What are Katas or Forms supposed to be for?

I remember taking Tae Kwon Do when I was around 8 years old, the only use I found for them was to pass my examination.

That was a looong time ago, and I never found out what the use of katas or forms really were. Nowadays the closest thing I do to a kata would be Wai Kru, from Muay Thai, which is more of a show of respect and a small warm up.

Same thing?

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9 Responses to What are Katas or Forms supposed to be for?

  1. katana172 says:

    No not unless youcan fight with it, I don’t know the term. Kata’s are actually the DNA of your art, if it has them. It contains the self defense moves and fighting theories of a given style. It is a way to pass techniques that the founder of the style found effective, in a pattern for easy practice.

    Many people will tell you that kata are worthless for learning to fight, and if all you do is the dance, then that is true. However if you take the movements from the kata, and train them against live resisting opponents, so you can see what works for you an dwhat doesn’t, they can be very valuble.

    You probably do some form of shadow boxing. this is essentially what kata are, just doing repetitous motion over and over to build muscle memory, so when you need it you don’t conciously have to think about it. If you truly know kata, you would never consider the whole kata a fight. Maybe two or three motions would be a combination.

    People taht think that kata are rigid and one move absolutly has to follow the next have never been exposed to a higher level of kata training. I might do a move from one kata, and my opponent reacts so that to do the next move is pointless, however a different move from another kata will work. Kata are about the individual techniques, not the kata itself.

    However with so many instructors opening their own schools when they barely have their black belt(McDojo’s) they are unable to teach kata this way because they don’t know it themselves.

    For instance Okinawin kata besides punches and kicks contain many locks, throws, chokes, sweeps, clinch fighting techniques, etc. even thoguh when a beginer watches them they can’t be seen. It takes a lot of work, experimentation, and a good instructor for you to understand this. Kata alone will not teach you to fight, but doing a motion of kata with a resisting opponent, so it works, and then practicing it over and over, thousands of times, while visualizing that attack you practiced it for with a live opponent, will burn it into your mind nd body so when you ar in that situation, it will come out without thought.

    It also takes discipline and commitment to train a kata too this level.

    Edit- Jimmy go home please.

    edit- Dmud- tai Sabaki is actually a concept from Okinawin karate and has been there since the begining, I am quite sure you are an expert on Sholin Kung Fu, but please do not keep telling people what karate does and does not cotain, because it is obvious that you have no idea.

  2. samurai2717 says:

    The best use of kata I have seen was in Go Ju Ryu Karate

    The Sensei would show like 5 steps of a kata
    Then show the practical application
    Then drill that application
    Then return to the Kata

    Amazing how much better you can preform / how much more fun Kata is when you understand what you are doing

    Of course that requires training with a sensei who actually knows what the katas are for. Knows the rice instead of just the rice bowl if you follow my meaning.

  3. Bluto Blutarsky55 says:

    I’m of the school that will claim kata is a waste of time and it is completely worthless if that is all you do.

    obvioulsy I think most people here are in agreement with my second point- that you will not learn to fight by using kata.
    that is pretty damn hard if not impossible to dispute, so lets leave it at that- kata alone will not teach you to fight- you need application.

    allegedly the purpose of kata is to teach you the moves, lets dissect this and this is why I still think it is a waste of time.

    kata teaches you a move or series of moves with emphasis on a pre-arranged order of these moves. I think there is too much room for error here because the emphasis is on “what comes next” not “how to I apply this properly” and “am I doing it correctly” rather than x to y to a to b to z.

    people will claim that this transition opens the door to you doing “flowing” or combinations.

    to that I will respond, yes, that would be true, if people attack you in the exact same pattern as they do in your specific kata.

    too much time is wasted on this even if they do in fact teach you to apply the individual moves of the kata separately.

    IMO- the fact that they do this, and teach application seperately begs the question “why do this then when all you are goljng to do is just learn to practice it separately and learn application that way too”.

    my problem is that fights are not patterned- certain combos are appropriate and apply realistically- if you want to do a combo and call it a kata that can be applied, but a 10 or 20 movement segment is not low roundhouse, jab, cross, close in and hook, etc.

    its a series of movements that have little or no relation to each other in the context they are presented (unless you are fighting an invisible group of attackers).

    So im not saying you can’t make kata applicable- I”m saying it is a waste of time when you are trying to “force” it to be practical becasue it is tradition, boxers don’t use it (unles you count my jab, cross, hook example) but that would be a more appropriate applicaiton.

    I do think that it has some measure of limited use in beginners weapons training as some larger weapons you need to learn to move with as they can be initially awkward.

    I think I’ve presented both arguments for and against- believe what you like but at least its there.

  4. Tao J says:

    Wai Kru and kata (Korean’s call the TKD ones poomse) are not at all the same thing – as you say Wa Kru is to show respect – the idea is that the practicioner brings the spirit of the teacher, school, elders, departed, etc. during the Wai Kru. It is more of a ceremonial “dance” or motion-based meditation than anything – it just happens to be attached to a martial art.

    Kata, poomse, and other forms are actual training tools when used properly – they can be used to correct the form of a kick, punch, footwork, etc. much like shadow boxing. A good instructor will watch your kata and correct it – but they will also explain the parts of a kata and the reasons for it. Dissecting a kata into its parts and understanding the parts is the real power of kata. You can then use the parts to apply to a “real” situation.

    I think it’s very much like a boxer working combos – you seldom use the standard 5 punch combo, but there are times when you can use hook/cross or cross/uppercut. The secret is knowing when to apply what part of the combo or kata; that’s what a good teacher/instructor will use them for.

  5. SiFu frank says:

    This is a question I see time and time again here. Often there is also a debate on the usefulness of Kata in general.
    I think much of this comes from instructor that do not take the time to teach kata correctly and to demonstrate the usefulness of kata.
    First Kata are composed of the moves in your art.
    Second Kata are combinations and demonstrate the way to get from one move to another.
    Third Kata is a form of shadow fighting.
    Forth Kata is a way of critiquing your moves.
    Fifth Kata are used to build muscle memory.
    Sixth Kata is not a replacement for practicing with a live partner.
    I could go on for a while longer defining more benefits of learning Kata. Suffice to say these should be enough reasons to practice your Kata. Even for the pure relaxation you would get from dancing or a Tai Chi work out.
    In traditional Taekwando at least in our school and a few others you need to be able to create your own Kata as an advanced student. This is to demonstrate that you know how to get from any one move to any other as a circumstance may entail.
    I have to respectfully disagree with Blutarsky55: Yet he is totally correct to say Kata alone will not teach you a darn thing.

  6. Ependa says:

    Katas consist of techniques; every move in a kata is part of a technique. Know your kata breakdowns well and how to apply them. I find them very useful and very challenging. When you perform a kata, if you are just ‘dancing’ , then you are not doing it right (or getting any of the benefits). Every move you make should be visualized (the actual attack, tool, targets…) and executed as if on a person. Execute each technique in the kata as a separate entity and allow them to flow together.

  7. Jimmy says:

    Katas or forms were created to help the non-coordinated to learn how to move from one position to another with easy and fluidity. It essentially was the earliest for of shadow boxing, only trying to implement all of the movements you may learn in a class actually and in its most effective (so you use your muscles and actually exercise) ways possible.

    Right now I’d give you some examples, but it’s kinda hard to do so over the computer.

    But that’s what they were, use for.

    Now they seem to be a way for the instructor to make you feel like your learning something by how many forms you know, or how high you can count or whatever. More information, more test, more money!

  8. dmaud56 says:

    You can do hundreds of drills, you can go out and jog and do all kinds of aerobic exercises ranging from jumping to complex gyrations (like in step rebok), OR, you can do a Kata 100 times in the space of one hour, and get cardiovascular fitness as well as practicing the moves. Kata’s functions are as follows;

    1) Aerobic conditioning on the same level, if not better, than running.

    2) A chance to practice techniques WHILE engaging in aerobic conditioning.

    3) Developing coordination and focus, and whatever aspect of conflict the Kata emphasizes. If its Tae Kwan Do, those Katas are all about delivering kicks with great speed.

    4) Because you memorize things easier when you associate them with something, by giving a specific set of moves a name (e.g. the monkey form, the diving swallow, etc), it is easier for you to remember them, so in a way Kata, Tao Lu, or Poomseh, whatever they’re called, are, in a way, the “library” of your martial art, and each Kata is a “book.”

    5) There are joint locks, throws, trips, and escapes, in other words “standup grappling” that are so complex, simply being athletic and coordinated isn’t enough to execute them properly. Because Kata can take a person’s overrall body coordination well beyond that of someone born athletic, the higher and higher coordination is taken, the easier it is to apply those moves. I know that Master Funakoshi would not teach you ANY of Karate’s throws and joint locks unless you mastered the Kata curriculum first, and Hidetaka Nishiyama stated in a magazine interview that, while a nice man, and not abusive when he trained his students, Funakoshi was still nevertheless very strict and a brutal task master who would make his students drill one Kata 100 times in the space of 1 hour. Indeed; several of Funakoshi’s students, went on to win the all Japan Karate championship, competitive Karate that was introduced when Funakoshi died as he was against competition. Part of the reason Shotokan became the biggest Karate style (Karate had been practiced in Japan since the 1880’s), is because Funakoshi’s students consistently defeated other schools. Indeed, the most popular style now is Kyokshin, for much the same reason.

    Whatever the case continuing on with the 5th reason; the timing and movement required for some joint locks and throws requires too much precision for them to be taught to a beginer who has not drilled in the forms enough. For 6 days a week, for 2 hours a day, for 4 years, Funakoshi’s students would drill in basics for 1 hour, and then in one Kata for another hour, 100 times. By the time the 4 years were up, many had done the Katas over 1,000 times each, so they were ready to do the two person drills in addition to learning the various throws, locks, trips, escapes and holds and all that.

    Kata IS indeed similar to dancing, and dancing, everyone knows, develops coordination. However Kata is not a dance; it is a very serious life or death method of conditioning were if you do not practice it exactly the way your instructor tells you, a single mistep, a single inch, is the difference between walking away from an encounter, or ending up in the hospital or worse. The reason Kata works, is because you use the logical side of your brain to execute the moves in the specific sequence and rhythm, and you use the creative side, to “visualize” what move you will do next. Example, you start out with a block usually, but you have to “see” the next move you are going to make before you make it so that you can do it correctly.

    Even with martial artists who have done their styles for decades, they still have to do that, it never stops. Because both sides of the cerebral hemisphere are being actively stimulated, and because of the active role the cerebellum takes to work in conjunction with both sides of your hemisphere, the constant flow of neurotransmition increases your body’s coordination, in time making your body’s movements faster and more and more precise, giving your body the necessary precision to execute Karate or Tae Kwan Do’s stand up grappling game.

    I have heard it said that “its all the same thing; punching and kicking” yeah well its not. Shaolin Kung Fu, is not Karate. Sure the basics are (horse stance, throwing a punch from just above the hip but beneath the rib cage, etc) the same, but as each style progresses the emphasis becomes totally different. Karate, compared to Shaolin, is incomplete; it only encompasses two dimensions of a conflict, namely power and speed. That is, Karate is all about blocking, or delivering a powerful blow, with lightning speed. Some Katas emphasize power, others emphasize speed, some mix up the two, but in the end Karate is restricted to only those two facets.

    Shaolin Kung Fu in my opinion is superior as far as technique, because its more complete. For instance; neither Karate nor Tae Kwan Do, have very well developed dodging games. In Shaolin Kung Fu, two of the forms, namely the one emphasizing agility, and the other emphasizing footwork, help with your body’s mobility, meaning, a Shaolin Monk is far better at moving out of the way of an attack, than a Karateka, because in Karate the idea of moving out of the way is almost nonexistent. There IS something called “Tai Sabaki” but those exercises were only developed recently by Japanese Karateka, whereas in Shaolin they have existed for centuries, in fact two forms dedicate themselves entirely to the idea of dodging an attack. Attacking a Shaolin monk, will likely result in him deftly getting out of the way of your attack and making you look stupid. Most of the time, they won’t even fight back unless it is absolutely necessary, that is what they’re trained for.

    Shaolin Kung Fu is known for its 5 animal forms;

    1) The tiger, which has power
    2) The monkey, which has agility and mobility of course
    3) The Crane (or if its southern the Mantis), which is all about footwork and mobility in that regard. The reason the Crane is here is because Monk Ordator, inventor of the Tibetan Crane style, witnessed a Crane fighting a large ape, which it defeated by dodging its attacks and pecking at it. The Shaolin synthesized it to one form, at least the northern Shaolin, and the Crane form is designed to condition and teach your body how to move out of the way of attacks.
    4) ah sh*t I forgot the animal that emphasized speed, but there is one emphasizing speed. Oh wait! I remember now how could I forget! The snake! The snake form, emphasized speed, its purpose, to make “the hands as fast as striking serpents.”
    5) Finally, while this is speculation on my part, the Dragon, which emphasizes the flow of energy, and focus.

    So as you can see, Shaolin Kung Fu is more complete than either Karate or Tae Kwan Do and by the by, I don’t practice Shaolin Kung Fu, I am just a Shaolin Kung Fuophile.

    Case in point, forms exist to condition the muscles and nervous system (which in pre-science times was called “the mind”), for a specific purpose, again;

    1) For learning how to strike powerful blows, the Shaolin practice the Tiger form, as the Tiger is a strong animal so they seek to mimick it.

    2) For learning how to strike with speed, the Shaolin practice the Snake form, as no animal strikes faster than a snake.

    3) For learning how do dodge (aspect 1), the Monkey. Ever tried to catch a run away monkey? Good luck with that…. Overwhelmed by numbers sometimes the best strategy is to simply run away you know, and escaping sometimes requires great agility. Very un-Shaolin like I know but, I am trying to demystify the art here…..

    4) For learning how to dodge in case you have no choice, the Crane, a bird that can deftly avoid just about any non-firearm or non-nuclear attack.

    5) Still unsure; for learning how to circulate your chi, and learning how to concentrate, the Dragon, as the Dragon is the animal that guards the gates of heaven, a servant to the Nio Kings Ungyo and Agyo, and those two in turn, are servants to the war god Bishamonten, the Buddhist deity who is supposedly guardian to all martial artists, while his servants Ungyo and Agyo represent the wisdom and physical aspects of martial arts respectively.

    So that, is what Katas are for.

    Hope that answers the question.

  9. pugpaws2 says:

    I’ve answered this question so many times. It is one of the most confusing topics in the martial arts. I wrote a long answer to this question in my blog. If you will take the time it should help you to understand what the forms/kata were intended for.

    You can find my blog at:


    The blog you are looking for is:

    Does there seem to be something lacking in your training ?

    Hope this helps

    EDIT: dmaud56 You said, “Karate, compared to Shaolin, is incomplete; it only encompasses two dimensions of a conflict, namely power and speed. That is, Karate is all about blocking, or delivering a powerful blow, with lightning speed. Some Katas emphasize power, others emphasize speed, some mix up the two, but in the end Karate is restricted to only those two facets.”

    I have no idea where you got that idea that karate is limited and inferior to Chinese arts….. You obviously have little or limited experience and understanding of karate. Having been seriously involved in martial arts training since 1967, and teaching it since 1973, I can say for sure that you are very mistaken. I suggest you lay off the negative comments about subjects, untill you know more about what you are bashing.
    NOTE: I would have sent this directly to you but, you don’t allow email. Now why is that exactly ???

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