How do you feel about forms, or kata, in martial arts? Are the legitmate?


As one who practices Tai Chi where make use of forms in our study I have on occasion read or in actual conversations heard comments to the effect that that forms, or kata, are useless as far as practical applications go and that all martial arts should be taught with sparring.

How do you feel about the use of forms in the teaching of martial arts?
Are they effective?

I have my own ideas on the subject but wish to hear your point of view.
I have great respect for my teacher and I have no issues with the way he teachers. This is not about TaI Chi and I have no complaints. This is simply so I can hear peoples views on forms or katas in martial arts training.

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12 Responses to How do you feel about forms, or kata, in martial arts? Are the legitmate?

  1. alexK says:

    It really depends on what you are hoping to get out of your training. If you are hoping to develope flexibility, control and technique kata is good.

    If you want to learn how to fight or how to defend yourself in a real life situation Kata is pretty much useless.

    The types of punches and kicks you throw in Kata are meant to look good and not meant to hurt an opponent.

    I have a black belt in Kempo, I started doing MMA and Boxing and would get destroyed by people who only had a month or two of training.

  2. Agnostic Front says:

    Take Rex Kwon Do if you want to break boards. If you want to learn an art, the movements are very specific. During my time studying Wing Chun i found myself thinking the same thing, this is stupid, why does it have to be EXACTLY like that, “it doesn’t make sense”. You know, that’s really the point in things you don’t understand. Doing them. Learning them, and having the discipline and respect for your teacher enough to do your best and do it precisely how they ask you to. I cannot count the number of times later on in the art long after i learned the 3rd form and really started to get into really learing what WC was all about… “Wow, so that’s why we did that in the Form (kata).” It’s all about mastering specific techniquest.

    Let me give you an example. I’m instructing you on how to ‘crack’ a towel but theres no towel involved. We do hand movements that involve wrist snapping and you complain that the point is to cause welts, why cant i just bite the person, jeeez! That says a) you don’t understand what you’re learning and it may take time to develop the snapping technique REQUIRED to effectively cause this effect. and b) You don’t think your teacher knows what they’re doing, when in fact you’re completely wrong.

  3. CTC says:

    Tai Chi has hundreds of hidden uses hidden in its forms. It all depends on how knowlegable ur sifu is in it to teach u how to apply it. Push Hands is practiced to develop the basic skills u need to apply it martially. Depending on the sifu Tai Chi is taught with sparring.
    Finding a sifu that truely knows Tai Chi and its concepts and applications is rare. It is rarer to find a sifu willing to share all his knowlege. It takes about a decade of studying under a good sifu and daily practice to become proficient in Tai Chi. Remember Tai Chi isnt only about its forms. Tai Chi is about developing ur chi and how to use it.
    In the highest levels of Tai Chi the practitioner uses his Yi to control his Chi, and his Chi to move his body.
    Good luck

  4. regtracker says:

    some ppl want to learn how to defend themselves, some ppl want to compete and others just want the experience,focus and dicipline it brings to their lives.

    anyone that puts down a certain dicipline IMO isn’t satisfied with their own personal progress in their own dicipline.

    not everyone who chooses an art is there because they want to kick a**.

  5. Rocky P says:

    It teaches students strength and discipline. Where I live (Belize, Central America) there are not many Martial Arts styles available e.g. no MMA, Muy Tai or BJJ gyms. Shotokan Karate (8 schools in the country) is the dominant style which stresses learning Katas first and then sparring. Then there is Red Dragon Karate (the only school in the country) that stresses on both Katas and Sparring from the beginner’s level. In tournaments Red Dragon wins in sparring competitions and Shotokan takes the Katas competitions.

  6. callsignfuzzy says:

    Not sure what you mean by “legitimate”.

    Solo forms, on their own, aren’t effective. Forms where the applications are taught and practiced in two-person drills, in a realistic manner, can be very effective. But without the sparring aspect, it’s hard to determine what’s realistic and what isn’t. I’ve seen some applications that were clearly conceived by people who had never been in a real fight before; their students would be in for a rude awakening should they ever have to use what they learned.

  7. Lex says:

    I find kata extremely good, especially since I don’t get into a fight every day.

    Kata were designed to develop the muscle memory, which is essential to learning martial arts. It’s not unlike learning a song to memorize the alphabet. In a traditional style of martial arts, all your basics should be found in your kata. So if you practice kata, you won’t forget them.

    Every single movement you make in a good kata, will be effective in some way or another. I highly doubt that the early masters, who’s lives depended on their martial arts would develop a system of learning like a kata, if it wasn’t useful. I’ve trained with several Okinawan masters, and both of them have stressed kata as a fundamental part of the work out.

    Here’s the problem with kata. (Because they aren’t perfect for everything.) They are useless unless you know their application. I said that every single movement is effective, but without the application, it might as well not be effective. If you don’t know what you’re doing, kata truely is useless. Some of these applications have been lost. Katas have been torn apart, and all dolled up to look good in a tournament, and as a result the moves lost their effectiveness and became no more useful than a workout in a gym. Also, sometimes they were designed for the body type of the people where the style originated, and they don’t translate well for people who are very tall. Or have a lot of muscle.

    I stand behind them as fundamental and essential. I don’t believe a dojo that does not stress them as essential to be credable. But I’m not going to say you can learn martial arts on just kata alone. Kata will help you perfect them, but you have to try them out too and see how they really work. Once you find how they really work, you go back to your kata, then make the necessary corrections. Then you work your kata until those corrections become habit. Because as I said before, they were designed to build the muscle memory.

  8. firedup says:

    I think that focusing on forms or katas will not realistically prepare someone to fight. Sure it all looks good, and the motions are legit, but unless you practice using those moves in a surprised or a fight like situation than they will not be effective. In the ring, or on the street. Unless the student is focused on the art in its full capacity, meaning if you can draw your inner power and actually force it out through every motion. Being one in body mind and spirit. Heart and soul. Then maybe each strike and defensive movement would be more like a natural reflex, an automatic thought, instant, with no delay between brain waves and reflex. But this state of mind is very very hard to achieve and few actually ever do. Though many think they do.

  9. pugpaws2 says:

    Kata is a controversial subject. Very few people are ever taught the real purpose of kata. That is why so many people ignorantly say that kata is of no use. In Tai-Chi-Chuan the forms were created by the founder to hide applications. What the moves look like and their real applications are not the same. Unfortunately many Tai-Chi Masters have not been taught the real applications either. The ones that were are rare. The others many times are the biggest ones to say that there are no hidden applications. Sad but true. I guess if I had spent 30-40 years doing it and had not been shown or taught the applications i would be hard to convince to.
    Karate kata also have many hidden applications. They are also rarely taught. 25 years ago most people had never heard that there were hidden applications in the kata. Now it is common to hear but few people can demonstrate the real Bunkai (applications).

    To make matters worse there are many so-called masters of it teaching garbage like Dillman. That is not the real bunkai. but people like Seiyu Oyata do teach the real applications.

    And for those of you that will jump in and say that Dillman learned what he teaches from Oyata, Know this. Dillman claimed to have learned from Hohan Soken. But he only met Soken one time and had his picture taken with Soken. He was affiliated with Oyata for a short time. They parted ways quickly. Dillman went to medical doctors and claims that most of what he teaches was gained from his connection with the medical community. Yet he teaches crap. Oyata says that he was often contacted by Dillman. Oyata’s comments are that Dillman ask him stupid questions.

  10. John says:

    Kata have their place and are a great workout when done at a high level of execution as well help a person develop their balance, movement, speed, and power. Unfortunately when kata is taught it is not related to practical application by instructors a lot of times because they don’t know it or aren’t any good at explaining it. I know very few people that are good at kata that are not good at fighting. Most of the fighters I know can do a kata if they have studied traditional martial arts. I was covering this aspect today with a student in my hybrid fighting class and how standing with your balance a certain way allows you to do some things better and is more useful in some situations than standing another way and having your balance distributed differently. I was relating this to actual fighting since he has no interest in kata but the raw principals are still there. All my fighters know what a kata is and have seen it and understand its basic function and purpose in general terms. None of them fight as good as me or move as good as me and they are much younger in age than this old man. I may not be able to say that ten years from now but having twenty-five years on a lot of them now and being able to move and still do what I can makes me happy.

    I do think fighting or sparring in martial arts and kata should both be taught. They go hand in hand really and here again it is that instructor’s knowledge and ability to teach, coach, and communicate these things to his students and fighters in a way that is meaningful and makes sense that they can relate to and apply it. This does not mean that every technique in kata has a good pracitcal application in todays world but enough techniques and prinicpals do that make it interesting and helps reinforce things in a students mind for those techniques.

    In Tai Chi this is not very easliy realized or done since most Tai Chi does not encompass sparring or fighting. There is a training exercise though that is called “sticky hands” that you might want to ask your Tai Chi instructor about and see if he will play that with you or show you and the others what it is. It will help you to better understand some of the motions and movements that you are learning in that art and how they relate to some practical aspects.

  11. Ron says:

    It is not the case that kata’s or forms are useless, but that you need to go beyond them to be able to use martial arts in combat.

    An analogy for the utility of kata’s and forms is the roman alphabet. In primary school we learn our ABCs and we memorized them from A to Z. But that’s so we can go on to spell words. I doubt anyone since grade school has had to write A to Z in their everyday existence. However, spelling words is not the ultimate end, it is the ability to create sentences, paragraphs, etc. – so we can communicate, converse, or persuade. If you think about it, a fight is simply a violent form of conversing or persuasion.

    Katas and forms are the alphabet of a style which is necessary because there really was not a good way to pass the techniques down throught the ages on a static 2 dimensional pages of a book (or scroll). Even today with video and multi-media, it still requires an understanding of what you see for it to make sense.

    Kata’s or forms are not an end but the means to an end.

  12. Shihan J says:

    Kata is only as useful as your understanding of it

    Kata without proper bunkai (application) is useless.
    The kata contains your style. All your techniques come from kata. They contain all blocks, strikes, locks, throws etc
    They contain every thing you need for sefld defense.

    although now a days most karate styles contain more then 12 kata. In the old days you only new 1 or 2 kata. This was all you needed and was your entire fighting system.

    Tai chi foam although the movements are different the principals are still the same. They are still combat movements. But you still need to know what the application is. Without knowing this then it is only an exercise.

    I was lucky my tai chi instructor was very knowledgeable and taught the applications to the movements

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