Under: karate
5 May 2008

When I was starting out in karate I was told about the Tracy’s system (most styles are similar), basics, 240 self-defense techniques, 17 katas, and kumite (sparring/fighting). My first thought I asked my instructor was why I could not just learn how to fight. Why did I need to memorize so many techniques to attain each belt rank? My instructor (Dick Willett) told my that forms and techniques helped us learn how to learn the martial art. I thought about that and it made some sense… If I had just wanted to learn how to fight, I would have taken wrestling or boxing.


Lets explore the components that make up a martial art and then look at katas in more depth. First look at this video of two karate/kung fu champions doing a funny skit. George Chung was one of the top kata competitors in my day (late 70’s/early 80’s). Cynthia Rothrock was from the same era, also winning lots of kata championships.


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It is always fun to watch such great athletes perform! I used watch George Chung do some truly great kata performances and win most of the competitions I saw. As I stated above there are about four components of most karate and kung fu styles.

  1. Basics are the kicks, punches, blocks and other strikes as well as stances. Before a student can put moves together, he or she must learn how to do the basics.
  2. Techniques are stylized moves for different attacks. These techniques bring the student closer to learning how a style moves in relation to attacks.
  3. Katas are stylized methods of practicing many techniques for speed, balance, power and coordination. Many a good fighter just barley squeak through the kata portion of his or her test because it did not seem to have much to do with "fighting." More on that later.
  4. And finally there is kumite (sparring or practice fighting). Each style approaches this a little differently. Some formal styles focus more on self-defense so that practice non-contact kumite (so they won't kill each other because all strikes are open). Other styles practice a form of kiss-contact (hard to the body and just tapping the head). Kiss contact used to be the open tournament rules I fought with but I don't really know what is done now. There are also the schools that have more uniform rules such as MMA abides by to teach its students full-contact with full protective gear. Learning to fight is ostensibly the reason most people learn a martial art.



I think this is a good overview and more on the other components of a martial art later but now I would like to focus on katas and why they are taught. katas are taught so students learn to use their techniques in a coordinated manor. Students have to concentrate on balance, form, speed, coordination, power and art to pull of a good kata! katas are an excellent form of exercise. I wrote a post entitled, "Want to be Fit for Life? Try Katas!" on my other website LeanAnMean.com, that you might want to check out. Here is a video of the women's 2006 World Karate Federation kata team finals.


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Watching these competitors in perfect synchronization and great execution on their moves gives me pause. To be truly good on forms, one have to devote enough time to practice in a workout. If all one did was practice fighting - he or she would be a great fighter but might be missing part of what martial arts have to offer. I think that one of the great benefits of becoming proficient at karate or kung fu, is the art form as well as ancillary benefits of fitness. Here is another video of the men's 2006 World Karate Federation kata finals for your perusal.





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I hope this perspective has helped some of you see the value of learning the dances (katas) of our predecessors. Well I would like to ramble on ad nauseum but I have to break off and go try to get a few katas in tonight before bedtime. :)




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10 Responses to “Why Are Forms “Katas” Taught in Martial Arts?”

  1. Matt Klein Says:

    Hi John, I teach forms down here in Aussie to the kids. I get feedback from the parents to the effect of “James is able to concentrate and focus at school so much better now”, which I attribute directly to the study of forms. It really teaches them to tune out distractions and concentrate on the form at hand. In addition, I think with the complex hand techniques of Kenpo, it really pumps up their hand speed. Also, as I get older, it is not always practical to spar with all the injuries, etc. You can always do kata, and if done correctly, is one heck of a cardiovascular workout. I used to hate forms, now I love em.

  2. John W. Zimmer Says:

    Howdy Matt,
    Tai Chi seems to do exclusively kata type moves and it seems to be great exercise. I think they claim to be able to even use this martial art for self-defense. I agree katas are great exercise because you are using fighting moves in a scripted manner. I think when I am 90 I will still be able to do forms but I kind of doubt that I will be sparring.


  3. Oliver Jones Says:

    I practive both Tai-Chi and meditation on my spare time. It is really good for general health.,”.

  4. Matt Klein Says:

    Just a question for John, Oliver, or anyone else who might want to chime in. The late Patrick Swayze’s form on the green scene. Someone told me that was a Tai-Chi form. Is that correct? Really loved his character in the movie. His best line “no one wins a fight”. Classic. Will miss him.

  5. Matt Klein Says:

    Sorry, forgot to add the scene was out of Roadhouse. Please feel free to add this other comment John so I don’t look too much like a spammer.
    Matt Klein recently posted..Karate Belts- What do the Colours MeanMy Profile

  6. Joshua Brown Says:

    i would also like to learn Tai-Chi but there seems to be no practitioner in our area~`~

  7. Kaitlyn Rogers Says:

    my friend is a tai-chi master and he encourages me to enroll in his class’~”

  8. Storage Chest  Says:

    my dad is an expert in Tai-Chi and i am taking lessons from him this coming winter””:

  9. Share Quotes : Says:

    i find tai-chi a bit harder to learn, but i am really interested in learning tai-chi,:*

  10. n-acetyl tyrosine Says:

    i am always practicing tai-chi because it enhances both the mind and body..