Kata: form or function?

What is the purpose of kata? Is it just something you have to learn for grading? Is it solely for demonstration purposes? Or is there more to kata than just what is on the surface?

I was once told that kata was the "arty" side of karate, to just show how well you could perform set techniques incorporating movement. But I believe there is much more to kata than just performance art.

Some of you may have seen bunkai demonstrations where the karateka performing the kata "takes out" multiple attackers from all sides. This is something I term "exhibition bunkai" as it is choreographed - in my opinion it has to be - for who will teach the attackers how the kata is supposed to go and what happens if just one of them attacks at the wrong time in the kata? But if you take sequences from kata, many of them have practical application in self-defence situations. Things like escapes from wrist grips, shoulder or collar grabs, punch attacks and others - or a combination of these attacks.

A term is used to describe the more common types of assaults - "Habitual Acts of Physical Violence". This term was coined by a leading researcher in karate - Kyoshi Patrick McCarthy. There are only a limited number of ways you can attack someone and a limited number of vulnerable places on the human body. The combination of these parameters leads to a narrow choice of options in terms of attacking someone physically. And the likely types of attack narrow further when you add a psychological element, whether it is a man (most likely) or woman (less likely) as the aggressor and whether the intended victim is male or female.

There is in fact a list of the top 10 most common forms of assaults on both men and women compiled from analyses of reported and investigated assaults from many agencies, and they do not vary markedly in either type of attack or most common attack. Something which is, in itself, a point worth noting.

Something to think about perhaps?

- Mick Todd