A Kata is a pattern of movements which contains a series of attacking and blocking techniques. Kata were created and evolved by previous masters after many years of research, training, and actual combat experience. Goju Kai Kata originated from Chinese Kung Fu forms which were taught in Okinawa in the 18th and 19th Centuries. Many of the Goju Ryu Kata names are Chinese numbers symbolizing certain Buddhist concepts. For example, the highest Kata in Goju Ryu, Suparinpei meaning the number 108 in Chinese, has a special significance in Buddhism.
Kata is a set of pre-determined movements which consists of defensive and offensive techniques performed in a particular sequence. Each movement and technique in a kata is made up of selected elements suitable to circumstances of real world fighting. There are 12 Official Kata in Traditional Goju Ryu.
Kata is performed alone against imaginary opponents. It serves the purpose of developing good posture, execution of techniques and mental concentration (focus). Each step of Kata needs to be analysed and understood before the Karate practitioner can apply it to real fighting. Kata embeds strategies of fighting designed to expose different parts of the opponent’s body and follow-up with offensive techniques.
Kata is Symbol of Principle
The masters of old created Kata, as a result of experiences in actual fighting, they contracted certain principles in the form of Kata and we have to unlock the code that is within the Kata. Certain ideas cannot be understood by verbal explanation, as much as we will explain people are going to understand it with their own judgment different from one another.
We can use science to explain the dynamic of certain techniques and it is helpful but not enough, the human being is not a machine, and as much as we can imitate the technique, it will be only external. We need to get the feeling of it.
An obvious example is the principle of “feeling, reaction, action, technique one after another, but all together” which means that we don’t look to analyze and then react with the proper technique but react by feeling directly through the nervous system in the spine and through accumulated training, this reaction becomes the proper body action and transmission into technique. So the Kata gives us both physical tools and tuning of the mind into a state of effortless alertness.
Kata is a Means of Freedom of Movement
As much as Kata seems restricted, the goal of Kata is freedom and we can achieve that because Kata is teaching us to conduct our energy in different directions most efficiently, and this efficiency will eventually be brought to any line of movement at any range (we start from big to small) depending on the necessity of the application.
Kata gives us the Ideal
With a strong stimulus like an opponent, we are too busy and excited to correct habits. Training only with partners allows our bad habits to be magnified. So Kata gives us a method to practice and perfect our techniques. Through repetition of kata our bodies learn to react without thought performing with less error.
Kata is Physical Development
In Kata we practice big movement synchronized with breath and the body always moves as a whole unit from the ground up.
This will keep the body’s elasticity and strength. The body now develops in harmonious ways, therefore Karate can be practiced until old age.
Balanced training of both sides will ensure balanced development which helps in preventing injury even though in application we naturally prefer one side over the other. In most sports, athletes practice mostly with one side (Tennis, Golf etc.).
Kata for Well Rounded Training of All
When we practice Jiyu Kumite, (Free Sparring) or competition fighting, most of us tend to have 2 or 3 techniques that are our favorite. Kata forces us to practice many techniques that fit many self defense circumstances.
Another aspect of this point is that a Karate person that is limited to a few favorite techniques is incomplete and cannot contribute to the development of Traditional Karate. He could not teach students according to their own natural tendencies because of his own limited understanding.
Kata as Training for Mental Control
Kata should not be considered as solely physical performance, it is the spirit of the performance that is the essence of the Kata. The right spirit must be presented in order to follow the principle of maximum efficiency. You must be in correct mental state for practice to be effective, attention cannot be paid only to the mechanics of the Kata but to harmonious cooperation of mind and body.
As we develop certain reflexes we also must develop certain mental qualities to accompany those reflexes as proper spirit to each technique, as Zanshin which is certain alertness or full mind by which we can control the opponent and respond to him.
Kata helps us to transcend beyond merely mechanical reaction to the many circumstances we could encounter into a level of “unconscious” reaction which we don’t know what our action would be while doing it.
Through years of Kata practice, one can transcend techniques so that Karate becomes an “artless, art”. This is the level of mastery.