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Kata (form) is a Japanese word describing detailed choreographed patterns of movements practiced either solo or in pairs.
Kata are used in many traditional Japanese arts such as theater forms like kabuki and schools of tea ceremony (chad?), but are most commonly known for the presence in the martial arts. Kata are used by most traditional Japanese and Okinawan martial arts, such as Aikido, Iaido, Judo, Jujutsu, Kendo and Karatedo. Other arts such as T'ai Chi Chuan and Taekwondo feature the same kind of training, but use the respective Chinese and Korean words instead.
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).
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., Gojushiho, which means "54 steps." The number of moves may also have links with Buddhist spirituality. The number 108 is significant in Buddhism, 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 or her 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.
Judo has several kata, mostly created in the late 19th century by Kano Jigoro, the founder of judo. All but one of the judo kata involve two participants. Judo kata preserve a number of techniques that are not permitted in competition or in randori, including punches, kicks, and the use of the katana and other weapons. The study of kata is usually begun much later in judo than in karate, typically at around the brown belt level. The most commonly studied judo kata is Nage-no-kata, which consists of fifteen throwing techniques. The Katame-no-kata is composed of pinning techniques, chokes, and joint locks. Kime-no-kata is a long kata consisting of self-defense techniques against both unarmed attacks, and attacks with swords and knives.
Non-Japanese martial arts
In Burmese martial arts, there are many akas. Bando practitioners (Bandoist) need to understand various types of body structure first. There are nine "Bando basic forms" in the Bando system (Hanthawaddy bando system) and 9 animal forms.
In Korean martial arts such as Taekwondo and Tangsudo ("tang soo do"), the Korean word hyung is usually employed, though in some cases other words are used. The International Taekwondo Federation uses the Korean word tul, while the World Taekwondo Federation uses the word poomsae or simply the English translations "pattern" or "form." Aside from the first two patterns taught to white belts, these patterns are known as "Taeguks" for patterns below black belt and range from one to eight. They are the basis for certain taekwondo competitions, based on the quality of the subject's pattern execution, and are a key element of gradings.
In Vietnamese martial arts, e.g., vovinam viet vo dao the Vietnamese word quyen is used.
In Chinese martial arts, forms are known as taolu. Modern forms are used in wushu competitions.
In Indonesian martial arts, mainly Silat, forms with the upper body are knows as djurus, forms with the lower body are known as langkah, and forms with the whole body are known as dasar pasang.