Why kata are a vital part of modern self-defense

I hadn’t done kata pretty much since the start of the century, when I stopped training in Goju-Ryu, practiced a few other disciplines, and then got into Reality Based Self Defence.

But I’ve recently begun practicing kata once again – and not just because of the COVID-19 lockdown.

Over the last few years, I’ve realised that it does actually take decades to understand this stuff properly. One thing that I always kinda knew, but didn’t really explicitly understand, or become aware of until recently was this: the old Senseis had a point when they said that “it’s all in the kata.”


Martial arts forms in modern self-defence

In explaining moves, I found myself saying more and more “position, then technique.” I realised that I had to do this because so many people that came to us did not have a traditional martial arts background. The principles and stances of those traditional martial arts were actually pretty key to much of the stuff that we do. They had become even more so as we established ourselves as an independent organisation.

This inspired a DVD and online course with my colleague Jim McEvoy, 5th Dan in Goju Ryu karate. Watch an example below:

Jim alerted me to the importance of kata. But I didn’t actually start doing it again myself until a couple of months ago when teaching the technique shown below.

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Some people got it quicker than others, and some really struggled with the simultaneity of the ashi sabaki (footwork), tai sabaki (body movement) and the hand movements. Everyone is different and learns in a different way.

But one unifying feature here was that everyone learned better when I taught the technique in the kata style demonstrated in the clip below:

Practicing the movement in the abstract form of kata helped with getting the component moves right on an individual basis. Crucially, it made a real difference to working them simultaneously. As an added bonus, the repetition proved a surprisingly good workout.


Understanding the principles of kata

I think it also made a difference that people knew the intent, the Bunkai, behind the techniques before they started practicing the moves. This made for a significant difference from some of the training that I was put through.

Kata has a bad name partly because its performance solely as a succession of moves. Without understanding their application, the importance of kata is diminished. If people don’t understand why they are doing stuff, they won’t invest the necessary time and commitment to master that stuff. So, work to understand the applications, train with a sensei that understands those applications and that makes them clear as they teach the kata.

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And then, like I do now for the first time in over a decade, practice your kata. You’ll master your techniques through accustoming your body to making the sequential moves. You’ll even get a good workout if you do it properly. All of which will prepare you for your next class or real-world situation.


In the traditional Karate, the practicing of forms represents decades of study. This is necessary to understand the sequences, the breakdown of the moves, and their practical application.

If done correctly, they can be a good workout for fitness and health. They can also be a form of meditation, and a useful form of self-protection.

At MaArtial, we fully encourage the traditional arts, as long as the practitioner is in full understanding of the reasons behind them.

We particularly stress the Oyo part of kata. In Japanese, Oyo means, the application of the knowledge in self-defence in dangerous situations.

Therefore, this article shows the relationship between reality and traditions, an essential part of MaArtial philosophy.


Photo: Allphoto.cz/Everett Collection

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