Kata (型:かた) means literally “shape” or “model.” Kata is a formalized sequence of movements which represent various offensive and defensive postures. These postures are based on idealized combat applications.
Kata is the fundamental heart of Karate. It contains generations of expertise in open handed fighting and includes high impact strikes, grappling, close range strikes, throws & takedowns, ground fighting, chokes & strangles, arm locks, leg & ankle locks, neck wrenches and finger locks.
Some kata use low and wide stances. This practice develops leg strength, correct posture, and gracefulness. Vigorous arm movements enhance cardiovascular fitness and upper body strength. Kata vary in number of movements and difficulty. The longer kata require the karateka to learn many complex movements. Diligent training and correct mindfulness lead to real understanding of combat principles.
Physical routines were a logical way to preserve this type of knowledge. The various moves have multiple interpretations and applications. Because the applicability for actual self-defense is so flexible there is no definitively correct way to interpret all kata. That is why only high ranking practitioners are qualified to judge adequate form for their own style. Some of the criteria for judging the quality of a performance are: Absence of missteps; correct beginning and especially ending; crispness and smoothness; correct speed and power; confidence; and knowledge of application. Kata with the same name are often performed differently in other styles of karate. Kata are taught with minor variations among schools of the same style. Even the same instructor will teach a particular kata slightly differently as the years pass.
To attain a formal rank the karateka must demonstrate competent performance of specific required kata for that level. There are perhaps 100 kata across the various forms of karate, each with many minor variations.
Traditionally, kata are taught in stages. Previously learned kata are repeated to show better technique or power as a student acquires knowledge and experience. It is common for students testing to repeat every kata they have learned but at an improved level of quality. The student will perform one new kata and one or two previous ones, to demonstrate how much they have progressed.
The various styles of karate study different kata, or variations of a common core. Some kata may therefore be known by two names, one in Japanese, the other in Okinawan/Chinese. This is because Gichin Funakoshi renamed many kata to help Karate spread throughout Japan.
Several Shotokan groups have introduced kata from other styles into their training, but when the JKA was formed, Nakayama laid down 27 kata as the kata syllabus for this organization. Even today, thousands of Shotokan dojo only practice 26 of these 27 kata. The standard kata are: (太極初段), Heian shodan (平安初段), Heian nidan (平安二段), Heian sandan (平安三段), Heian yondan (平安四段), Heian godan (平安五段), Bassai dai (披塞大), Jion (慈恩), Empi (燕飛), Kanku dai (観空大), Hangetsu (半月), Jitte (十手), Gankaku (岩鶴), Tekki shodan (鉄騎初段), Tekki nidan (鉄騎二段), Tekki sandan (鉄騎三段), Nijūshiho (二十四步), Chinte (珍手), Sōchin (壯鎭), Meikyō (明鏡), Unsu (雲手), Bassai shō (披塞小), Kankū shō (観空小), Wankan (王冠), Gojūshiho shō (五十四歩小), Gojūshiho dai (五十四歩大), and Ji’in (慈陰).
The below video shows Sensei Marshall and Gail Ledger from the club demonstrating Nijūshiho and Chinte respectively.