Kata: what for?
I always find funny how people fight about kata. Is it good or is it useless?
Arguments always break from people who are obsessed with kata (karateka mainly) and people who don't practice Japanese martial arts (combat sports people). Ones will talk about skills, technique, coordination and stamina, while the others will tell you that there are more efficient ways of achieving those (there are) and that you are blinded by "tradition".
What I often see is that people are so far away on what fighting is that will never get to agree on anything. I wish someone who is a devoted karateka and is currently training MMA could talk about this... Oh, that is me!!
Let's start by explaining what (Karate) kata is:
Long time ago, in some spacetime coordinates known as ancient Okinawa, the people there (peasants or aristocrats, depending on who you ask to) developed ways of fighting. Then, how to teach others? How to transmit the knowledge into the future generations? Let's not forget that their fighting was practiced in secret, due to some weird power struggle between Japan and China.
People starting to put all the techniques (and principles, and strategies, and combinations) they knew together into patterns of movement that could be practiced and remembered on your own.
In a time without widespread books or DVDs this was the only idea they came up with and, as simple as it sounds, it worked, because we are still practicing some kata that are centuries old.
Every kata is the collection of fighting knowledge of one master.
This is what kata is.
But, then Karate expanded into mainland Japan, then WWII crushed Okinawa and Japan...
Many, many experts were killed.
The truth is that Karate suffered a loss of knowledge and a boom in popularity, and now we have 90% (if not more) of worldwide karateka performing kata with no idea of what they are for.
Luckily, there are many people now who have decided that is time to bring that knowledge into Karate again.
So I will agree that if you intent to gain any improvement on your fighting skills by just performing kata then there are much better ways of achieving that. If you do it because you enjoy performing kata and/or collecting kata then power to you, do what you enjoy.
But I have find that kata include skills and combos that I pull during sparring/kumite. Yes, mainly from Saifa and Heian/Pinan Yondan.
And I also find a complete fighting system inside Tekki/Naihanchi Shodan. This is the only kata I can say I really studied, researched and put into practice. Most of the bunkai included in my book (available under request) is what I use in my MMA sparring. Yes, you heard me: I use Karate in MMA, and yes, it works wonders.
It is not only the techniques, but the concepts, the principles... it is full of information that you can actually use. Even on the ground this kata is useful! And knowing a bit of Judo never hurts.
Of course, if you never research your kata and test it under pressure you will never make good use of it.
If you just perform kata, you don't know kata.
If you never train kata, you will never understand its benefits.
I am 100% committed to make my training as useful as possible in self-defense. I do as much as I can to keep the pace with people from other arts. I always question everything I see. I run, I lift weights, I spar, I hit the bags, I roll, I watch fights, I ask questions.
If kata were useless, they would not be an important part of my training.
After all this, kata is a traditional part of Karate. There can not be Karate without kata.
As a Karate instructor I think part of my responsibility is to transmit Karate to the next generations with as much information as possible. Just because I did not research the whole of my kata collection does not mean that I can steal my students (and their students) the possibility to do so.
And come on, I love practicing kata when nobody is looking!
PS: yes, the guy in the photo is me, like a decade ago, coaching some grading. Yes, I miss that moustache very much.