Kata (forms) are pre-determined sequences of moves practiced in different directions. Some moves are performed quickly and others are performed slowly and the moves are executed as if against an imaginary attacker. Each kata is complete in and of itself and generally starts and finishes in the same spot.
Kata are a way of providing progressively more complex structure to progressively more difficult basics. In other words kata give the Karate practitioner a chance to put strings of movements together in a disciplined manner while providing the basis for improvement of technique through the practice of form.
Without kata Karate would be devoid of character and ultimately of self-expression because although kata sequences are set patterns, the way of performing each kata depends upon the practitioner’s own strengths, inclination and interpretation just like dance. A kata performed without an individual’s true expression of personal honesty in movement is like watching a drab and boring monologue in a play. It is this honest expression of oneself through one’s movements that give kata meaning.
It is often written that kata is the heart of Karate and that without kata Karate would be just another sport. I see why people say this because they believe that kata can inspire individuals to express themselves honestly but at the same time I also see why so many people fail to understand the true meaning of kata.
The true meaning of kata can only be understood through rigorous and constant practice. It is also helpful to watch a competent demonstration of kata by an instructor, by a winning competitor in a tournament or by a master. Strong spirit and character are also developed through this disciplined practice as well as through quality instruction and strong basics. Kata practice also helps other aspects of Karate such as improved focus and concentration and greater understanding of “bunkai” and “oyo” (analysis and application of technique). Practice of kata is probably the most rewarding aspect of Karate.