The word Kata means "shape" or "form".  The kanji for Kata  型 is composed of the following characters:

形  Katachi  meaning "Shape"

刈  Kai  meaning "Cut"

土  Tsuchi  meaning "Earth" or "Soil"

Literally translated, kata means "shape which cuts the ground". 

A kata is a sequence of blocks, kicks and punches from one or more stances, involving movement forward, backward and to the sides.  The number of movements and their sequence are very specific.  The balance between offensive and defensive techniques, the stances used and the direction and flow of movement all serve to give each kata its distinctive character.

Through the practice of kata, the traditional techniques used for fighting are learned.  Balance, coordination, breathing and concentration are also developed.  Done properly, kata are an excellent physical exercise and a very effective form of total mind and body conditioning.  Kata embodies the idea of Renma 錬磨, or "polishing" – with diligent practice, the moves of the kata become further refined and perfected.  The attention to detail that is necessary to perfect a kata cultivates self discipline.

Through concentration, dedication and practice, a higher level of learning may be achieved, where the kata is so ingrained in the subconscious mind that no conscious attention is needed.  This is what the Zen masters call Mushin 無心, or "no mind." The conscious, rational thought practice is not used at all – what was once memorized is now spontaneous.

Mas Oyama said that one should "think of karate as a language – the Kihon 基本 (basics) can be thought of as the letters of the alphabet, the Kata 型 (forms) will be the equivalent of words and sentences, and the Kumite 組手 (fighting) will be analogous to conversations."  He believed that it was better to master just one kata than to only half-learn many.

Mas Oyama also emphasized the three fundamental principles of kata:

技の緩急  Waza no Kankyū   The Relative Tempo of Techniques:

The tempo of the kata varies – some techniques are performed quickly, while others are done more slowly.

力の強弱  Chikara no Kyōjaku   The Relative Force of Power:

The power of a technique derives from the proper balance between strength and relaxation.

息の調整  Iki no Chōsei   The Control of Breathing:

The correct timing (inhaling and exhaling) and force of the breaths (Kiai 気合, Ibuki 息吹 or Nogare 逃れ) are essential for proper techniques.

The practice of traditional kata is also a way for the karateka to pay respect to the origins and history of Kyokushin Karate and the martial arts in general.

Origins

Kyokushin kata are often categorized as "Northern Kata" or "Southern Kata," based upon the origin and development of the kata and the style of its techniques.

The Northern Kata are similar to those found in Shōtōkan 松濤館流, since they were developed from Mas Oyama's training under Gichin Funakoshi.  Master Funakoshi derived the kata from the Shurite 首里手 system of Okinawan karate, which originated from northern Chinese kempo (Shaolin).  The Northern kata generally involve longer movements and a greater fighting distance between opponents (Maai 間合い), based on the broad, open terrain of northern China.  Techniques are generally longer and straighter than those of the Southern kata.  The Northern Kata include:

  • Taikyoku sono Ichi, Ni and San
  • Pinan sono Ichi, Ni, San, Yon and Go
  • Yansu
  • Tsuki no Kata
  • Kanku Dai
  • Sushiho

The Southern Kata are similar to those found in Gōjū Ryū 剛柔流, since they were developed from Mas Oyama's training under Nei-Chu So.  Master So was the top student of Gogen Yamaguchi, the top Goju practitioner in Japan.  Chojun Miyagi developed Goju Ryu from the Nahate 那覇手 system of Okinawan karate, which originated from southern Chinese kempo.  The Southern kata generally involve shorter movements and a closer fighting distance between opponents (Maai 間合い), based on the slippery, wet terrain of southern China.  Techniques are generally tighter and more circular than those of the Northern kata.  The Southern Kata include:

  • Sanchin no Kata
  • Gekisai Dai and Sho
  • Tensho
  • Saiha
  • Seienchin
  • Garyu
  • Seipai

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