The World Karate Federation (WKF) is the largest sport karate organization and is recognized by the International Olympic Committee (IOC) as being responsible for karate competition in the Olympic Games. The WKF has developed common rules governing all styles. The national WKF organizations coordinate with their respective National Olympic Committees. View The World Karate Federation (WKF) »

Kata ( 型 / 形 )

The detailed choreographed patterns of movements practised either solo or in pairs. Kata is often described as a set sequence of karate moves organized into a pre-arranged fight against imaginary opponents.

The term form is used for the corresponding concept in non-Japanese martial arts in general. Kata are used in many traditional Japanese arts such as theater forms like kabuki and schools of tea ceremony (chado), but are most commonly known for the presence in the martial arts. Kata are used by most Japanese and Okinawan martial arts, such as aikido, judo, kendo and karate.

Karate Katas

Kata is often described as a set sequence of karate moves organized into a pre-arranged fight against imaginary opponents. The kata consists of kicks, punches, sweeps, strikes and blocks. Body movement in various kata includes stepping, twisting, turning, dropping to the ground, and jumping.




Kata originally were teaching and training methods by which successful combat techniques were preserved and passed on. Practicing kata allowed a company of persons to engage in a struggle using a systematic approach, rather than as individuals in a disorderly manner.

Motobu Chōki performing Naifanchi. ナイファンチを演じる本部朝基(Naifanchi by Motobu Choki, 1870 - 1944)

The basic goal of kata is to preserve and transmit proven techniques and to practice self-defence. By practicing in a repetitive manner the learner develops the ability to execute those techniques and movements in a natural, reflex-like manner. Systematic practice does not mean permanently rigid. The goal is to internalize the movements and techniques of a kata so they can be executed and adapted under different circumstances, without thought or hesitation. A novice’s actions will look uneven and difficult, while a master’s appear simple and smooth.

Kata is a loanword in English, from the 1950s in reference to the judo kata due to Jigoro Kano, and from the 1970s also of karate kata; but the word has come to be used as a generic term for "forms" in martial arts in general, or even figuratively applied to other fields.

Japanese Martial Arts

In Japanese martial arts practice, kata is often seen as an essential partner to randori training with one complementing the other. However, the actual type and frequency of kata versus randori training varies from art to art. In iaido, solo kata using the Japanese sword (katana) comprises almost all of the training. Whereas in judo, kata training is de-emphasized and usually only prepared for dan grading.

In kenjutsu, paired kata at the beginners level can appear to be stilted. At higher levels serious injury is prevented only by a high sensitivity of both participants to important concepts being taught and trained for. These include timing and distance, with the kata practiced at high speed. This adjustability of kata training is found in other Japanese arts with roles of attacker and defender often interchanging within the sequence.

Many martial arts use kata for public demonstrations and in competitions, awarding points for such aspects of technique as style, balance, timing, and verisimilitude (appearance of being real).

For more information see Comparison of Kata Styles.



Embusen ( 演武線 )

Embusen (演武線) is a Japanese term used in karate to refer to the spot where a kata begins, as well as its line of movement. Nearly all kata start and end on exactly the same embusen point. This word is also commonly romanized as enbusen.

The embusen line varies for each series of kata. It is, for example, a straight line for the Shōtōkan Tekki series of kata. It follows the form of a capital letter I for the Heian series of kata, as well as for the Taikyoku series. More advanced kata, such as Shotokan's Kanku-Dai and Gojūshiho Dai and Sho kata, as well as the Gōjū-ryū Seipai and Kururumfa kata, for example, have increasingly more complex embusen to train the practitioner in more advanced defensive angles and footwork. For any kata, the embusen is fixed and must be followed exactly for proper mastery of the style.

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Traditionally, kata are taught in stages. Previously learned kata are repeated to show better technique or power as a student acquires knowledge and experience. It is common for students testing to repeat every kata they have learned but at an improved level of quality. The student will perform one new kata and one or two previous ones, to demonstrate how much they have progressed. As the karate student progressed from beginner to master, they would unlock the more subtle and dangerous techniques hidden in the kata's movements. While some kata may be taught by certain schools only to students who have reached certain levels, in practice any kata may be taught at any level as it takes years of practice for a karateka to discover and master the more dangerous aspects of a given kata.

The various styles of karate study different kata, or variations of a common core. Some kata may therefore be known by two names, one in Japanese, the other in Okinawan/Chinese. This is because Gichin Funakoshi, and others, renamed many kata to help Karate spread throughout Japan.


The most popular image associated with kata is that of a karate practitioner performing a series of punches and kicks in the air. The kata are executed as a specified series of approximately 20 to 70 moves, generally with stepping and turning, while attempting to maintain perfect form. There are perhaps 100 kata across the various forms of karate, each with many minor variations. The number of moves in a kata may be referred to in the name of the kata, e.g., Gojū Shiho, which means "54 steps." The number of moves may also have links with Buddhist spirituality. The number 108 is significant in Buddhism & Hinduism, signifying the 108 ways the mind can behave (Upanishads) and kata with 54, 36, or 27 moves (divisors of 108) are common. The practitioner is generally counselled to visualize the enemy attacks, and his responses, as actually occurring, and karateka are often told to "read" a kata, to explain the imagined events. The study of the meaning of the movements is referred to as the bunkai, meaning analysis, of the kata.

One explanation of the use of kata is as a reference guide for a set of moves. Not to be used following that "set" pattern but to keep the movements "filed". After learning these kata, this set of learned skills can then be used in a sparring scenario (particularly without points). The main objective here is to try out different combinations of techniques in a safe, practice environment to ultimately find out how to defeat your opponent.

In kata the blocking movements are often performed while moving forward, which wouldn't be practical during the Bunkai. These blocking movements would be performed during a Tai sabaki (体捌き), stepping-back action, where the opponent's attack would be avoided and the block would be a mere cover.

Recently, with the spread of Extreme Martial arts or XMA, a style of kata called CMX kata has formed. These kata are performed in tournaments and include gymnastics related elements, such as backflips, cartwheels, and splits. These kata can also be performed with weapons.

Symbolism of 108 in kata

The number 108 has mythological significance in Dharmic religions. This number also figures prominently in the symbolism associated with Karate, particularly the Gōjū-ryū discipline. The ultimate Gōjū-ryū kata, Suparinpei, literally translates to 108. Suparinpei is the Chinese pronunciation of the number 108, while gojushi of Gojūshiho is the Japanese pronunciation of the number 54. The other Gōjū-ryū kata, Sanseru (meaning "36") and Seipai ("18") are factors of the number 108.

Other Buddhist symbols within Karate include the term karate itself, the character kara can also be read as ku, which originates from sunya, positioning at the beginning of kata resembles the hand position of zazen, and custom of the bow upon entering and leaving the dojo and meeting the sensei, as is done in Buddhist temples and Zen dojo.

Outside of Martial Arts

More recently, kata has come to be used in English in a more general or figurative sense, referring to any basic form, routine, or pattern of behavior that is practiced to various levels of mastery.

In Japanese language, kata (though written as 方) is a frequently-used suffix meaning “way of doing,” with emphasis on the form and order of the process. Other meanings are “training method” and “formal exercise.” The goal of a painter’s practicing, for example, is to merge his consciousness with his brush; the potter’s with his clay; the garden designer’s with the materials of the garden. Once such mastery is achieved, the theory goes, the doing of a thing perfectly is as easy as thinking it.

Kata is a term used by some programmers in the Software Craftsmanship movement. Computer programmers who call themselves "Software Craftsmen" will write 'Kata' - small snippets of code that they write in one sitting, sometimes repeatedly, often daily, in order to build muscle memory and practise their craft, much like a soldier, a musician, a doctor or a dancer.

One of the things that characterize an organization’s culture is its kata – its routines of thinking and practice. Edgar Schein suggests an organization's culture helps it cope with its environment, and one meaning of kata is, "a way to keep two things in sync or harmony with one another." A task for leaders and managers is to create and maintain the organizational culture through consistent role modeling, teaching, and coaching, which is in many ways analogous to how kata are taught in the martial arts.



See also the below related topics:


This article uses material from the Wikipedia articles "Kata", "Comparison of Karate styles", "Karate Stances", "Embusen", and "Karate Kata", which is released under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share-Alike License 3.0.


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