The word kata means “shape” or “form”. The kanji for kata is composed of the following characters:
Katachi meaning “Shape”,
Kai meaning “Cut”, and
Tsuchi meaning “Earth” or “Soil”.
Literally translated, kata means “shape which cuts the ground”. A kata is a sequence of blocks, kicks and punches from one or more stances, involving movement forward, backward and to the sides. The number of movements and their sequence are very specific. The balance between offensive and defensive techniques, the stances used and the direction and flow of movement all serve to give each kata its distinctive character.Through the practice of kata, the traditional techniques used for fighting are learned. Balance, coordination, breathing and concentration are also developed. Done properly, kata are an excellent physical exercise and a very effective form of total mind and body conditioning. Kata embodies the idea of ren ma, or “always polishing” – with diligent practice, the moves of the kata become further refined and perfected. The attention to detail that is necessary to perfect a kata cultivates self discipline. Through concentration, dedication and practice, a higher level of learning may be achieved, where the kata is so ingrained in the subconscious mind that no conscious attention is needed. This is what the Zen masters call mushin, or “no mind.” The conscious, rational thought practice is not used at all – what was once memorized is now spontaneous. Mas Oyama said that one should “think of karate as a language – the kihon (basics) can be thought of as the letters of the alphabet, the kata (forms) will be the equivalent of words and sentences, and the kumite (fighting) will be analogous to conversations.” He believed that it was better to master just one kata than to only half-learn many.
Mas Oyama also emphasized the three fundamental principles of kata:
Waza no Kankyu. The Tempo (slow/fast) of the Techniques. The tempo of the kata varies – some techniques are performed quickly, while others are done more slowly.
Chikara no Kyojaku. The Force (strong/weak) of the Power. The power of a technique derives from the proper balance between strength and relaxation.
Iki no Chosei. The Control (regulation) of Breathing.
The practice of traditional kata is also a way for the karateka to pay respect to the origins and history of Kyokushin Karate and the martial arts in general.