Philosophy practiced is the goal of learning. - Thoreau
A kata is not just a collection of techniques. Today there is particular interest in bunkai, or applications derived from the study of kata. While valuable, there is more to kata than that as well.
A kata is the physical manifestation of the philosophy and strategy; what in another post I might call the Phoenix things, of a particular martial art. The practice of the kata is meant to impress these into your body, for you to understand at a visceral level.
Charles James, a senior Isshinryu practitioner wrote a very nice article on the meaning of kata at one of his excellent blogs, Isshindo Blog. The whole article may be read here. An excerpt may be read below this expert demonstration of a karate kata. Enjoy.
This post on the surface may seem obvious yet I find many have not clue as to the principles involved. People tend to skip over such important things to get to the fun or exciting stuff. Regardless ......
It came to me that what may be the most important change to kata practice, training and teaching is to gear it away form bunkai and focus it directly into teaching and practice of the fundamental principles with emphasis on the physiokinetic, i.e. breathing, posture, Triangle Guard, Centerline, Primary Gate, Spinal Alignment, Axis, Minor Axis, Structure, Heaviness, Relaxation, Wave Energy, Convergence, Centeredness, Triangulation Point, The Dynamic Sphere, Body-Mind, Void, Centripetal Force, Centrifugal Force, Sequential Locking & Sequential Relaxation, Peripheral Vision, Tactile Sensitivity, Rooting.
I don't mean we leave out theory, technique and philosophy but since bunkai as it stands today seems geared more toward dueling or sport the self-defense aspects should focus on these principles that are the essence of all combatives. It makes sense then one can take the appropriate training in self-defense that makes use of the principles as the foundation and then the applications can remain - open-ended.
It seems to me that to focus on the principles then use them in reality based self-defense would make the kata of martial systems more relevant to modern times especially with all the road blocks one encounters in applying self-defense, i.e. psychological, physical and legal, etc.