From Kata to Fighting


60242248_2284265311811678_1967447573958492160_o.jpgKata (form) – Karate shadow boxing. The mention of Kata evokes all sorts of emotions in people. From passion to laughter everyone has an opinion ranging from a functional self defence training tool to merely a comical dance performed by kids in pyjamas. Unfortunately over the years this picture of a dance has been painted by an ignorance of Karate teachers. This has led to the display of unrealistic applications for the moves within the forms with a total disregard for anatomy, physiology and common sense. As a result we see demonstrations of techniques out of this world which have no real chance of working

Kata is an essential part of the Karate. Most masters agree that the pure essence of Karate are its forms, but forms that are understood and studied not just copied and mindlessly repeated.

“Like textbooks to a student or tactical exercises to a solider, kata are the most important element of Karate.” Gichin Funakoshi

“In karate, the most important thing is kata. Into the kata of karate are woven every  manner of attack and defense technique. Therefore, kata must be practiced properly, with a  good understanding of their bunkai meaning.”  Kenwa Mabuni

For me kata must be functional, not necessarily looking very crisp with structured timings. The latter attributes are great for sport competition and aesthetics, but when I look at that type of performance I can see that often performers don’t know why they do all of the moves within the given form. It is a very athletic and eye pleasing performance but function is left behind.Kanku_kata

“Never be shackled by the rituals of kata but instead move freely according to the opponent’s strengths and weaknesses.”Nakasone 

I value more a kata where I can see that the person executing it knows why he does what he does. The movement may not be so precise but it screams that I’m doing ‘this’ now.

“We must be careful to not overlook the fact that kata, and the body positions that comprises them , are just templates of sort; it is their application in combat which needs to be mastered.” Choki Motobu

At my club beginners don’t start with learning the form pattern, they are introduced to the principles and partner work along side the kata. In my experience it is easier for students to learn a form if they understand what they are doing.


When students grasp the basic concepts then we can focus on technical aspects of a kata and polishing technique. The next step is to introduce partner work with little resistance, so the practitioner can find the right technical pathway to make a technique work. When this is achieved we add another layer whereby the compliance is decreased, but trainees are sticking to the structure of one attack one defence. In this way they have a basis of understanding ingrained for an application of an element of a kata and they can follow closely the kata’s path.

UntitledEvolving on from a low level of resistance we move on to pressure testing where a student will still stay with a given application but wears protective gear and resistance is applied. There is no continuity after the initial attack, students focus on one given attribute and try to make it work under pressure. The next step is full interaction with a live resisting opponent who is allowed to fight back. The “defender” at this stage is still trying to make the chosen application work. The last stage of this learning is a free work where one partner is the attacker and the other is defender. The defender has the kata available to use and can use freely parts of the form depending on the need in the moment.  For example he can choose to start with an opening section moving on to the last part of the kata as circumstances change and follow that with the middle part of the form if necessary.


The final stage is sparring – not the sport style of sparring but starting from a dispute and then one partner decides to attack. The defenders target is to fight back and try to use the kata’s tools to achieve an opportunity to escape or disable the opponent’s ability or will to attack. In this stage we don’t worry about which kata part is used or joined together if it’s effective.


Les Bubka

About the author: Les Bubka is an experienced martial artist, personal trainer and therapist who specialises in posture, mobility and Karate.  Les works with a wide variety of clients including martial artists and athletes as well as those suffering with postural dysfunction or those who wish to improve their fitness and wellbeing

Categories: kata, Philosophy

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4 replies »

  1. What a fascinating article! I have no karate knowledge or experience, but as I read about the kata and their function, I suddenly flashed back to my childhood when I studied classical ballet. Internalizing the forms in ballet is vital, but while those forms do become part of the dance, it’s the /dance/ that is the ultimate goal. Not so very different to karate. 🙂

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