Okinawa during the development of karate. Kata is often referred to as the “Soul of Karate” as it encapsulate the techniques, movements, and spirit of our art. Kata practice trains the mind and body for a wide variety of movement and exposes the student to countless self defense techniques. The techniques preserved in kata serve as an historical catalog of the art, the practice of which maintains the heritage and tradition of Karate. Practicing kata is also an excellent form of exercise, as different kata can emphasize the strength of an individual leg, or a specific technique.
A kata is dance-like in nature, constructed of a set series of techniques, in a set order, each with their own unique tempo. Every kata starts and ends in the same place and each kata has two kiai points, where the performer yells at the completion of the final technique of the series.
The 26 kata typically practiced in Shotokan were likely designed with several intended applications, as a way of passing on hidden strategy and techniques, but many of them have been lost or forgotten over time. Now, it is up to students to study these kata, and learn how they might be applied. Many throwing, grappling, and locking techniques can be found in kata that generally aren’t practiced during basics.
Most katas in Shotokan are constructed of several sets of repeating techniques. Like the chorus of a song, these repeating groups often hold the “theme” of a kata. The “chorus” of a kata is often meant as a response to a single attack. An attack will be deflected, and the defender may then soften up the attacker with several lighter blows or feints before delivering a finishing blow. Kata often demonstrate this progression, moving through several lighter techniques, building up to a climax and finishing blow, which is the kiai point.
Kata is a popular tournament event, where a performer is judged on their form, body dynamics, transition, and power, as well as understanding of the tempo and dynamic progression of the techniques. Team Kata is an event as well, where three performers synchronize all their techniques and tempo. Team kata is judged on how well the team moves together, as well as the individual kata skills of the team members.