How is kata superior to shadow boxing?

I’ve often heard from the traditionalists here that kata is superior to shadow boxing… in what way? I keep hearing people talk about the “hidden” techniques in kata, but why does it matter? Also, I have noticed that everyone keeps talking about these hidden applications but no one ever seems to explain what they are. It’s almost as if you’re trying to either hide something or you’re being an elitist and don’t want to share the info.

Another thing, some people say that kata should be static. I agree it should be done with speed and power, but I think what people mean is that there is a set pattern for kata, unlike shadow boxing which is unpredictable and allows the practitioner to move in a way that simulates fighting. I don’t think it is any stretch to say that no one is going to move the way you do in kata, i.e. no one is going to look to their left do a down block in a forward stance, step forward into a san-chin stance and do a reverse punch, and repeat on the other side, etc.

So let’s the situation settled, how is it superior to shadow boxing and why are the hidden applications so important?

Note: this is NOT a bash on kata. I recognize the art is in the kata, and that there are hidden applications. I also recognize that kata is a good way to relieve stress, build coordination and balance, work on technique, and even build muscle endurance. So I am not bashing kata. But at the same time, I also believe all of these things I just mentioned can be achieved by other means, including shadow boxing.
I mean that kata should NOT be static.
@callsign: many people practice shadow boxing very well who don’t practice kata. Boxers shadowbox all the time, but they don’t have kata. So I have to disagree.
@pugpaws: It has nothing to do with my desire or our conversations falling on deaf ears. I ask this question for two reasons: 1. so that the advocates of kata can directly address their reasons for why they think that kata is superior to shadowboxing and 2. so that we can see what at least some of the hidden techniques are. I fully admit that Kata has hidden techniques that may be beneficial to real combat and I have never stated that kata was useless. This is one area where KW and I have a disagreement. Also, I’m not the one who drew the parallel between shadowboxing and kata, I view them as serving two different purposes.

@Matt: take what? I don’t really give a crap what you think.

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14 Responses to How is kata superior to shadow boxing?

  1. callsignfuzzy says:

    Kata is superior as a teaching tool. It identifies movements which are of core importance to the system they’re from.

    In musical terms, kata would be a basic song, while shadowboxing would be jamming/freestyling. You can’t do the latter (well, anyway) until you’ve had practice with the former.

    Edit: but nobody shadow boxes (well) who doesn’t already know the basics. Solo forms are a way to train several basics at once.

    The purpose is different. Kata is, “look at this new move. Practice this new move in this very exact way”. Shadowboxing is, “are you ready to warm up? Shadow box for a few rounds using stuff you already know.”

    You can’t teach a large class by having them shadowbox. However, kata allows you to do just that.

  2. Tommy Maguire says:

    Kata is form training… it helps improve blocks, kicks, strikes etc… plus it’s a exercise for the mind.
    It is ment to be a real fight… the hidden bunkai techniques.

    To be fair… i used to do karate… we did loads of kata but truthfully… i felt it wasn’t effecting.
    With kata it’s powerful, strong stances etc… yes that’s good and all.
    But with boxing… it’s more free movements. It’s not all choreographed movements… shadow boxing is like a fight (just like kata) but instead you get to mix it up… like a actually fight.

    “In shadow boxing… you use your instincts… what ever combination you want to do… you just do it… bob, weave, punch etc… just imagine someone there fighting you back… that is what a fight is all about”

    “In kata… it’s all choreographed… there are so many different kata which has hidden techniques but it’s all choreographed. A fight ain’t “CHOREOGRAPHED”… a fight is about instincts… kata yes helps with blocks etc… but i wouldn’t think it’s superior to shadow boxing”

    in conclusion… this is my opinion… but you have to understand that a fight is fluid… not static :S.
    To be fair i wouldn’t start going into a karate stance if i was fighting lol

    my opinion

  3. Matt says:

    I bet you the traditionalists on here could be your @**

    Just nothing? gonna just sit there like little bitch!

  4. young blood warrior of arts says:

    I disagree that kata is better then shadow boxing I am both a traditionalist and combat sport fighter I like shadow boxing better it seems more realistic and works on speed power and some hand skills not to say kata is no good both can work different for different people

  5. Natigga says:

    You cannot compare them both, shadow boxing is to improve speed, cardio, movement, fluidity, combinations.

    Kata is more for improving your balance, transition, technique. and to an extent leg strength with the various stances.

  6. Kokoro says:

    and perhaps i chose my words poorly when i said stated that, at least i think i may have stated that. but in a way shadow boxing is more primitive of a sort. although i really dont like that word to describe it either

    i dont mean to put down shadow boxing, it is a very useful tool.

    perhaps some of these question i posted will help, i have too many to put her;_ylt=ApmokHv3ZrSQDFZtMQH4BFjty6IX;_ylv=3?qid=20090916105101AAfWjAN;_ylt=AptxFhhVPIv4y5hXhD6TZ2Xty6IX;_ylv=3?qid=20110301055859AASQlB8


    to me each kata is a separate style offering more tactics, techniques (striking and grappling), footwork, etc.

    in shadow boxing when you throw a technique such as a hook punch that’s all it is a hook punch and never any thing more
    in kata when you use a technique such as a punch it represents a lot more then just a punch. both hands moving have a purpose. as one hand retracts to the hip it always has some part of your opponent in it. so it can be used in a trap, armbar, etc.

    each movement in kata represents applications for multiple techniques.
    the down guard (gedan bari) for example, in its most basic application it is used to deflect a front kick. in reality are you ever going to use both hands like that to block a front kick. no you would be tieing up both your arms for only one of his weapons,which would be foolish at best.
    in gedan bari only use one hand to deflect the technique which can be a low, mid or high kick, or punch, and that would be during the first part of the movement, done correctly you also just struck the person with your other hand in that same motion. and in the final motion you strike, break, trap etc.

    when i look one kata movement each one can be used as a defense for various strike weather that is a straight punch, a hook, haymakers, kicks, etc. it can also be used to defend against a choke, push various grabs, as well as reversals for various locks and throws. if you go back to my gedan bari example, that one technique can be used for all of that.
    that same technique can also be used as a throw, wrist lock, armbar, strike, choke, trap etc.

    that is only the upper part of the body, your stances are also techniques, containing various locks, traps, etc. they are not just there to look pretty, they serve a distinct purpose all on its own.

    Kata is not that simple,
    it takes years to understand the simplest kata, there are different levels of studying bunkai, it can be anywhere from a basic understanding to a very advance one. and its not always a block or punch, take the kata tekki (naihanchin) this kata is all grappling moves with few strikes.
    each kata has a number of interpretations some depend on your level of understand and others very from teach or style. there is no one answer for what the bunkai is.

    Kata at its core teaches the following
    Technique (waza)
    Tactics (bugei)
    Kokyu (breathe control)
    Kaeshu (reversals)
    Atemi (vital strike to vital area)
    Kyusho (pressure point strikes)
    Kensetsu (bone or joint bending)
    Appaku (applied pressure)
    Kotekitai (absorbing and controlling pain)
    Nage (throwing)
    Chime (choking)

    people like tommy or chris should have come to pugpaws seminar and they could have seen the truth about kata, oh wait i forgot they dont want there delusion shatter, they would rather live in there phony world. their the type that will make up some bs excuse of why they couldnt make it or wont go so they can keep there delusion

  7. Odee says:

    I don’t think it is superior, I used to practice Kyokushin and we did a lot of kata which is useful as a teaching aide but once you get the kata learned it just becomes a useful tool for at home training – same with shadow boxing. Callsign above me translated it to music and I think he’s spot on with that, kata is a singing guide that contains the techniques you have to learn to have a good voice and tempo range, shadow boxing is freestyle.
    I’m all for both of them.


    @BBQPit – Boxing has about eighty actual techniques to learn, you really don’t need a guide to learn all the moves en masse, a good student can cover and sometimes even learn the entire Boxing range in a solid eight hour training session, the rest of it comes down to converting those techniques to skills by sparring and shadow boxing. That’s what makes Boxing a great art in its own way, practitioners spend more time practicing what they know than learning new things.

  8. pugpaws2 says:

    I’ll keep this short. It would seem that our previous conversations fell on deaf ears, or you did not or don’t want to understand what I had written you. An example is the Naihanchi Shodan Kata I practice. The version i do has something 32 moves total. Everything is repeated both left and right. That means that there are only 16 different moves. I have a list of real applications of those 16 moves. For some of them I have only 2 or 3 real life/practical applications. Some I have many more. Bottom line here is out of 16 techniques, i have a list of 51 different applications for them. And I have not even scratched the surface of delving into the hidden real life applications in this one Kata. I don’t waste time practicing useless or impractical applications. If it is not something I think would be likely to be practical in a life threatening situation, I drop it. My point is I am one of those guys that has had to use my training several times in serious situations. My training has never failed me yet. and all of what I used can be found, but is hidden in traditional Kata.

    If someone only learns and practices Kata, without ever being taught what is hidden in their Kata, then I would fully understand their belief that Kata is not good for learning useful fighting techniques. but that is a poor use of Kata. It is ever poorer than having a long detailed book and only being able to follow the pictures, but not read the words.

    At 59 years old I find new hidden applications in the Kata I practice. I see not end to what it can reveal to me now that i am beginning to understand what and how things are hidden in Kata.

    I only wish that people would either go to someone like myself that can show them Kata and the hidden techniques instead of clinging to the belief that there is nothing more to learn. Shadow boxing is useful. But, I can’t see how it can do as much as Kata if you know how to interpret what is right there.

    What is confusing to me is simply this…… others here think we seniors are stupid, or so out of it that we don’t know what works? I for one have been attacked with no warning. I have also had numerous guys come into a class I was teaching and basically try to call my bluff. not one single one has ever been able to defeat what I do that comes right out of my Kata. to be clear much of what i use for fighting does not resemble what my Kata looks like. The way things are used is almost always nothing like the way it looks when you simply do Kata.

    I’d be happy to show you. It is the only way to get a clear understanding of it.

    Edit: I also do not see Kata and Shadow boxing as being things that can be compared. It is not one is better than the other. They are not intended for the same purpose. both are very useful. Shadow boxing is more accepted because Shadow boxing is a “what you see is what you get type of thing”. Kata on the other hand has limitless things that can be learned from it. The real shame is that 99% of all high ranking black belts (guys that are 4thdan to 9th dan) I have met or trained with
    don’t know anything about what is hidden in the Kata they teach. So it is no wonder to me whne people like KW that claims 10 years of Karate, knows nothing about any of the practical things in Kata. If 99% of all masters and black belts never learned it, then you can bet your boots that the many many students taught by them don’t have a clue. My offers to enlighten these guys is ignored. whit some of them close enough to easily visit me, it shows they don’t want to take a chance that someone might know something they don’t.

    Edit: I agree with Darth S. and his comment that he does not teach these things to anyone. In my experience the guys I am showing this to don’t have the training or skills to do much with what I will show them. So I’m not worried about them misusing what I show them. As we both know a person would have to develop a high level of skill (by developing their Kata to a high level) before the hidden applications would be of any use to them.

  9. Darth Scandalous says:

    I think Callsign’s answer is great. He’s right.

    To me – kata is shadowboxing and at the same time it is not.

    Many times I do kata movement, NOT in its original pattern but broken, or sometimes varying the stances from an upright posture to something deeper and vice versa.

    I’ll change from slow to fast, smooth to abrupt and explosive – using fajing, pelvic rotation along the center line.. This is the principle of Yin/Yang.

    I’ll do one part of a kata and use a movement found in another to segue into that movement. Mostly not completing a full kata but just flowing through movements as they manifest naturally.

    This is shadowboxing. So is actual kata practice.

    Kata practiced correctly is never static. It is always moving and changing. If you see someone being static, they have not learned the art as it was originally intended.

    A movement in kata does not have one particular application or is applied to only one part of the body – an arm or a leg. That type of thinking is what lead to the ineffectiveness of the Classical martial arts.

    This omission of the original intent breeds sentiment like KW’s, who believes he wasted his years and money on karate. I could reteach him his art, and show him that he did not waste anything. He’ll begin to see that the techniques he’s using successfully today ORIGINATED from the Classical arts, unless he trained in some made-up BS with no real lineage.

    Your question does not read like a bash on kata.. at least not to me.

    The techniques and results you are mentioning CAN be achieved in another way, because they were not always in the form of a kata to begin with. They were put into kata so that the technique is hidden and also easy to learn and retain.

    But training in kata develops something that you cannot achieve by training with a partner. It gives you the opportunity to practice the movement with massive force, after you have understood it training in its application, with a partner and understanding the body mechanics.

    This is where kata training is superior. Now you know what the technique is, you learned the effect it can have on an opponent, thanks to your training partner, and with that intention, you can blast through it knowing that you will devastate any person unfortunate enough to force hostility upon you.

    Regarding the sharing of the hidden applications – no one here who knows these things should be freely giving them away. I, for instance, will not teach anyone who I have not known for an extended period of time. It’s not elitism. It’s the old Biblical reference to “casting your pearls before the swine”. I spent a lot of time and money, sacrificing, putting myself on the line as an Uke, taking the battery without worry of how it would affect my body later on… I paid my dues.


    People like Chris come here to give his opinion, which in his mind is the final word, because he has all the proof. No doubt he has no training.

    I have trained only in Classical martial arts – Okinawan and Chinese. I worked 11 years in the protective services, in diverse venues where I used my kata training to protect the clients. I worked in NYC night clubs, concert venues, institutional and corporate as well as with celebrity clients.

    I am the proof.

    Some of my colleagues and dojo brothers are law enforcement officers who worked in places like Riker’s Island in New York City.

    They are the proof.

    Rather than come here making your idiotic statements, you should visit one of our branch dojo and ask for a free trial class.

    You will receive more proof.

    @tommy m… opinions of people who have no real training are worthless. Kata is not choreographed. Train in real martial arts and you’ll be able to have an opinion… or rather – know the facts.

  10. possum says:

    I have never said that. But, I will say that there are many ways to practice kata and many ways to shadow box. In both cases, those ways range anywhere from blind to astute. And it is sad that so many have no idea or understanding about what they are doing, and wind up blindly shadow boxing or doing kata.

    If you don’t know what you are doing when you do either, then what you are doing is not serving you it’s full potential.

    Isn’t shadow boxing a form of kata, in reality? Really: what ARE you doing when you shadow box? You are using the full range of techniques in your style. You are developing your tactics. You are looking to strike in targeted areas – not just throwing a hand or a foot around. You are, in essence, doing everything that you are doing in kata.

    The funny thing about hidden techniques is that while one culture keeps things hidden, another culture is freely teaching the “hidden” things. I think that hidden things may have had historical importance, but in this day and age of the internet, nothing is really hidden: only things yet to be learned.

    Shadow boxing may not have the eloquence of history, mystery, and symbolism as kata (or whatever your style refers to them). But they are all a means to a common goal.

    I will say this: it is easy shadow box ad-hoc, just as it is easy to make up your own kata. But kata has been developed and refined over centuries, and many considerations have gone into what we see today. So there is nothing ad-hoc about kata. But with shadow boxing, it is easy to do it ad-hoc, and that means, you’re missing out on all of the other training benefits of good shadow boxing can offer.

    Perhaps it is this very reason that traditionalists claim kata is superior: because the kinks have been ironed out?

    I say that as long as there is competent instruction, both are just as good as the other.

  11. jwbulldogs says:

    Kata is a higher level of learning when taught correctly. If you do nothing but kata is in a sense like shadow boxing But because there are more layer in kata training that is what make it stand out. Kata alone is the very basic. But when you learn the bunkai that makes all of the difference. With the bunkai you add a live partner. You drill it. You get the distance, timing and unpredictable things that happen. You aren’t just punching and kicking the air. You get to do the throws, pins. joint locks. You learn the entries and multiple entries. You expand your mind as well as your abilities. The applications are only hidden to those that don;t know them.

    When I first began doing kata some of the the technique being done didn’t make sense. If I am to do my kata as if I were in a fight why would I end with a block. That makes no sense. I know I block your punch the fight doesn’t end there for most fights. But when you learn the applications and find out that technique can be a throw, and elbow strike, a forearm strike and it is not a block at all.Then it make sense. Now you must drill it with a variety of people. Guess what every person that you drill it with will not do things the same. That means you must be able to male adjustments and this becomes part of your training as nothing is predictable. As a beginner the attacks or preplanned the attacker breaks down then step forward and you know what hand is striking and the target of the strike. But as you advance you don’t know what the strike may be or the target, It could be a punch or kick or any combination of strikes. But you have to the tools to defend against anything. If you are in our dojo it will be multiple attackers. You don;t know how many or when the attack is going to come. Most likely it will come from behind.

    Shadow boxing is pretty basic. I didn’t help me much when I boxed. If I never learned any drills or bunkai from the kata is wouldn’t help me much either. It would have been much like the shadow boxing that I once did. Just doing some combinations of punches along with some bob and weave. I got more out of bobbing and weaving when something actually came towards my head. I enjoyed boxing much better when I got to hit something even if it was just the target mitts.

    Kokor has stated many times on here kata alone is useless. You must learn the bunkai as well. There are many layers in bunkai

    Please do not get me wrong. I have nothing against shadow boxing. It is a tool that has helped my boxers in their training. Just like kata has help many. I might have benefited more from shadowboxing had I continued to train in boxing longer than I did. I enjoyed boxing when I did it. I left because of circumstances beyond my control.

    I don’t like to compare shadowboxing with kata. While they are similar in nature by allow individuals to practice their arts without a live person in front of them. Yet they are vastly different. A stance in kata is not a stance that you fight out of. It is an application. It is the end result of a technique are just a couple of things that the stance represents.

    Also, I never compare kata with shadowboxing. Therefore, I I try not to say that kata is superior. They are different tools. A tool is only good in the hands of the right person using them correctly and skillfully.

  12. Chris says:

    It isn’t.
    Kata has no hidden anything. The only thing kata does is remove money from the wallets of the students or parents. I see others saying after 20+ years of training they were shown or found the hidden bla bla bla. Why would it take so long? So the instructor can drain your wallet? Kata has never been used in any real situation and worked. I am sure some will say it has but then they also have a lot of other stories that can’t be proven. This is the technical age, everything is on video except kata being used in a real situation as an effective fighting technique. I guarantee nobody will. You can say you have used it all you want but it is a fantasy in your head. Anyone here can easily “show” the world! Put a video up. It won’t happen, if it does, it will be 100% set up and fake.
    It is an effective technique, not for fighting in any way. It is good for your legs, maybe a bit of your core and some balance but that is it. You can do yoga and not look so foolish.

  13. karate4guy says:

    People forget that Kata is not just for the person doing the Kata but also for the instructor. As an instructor I can look at a kata and know exactly what it is supposed to be. I can then tell a student how to get more power on a punch or a kick. The fix can then be practiced at home within the kata. On another level, while I have nothing to support this yet, I beleive that they were used to learn where to place strikes to destroy the body.
    In shadow boxing, you do not know what the student intended so you cannot fix the technique and give them something to practice it with other than the basic move.

  14. samuraiwarrior_98 says:

    One of the things l like to do when talking to fighters and those training in MMA when they make a comment or bring up kata is show them a few things. One of those things is to take their hand and wrist using the Aikido sword grip. I then gently torque on their hand so that they can feel the pressure and the slight pain that it generates by pinching the nerve in their wrist. That usually does not do much because I then explain that using that technique also employs moving by either stepping in or back with my opposite foot allowing me to turn my hips and when I do that they very quickly feel the greater pressure and pain this generates and most of them will end up on their butts then if I really do this quickly and forcefully. They quickly then understand that there is an important correlation in the way a person moves, the way they shift their balance, and with what foot when, in order for some martial arts techniques to be used effectively which is one of the things kata teaches.

    Shadow boxing is much quicker and so a lot of people don’t have a chance to sometimes learn and develop this correlation between hands, feet, balance, coordination, and their understanding of it and how it can make their techniques more effective. Also because of kata being slower it really allows a person to pay attention to smaller details and refine their ability to coordinate things more and teaches them a better understanding of the body mechanics that are involved.

    While some can learn and develop these things with shadow boxing not all can and really need to have things broken down more. Students that are natural, gifted athletes don’t struggle so much with the above but what about the student that has two left feet or little in the way of balance? Most tend to fall into that second category to some extent. With them in MMA I start them off with various foot-work drills first but in TMA it would be that as well as basic kata.

    Sometimes another thing I will do is stand back from the heavy bag about 30″ or so and hit the bag with a strong rear hand. Then I will move in close, less than a foot away from the bag and punch the bag again but this time shortening my punch and drawing power up from my legs and the floor. When fighters and those training in MMA see me hit the bag as hard as at full extension and when further away and I explain to them I am using those aspects of a rooted stance as taught in TMA and some of the things that emphasizes they then begin to realize that there is more to kata, stances (or poses as they sometimes refer to them as) than what they realize and see again a correlation that they did not understand before.

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