I am starting this thread because I was asked to defend my assertion that karate and kata are inseparable. I hope that this will at least be informative, even if you don't agree with my thesis. I'm not trying to convince or convert anyone, nor do I think anyone else is necessarily wrong. I speak only for myself and my limited understanding of the art I study. I'll try to distill it down. It's been done to death but here it is again. Karate is kata and kata is karate, in my opinion. Why? Let's start with karate itself. The very word means 'empty hand'. Yes, I'm aware that it once meant 'China hand,' but we accept that it means empty handed self-defense arts at this time. However, I'm used to the term 'karatedo'. The word karate is simply shorthand for karatedo. Do is a word in Japanese that refers to a 'way' as in a way of life. Not simply a style, or school, like a ryu. In Japan, many things are do. Calligraphy, flower arranging, tea making, and so on. Karate is one among many kinds of do. Not everyone who studies karate thinks of it that way. I get it. Like many things, it can be what people want and need it to be. You don't how to know how internal combustion engines work to drive a car. But some people do know how they work, and some care how they work, and that's no more wrong than people who just want to start it up and drive to work. So consider me a student who studies karatedo, and considers it a way, a lifestyle, a way of life, a lifelong pursuit. To me, kata encodes karate. Everything that my particular style is, is found in the kata. All kihon, all bunkai, everything necessary to know, is found within the framework of the kata itself. Most who study any traditional form of karate are familiar with the notion of application, also known as bunkai. It's the 'why' of kata. Often very obvious. Why am I doing an upper body block? Someone is punching me in the head, that's why. And if all I cared about what self-defense, that would be plenty. There's a lot to learn, as most know, about body mechanics and how to correctly perform that block such that the incoming power is absorbed and redistributed and channeled and so on. How one can avoid having one's block collapse under the power of the incoming strike. Yes, that's all in the kata, and it's important and good. But there is so much more. And many know this already. Advanced bunkai shows that a block isn't always a block, but could be a strike. That a move in a kata might serve a myriad of purposes. Some more difficult to implement than others. Some we try and try and struggle with, trying to make them work. Sometimes we just can't quite absorb it, sometimes our instructors can't quite demonstrate it, and so on. So there are limits; to ourselves, in our training, etc. To me, though, kata goes well beyond even that. It's a moving, living, study of self-defense applications, but it also includes breathing, balance, stance, and power training. Transitions. Speed. Where and when to look. What to notice. Kata gives one space and permission to experiment, to develop applications, which may seem 'new' to the karateka, but are usually not new at all; just newly rediscovered. This is where people start talking about 'secret' methods and 'hidden' training and all that malarkey. It's not hidden, it's just not visible to the karateka who is not sufficiently experienced enough to see them, or to the student who simply does not care to explore what it has to offer. Of course one can take the basic bunkai of any kata or form and teach just that application, divorced from the kata. It works, it's legitimate training. But it leaves so much behind. As I've said before, if self-defense is the goal (and many argue that self-defense is all martial arts is or should be), one can become proficient in the basic moves that will serve them well in that area fairly quickly. And as I've also said, there's nothing wrong with that, if that's what one wants. I can fight, sure. I can defend myself, or at least I fancy that I can. But I quite honestly don't care about any of that any more. I practice kata because it talks to me. It relaxes me. It enlightens me. I find new things in it constantly, none of them new or undiscovered of course, but new to me, and I deeply enjoy the exploration. People come into the dojo from time to time and say they don't want belts or to wear a gi or to bow to anyone, they just want to learn to fight. Cool. There's a boxing gym in town, from that I hear, the instructor's top-notch. And I'm sure it's great training for fighting. Go there, do that. I'm not trying to put anyone down - boxing is great. So are the myriad of other styles. Find the one that works for you, that gives you what you need. Do it and feel great about it. All good. But my karate is karatedo. It's a way of life. Kata is living, breathing, neverending exploration of a universe of language, all framed in the way of informed violence, but at the same time, not about violence at all. Do you think people spend a lifetime arranging flowers or printing characters because they wanted to accomplish something obvious and simple? I can order a bouquet from FTD if that's what I want. I can print fancy characters with a computer and laser printer, right? Clearly, it's about more than that. "Well, I can't understand why anyone would want to, I don't see the point." Right. I get it. I don't see it either, or I guess I'd be arranging flowers or drawing characters on rice paper with a brush. But they get it, clearly. Don't think it valueless because you don't see the value yourself, is what I'm trying to say. I hear criticism of various types of kata, or moves within kata, all the time. Often from people with some training, usually from those who moved on and didn't spend much time with it. "Oh, that's an unrealistic move, you can't make that work. You'd never do a low block like that. It's not practical." And so on. Well, I get that. If I hadn't spent the last decade plus working on my kata, I might think the same thing. I can state that in my opinion, such statements are uninformed and nonsensical, but you can't argue someone out of their opinions if they haven't put in the work it takes to actually 'get it'. And trust me, there's an awful lot I don't know, and mysteries which I have not solved. I have a lifetime to keep picking at it; I might eventually get a little better. I also run into experienced karateka who are skilled at their art and highly regarded in their community, and they practice kata I have difficulty understanding. When I ask them what a given move is for, they don't know. They do it because they were taught to do it. They do it well, I guess. Smooth and clean and with power, but what's it for? If they can't tell me because I don't understand their application, maybe it's me. But if they can't tell me because they just don't know, I wonder what it is they think they're doing practicing it. Kata is alive. It's packed full of information and it's ready to teach those who are willing to learn the language it speaks. That, to me, is the hear and soul of karate. The essence. Do kata. Think deeply and consciously about it. Examine yourself and try to learn the language it speaks.