Are katas meant to be difficult to interpret?

Hey so I don’t do a MA that has katas, I do capoeira, so I don’t have any experience with them, this is just a matter of curiosity. But whenever I see someone doing one I realize that I have no idea what the person is doing about 95% of the time, and the remaining 5% is conjecture.

In capoeira we have sequences, which are moves which synchronize well together and after doing them all the time you tend to break it out without thinking when playing a jogo in the roda (this is our version of sparring). So my question is really, are katas like the ‘eastern’ version of sequences? And if so is every movement supposed to be some sort of attack/block/evasion, or is some of it thrown in there simply to convolute the movements, for some traditional reason like hiding the attacks from beginners or something?

I’ve read about them online but everything seems to just say the same thing, like people copied it from Wiki, and doesn’t concern this topic. Thanks in advance ladies and gents.
Ooohhh, these answers are all pretty informative, thx guys, I will wait for a day or two before choosing the best answer in case anyone else answers, but as it stands now I wish I could choose more than one.

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7 Responses to Are katas meant to be difficult to interpret?

  1. blakenyp says:

    Yes, katas are generally not easy to interpret. Most karate students, even at advanced rank, will also not have a real idea of what they are doing half the time. I constantly questioned the techniques in my kata as I was coming up the ranks, and I still do. Some techniques are very obvious, but few have a single interpretation. Many moves that seem to be nothing are actually the most potent parts of the kata. There are a lot of pressure point movements, grabs, holds, chokes, etc that aren’t usually taught to practitioners until they have several degrees of a black belt. I think kata are the most enjoyable and overall beneficial aspects of karate training. I love going back to white belt kata I learned over a decade ago and relearning them, because what seemed difficult at white belt seemed easy at green belt, and now seems to be difficult again. There is so much in any kata that is not obvious. Don’t feel bad if you don’t understand them when you watch someone do one. I bet if you ask them what they are doing they probably won’t have a good answer, or will only have one very specific application for a move that could be done a hundred ways.

  2. Liz H says:

    When we teach kids their first Kata we explain to them that they are like a story. We do them do remember the “moves” and combinations. There are many many different interpretations of just one Kata. It all comes down to your own individual interpretations. It’s important to really understand the kata and break it down, and this is what really makes you progress. The understanding and the why to what we do. Many Kata’s will also teach you knew “moves” and combinations adding more “tools to your toolbox (Of knowledge)” Doing these moves over and over again is a chance to one get a work out, two remember you moves physically and mentally, practice you form, and understand the combinations and strikes more thouroughly and in practice. The styles that do katas like the ones you have seen also practice sparring if they are a decent school. Just in case you didn’t know.

    Hope this helps.

    P.s. I am very interesting in your style and plan to do some research. I appreciate the question. It is important to be aware other branches and styles of Martial Arts, to get a better understanding and appreciation for your own practiced style/s.

  3. pugpaws2 says:

    The fact that kata are not easy to understand was intentional. It allowed the creators of the original kata to be able to practice routines that would remind them of the actual applications. At the same time if someone else was to study the kata they would see only what appeared to be a sequence of meaningless collection of what looks like blocking, striking and kicking. That is why the traditional arts have survived for so long. That is also why there is so much controversy over their usefulness.
    Understand that many, many of the high ranked martial artists were never taught how to interpret the kata. That has only made things worse today. Westerners want it now. they don’t want to spend years training before learning the real applications in the kata. The attitude is one of ,if there really are hidden applications, I want to know them now. That is not how it works. Having spent the last 41 years training I can truly say that there are things of value hidden in kata. I started training in 1967, yet was not taught any of the true applications until the early 1980’s. Since then I have continued to study this in depth. I would not waste my time if it were not of great value. Others will disagree but that does not change things.

    BTW when referring to one kata or several it is not necessary to change the word by adding an s at the end. The word kata can be used to mean one kata or many.

    EDIT: For those that still want more on this see my asnwers to these questions….

    Do secret techniques really exist?

    How do you interpret kata technique? This one especially!!!

  4. katana172 says:

    good answers by blake and pugpaws. not much I could add. Either one of them would be an excelent choice for best answer.

  5. dzpmantis says:

    I agree with Katana, both of them were excellent answers

  6. Aaron J says:

    I will third Katana’s response to the above answers.

  7. Giff says:

    There are lots of little subtle things in katas for example in “heian shodan” what looks like an upward block is actually an arm break.

    Things like that are near impossible to pick up on just by watching or even performing a kata and asking is often the only way to understand them.

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