If you have ever walked by a karate dojo and peered inside, you will often see the students drilling at kicks and punches, standing in rows as they work their way through ten, twenty or more repetitions of their attacks and blocks. Sometimes you will seem them sparring with each other, and then sometimes you might spot them making their way through a solitary dance of blows, everybody else watching as they trace invisible lines and attack and block invisible opponents. This silent dance is called a kata, and in today’s article we will examine what they are and why people practice them in order to improve their art.
A kata is a traditional sequel of blows, blocks and movements that have been designated for hundreds of years and practiced with the same precision by martial artists down the years. These sequences range from the simplest for beginnners to truly complex and free ranging sequences for advanced practioners, and each step, turn, block and blow is precisely executed in the right order, speed and direction. The ability to learn and execute these kata’s is a prerequisite of proving one’s mastery of one’s level, and often will be an integral part of the test before one is allowed to progress further.
Kata’s are more than just elegant, beautiful dances. They seek to help the practioner develop their art in very specific and intangible ways. The novice will stumble through his sequences, looking blocky and clumsy, pausing to remember the next move. This will reflect his current level of practice. By watching him the others will gauge how well he is able to excute the blows and his mastery of the art itself.
Through this practice however, over time the novice will learn discipline and precision. It is this control that is sought, this ability to master one’ body. Further, as one becomes increasingly proficient in karate and the kata, one will find that the kata’s function as a form of moving meditation, a source of calmness and stillness through which one may operate.
The reason practioners work on kata’s is because it allows them to find control, precision, and becomes a source of meditation and strength. One may gauge much of a karate practioner’s level of mastery by how smoothly and confidently they are able to move through the steps in a kata, and determine what their strengths and weaknesses are therein.