What is a Kata? What is its purpose?
A good question and one that has a number of answers. It can be practice for applying techniques in simulated close combat fighting, an opportunity to practise all techniques (including the more lethal ones rarely touched on in Kihon), a database of karate techniques, or just a good relevant work-out.
Some students simply enjoy perfecting and performing their kata almost as an art, whilst others may find it more difficult and initially just learn them to complete their syllabus. However, when your karate skill advances you will also come to realise the importance of the movements and techniques in kata for real self-defence application. Kata is an integral part of karate and huge emphasis is placed upon it in our association. A comprehensive explanation is beyond the scope of this website, however, for those seeking further insight, check the 'members resource' for a link to information about kata bunkai (application).
How many kata are there?
There are 27 kata in the SSKA Shotokan Syllabus. 8 kata are mandatory for Kyu grade to 1st Dan examinations, with an additional 8 kata expected to be learned at Brown belt level (3rd to 1st Kyu). The rest are advanced level kata for Black belts.
Learning a new kata
When learning a new kata, students may find it easier to firstly try and memorise at least the sequence of moves themselves prior to the lesson. The videos below should help you with this and enable you to go through steps as many times as you like. That way you will then be able to concentrate on learning the technical details of how to execute techniques and their application from your Sensei in the lesson, rather than struggling to remember what move comes next. Practise the kata in sections. Once you know the sequence and how to execute each move without forgetting, you can then think about timing, applying full kime, correct breathing, etc.
You should make a point of practising all your learned kata at least once a week between lessons and the kata for your current level even more.
Simply relying on performing kata only during the lessons is never enough practice to progress your kata, in fact, you will probably find yourself forgetting them. Each kata only takes around a minute to perform, so allowing a few minutes to limber up first and then practising should really only be a 10-15 minute affair at most for junior belts. Higher belts can split up a number of kata to practise on different days. However, if you want to make significant progress, you should think about doing your own 20 minute or longer sessions.
Performing your kata
Maintain the correct timing. The tendency can be for students (even Seniors) to rush through their kata which they know well, but their stances and techniques suffer as a consequence. A kata, like a dance, must be performed with the correct timing.
Complete each move and technique fully in the correct stance before moving to the next. Strong kihon movements must be shown rather than looser techniques that might be seen in kumite.
Execute each fast technique effectively with full kime! Slow moves slooow (4 second count) under tension, fast moves with snap and power.
Look before you move and look in the direction you are moving, attacking or defending. Don't look down at the floor, you should be imagining the opponent.
There is no such thing as a perfect kata and indeed, high ranking Dan grades and masters will tend to form their own interpretation of how they perform a particular kata. You may see the same kata performed at a competition which also might look very different with theatrically executed displays showing ultra-high-speed techniques and extreme athleticism. Some might say that these days the integrity of high-level kata is sacrificed for speed and dramatic effect, but its a subjective matter and much depends upon the goals of the practitioner. Many variations can also be seen on the internet for specific moves, stances and techniques for the same kata. There are lengthy arguments made by various masters explaining the merits of doing things their particular way. Regardless of this, students should follow the teachings of their own school. Only once a certain level of mastery has been achieved at Dan grade should further insight be sought for a deeper knowledge of karate. The videos below show kata performed in a standard form according to SSKA style at normal speed. You may find it challenging to perform like the karate-ka in these videos, just keep in mind we are not all built the same and much depends upon age, flexibility, and conditioning. However, set the bar high and always try to improve that little bit more each time you practice.