By Hali Serrian
In Yoshukai, we have 19 colored belt forms, or kata. There are even more after blackbelt. Kata are one of the main units by which we measure progress toward our next rank. But why do we learn kata? Why don’t we just punch and kick and fight each other? What purpose does a glorified stately dance serve?
In the days of old, practitioners of karate may have known three kata, and that is if they were Masters with years and years of experience. Most only knew one, maybe two and these were still considered Masters. This is because, for these learners, the kata was the style. It was a system of martial arts in and of itself. The form was merely the training tool for practicing that system. It put all the techniques together in a kinetic pneumonic so that they could be easily remembered and practiced. Our kata today are derived from that ancient system.
Our more traditional forms like Seisan, Chinto, and Bassai, are the forms that the old Masters might have known. These forms can be studied for years with something new to learn with each repetition. They often include multiple ‘acts’ or sections with a slightly different focus in each. They were created to be practiced alone or with the supervision only of the one who taught it to you.
The forms which are more modern and unique to individual styles (Kihon Kata Shodan, Nidan, etc.) have been created to teach the basics of a style before more complex forms are introduced. For those of us who practice karate for sport or as a lifestyle (we all fall into this category for the most part) this helps us get the hang of things before we advance further. Yoshukai’s classic example is in learning Yoshu, our highest form pre-blackbelt. Without Kihon Kata and Kihon Kata Shodan Nunchaku to teach the weapon’s basics, Yoshu would be too big a bite for many of us to chew.
Forms teach us the basics of our style and they can teach us an entire fighting system if we let them. They are for performance in tournaments and for cardio when performed one after the other without rest. They can be applied to self defense and thought about in the abstract. Kata are an integral part to modern karate and, of course, they’re fun!