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Kata (型) is a Japanese word describing detailed patterns of defense-and-attack movements used by most traditional Japanese martial arts, such as the Budo disciplines (Aikido, Iaido, Jodo, Judo, Jiu_jitsu, Karate, Kendo) and Tae Kwon Do. The Chinese martial art of Tai Chi Chuan's famous solo form practise is reminiscent of the Japanese concept of kata.

The word kata means "form". The form can be composed for solo practise, like in karate, or for exercise in pairs.

According to legend, the kata in Karate were devised by a Japanese master, banished to a small island for his drunkenness. With no one to practice with, he instead put together sequences of moves performed solo. Karate students rowing to the island were then taught the kata in return for smuggled alcohol.

The kata practitioner executes a specified series of from 20 or so to as many as 70 moves, generally with stepping and turning, and attempting to maintain as nearly-perfect form as possible. The number of moves in a kata may be referred to in the name of the kata eg. Gojushiho, which means 54 steps. The number of moves may also have links with Buddhist spirituality - the number 108 is significant in Buddhism and kata whose numbers of moves are factors of 108 such as 54, 36 and 27 reflect this link.

The practitioner is generally counselled to visualize the enemy attacks, and his or her responses, as actually occurring.

Kata may be performed unarmed or with traditional weapons such as sword, spear, staff, or nunchaku.

In teaching the open handed kata, most systems start with a series of five basic kata named Pinan in some systems and Heian in others. By working through this series (in order: Shodan, Nidan, Sandan, Yodan, Godan) the practitioner learns all the basic stances and techniques before moving on to more advanced kata.

Many martial arts use kata for public demonstrations and in competitions, awarding points for such aspects of technique as style, balance, timing, and verisimilitude (appearance of being real).

Critics of kata argue that they produce stereotyped responses, making unexpected moves by opponents more dangerous. They claim that kata teaches the student very little, since it is mostly a matter of 'monkey see - monkey do' instead of the actual mastery of techniques. Martial arts is the livelihood for many teachers. As many, or even most people do not have the skills to become an accomplished martial artist, failure might turn them away from martial arts, thus threatening the income of the teacher. Critics of Kata claim that kata gives the teacher a chance to give students the impression that they have really learned something, while all they have learned is mimic the teacher's moves. The object of these teachers, then, is not to teach the students something useful, but to make them continue their lessons (and pay the teacher's fees). Critics also make the same point about the (coloured) belt system, claiming it is more about giving the student a sense of accomplishment so that they will continue to follow lessons than indicating actual skill.

Defenders of kata practice say that it is akin to the practice of meditation and that performing these ritualized moves again and again means that they can be performed without thinking, exactly the sort of ability you may need in a genuine self-defense situation. Kata, then, is a form of 'moving meditation,' giving the martial artist the unthinking muscle-memory upon which to draw in the heat of battle, where the time spent having to think about what to do next may mean the difference between victory and defeat. Kata practice may also provide the more traditional benefits of meditation: increased focus, awareness and self-discipline.

Kata is also a direction of the fourth spatial dimension, the counterpart of ana. The ana-kata vector is an equivalent of the three-dimensional vectors (forward-backward, left-right and up-down), but trying to describe it in 3d is like describing up in terms of left and right.