Kata is the heart of karate, and it is on kata that karate is based. Karate without kata is not karate. The goal of karate is self-mastery and it deepens and strengthens with training and perfection in the kata.
The methods of training used in karate were in part determined by the times and cultures in which the masters who devised them lived. The teaching methods have undergone much change since those times; however, the principles of the masters have not. The principles and aims are embodied in kata and when these are changed, there will no longer be any karate.
We have professed exponents if karate in America who have never studied karate per se, who have spread misinformation about the kata and who have cried to high heaven that they are building up and not destroying. The masters have passed down, through the centuries, and have stated what kata is and for what purpose it should be used. Kata is meant to train the mind, not intended solely for conceptual and intellectual self-defense; by the “art of karate” I do mean the ability of the technical excellence, which can be developed by physical training, but an ability of obtaining a spiritual goal through the practice of the kata, so that the player plays against himself and succeeds in conquering himself.
This may sound like arrant nonsense. You may say : Am I to believe that karate, a deadly fighting art, has downgraded to spiritual exercise? I do not care for the kata, I want to learn how to fight.”
According to the masters, karate is a matter of life and death to the extent it is a contest of the player with himself; and this kind of contect is not the shadow but the substance- the foundation of all contests outwardly directed, for example, toward a real opponent.
Kata reveals the quintessence of karate as it is a fight of the player with himself, and where can you find better training fundamentals than this. The purpose of kata is to create a certain frame of mind which is made always ready to respond, intuitively, to attack from without. Physical, technical training is necessary, but without the mind, training cannot even begin. Kata makes your mind grow from within. It makes you master your mind, not your mind master you.
The Way of karate is not easy to follow. The spirit of sincerity, in which nothing is held back. Nothing is wasted, must prevail and is achieved through kata. It is noteworthy the consistent karate champions are good kata men. naturally, there are some who win contest without being proficient in kata, but they are few in number and inconsistent in their wins. If push comes to shove, give me a good kata man anytime.
From the Student handbook of McLain’s Kosho School of Karate