Can we use karate in actual fights?

Mas Kikuchi
Jan 20, 2020 · 5 min read
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Illustration by Mas Kikuchi

One of the representative karate styles is called “kata”. In almost every dojo (a hall where people practice karate), trainees of all levels learn different kata. Kata is a mandatory subject of grading tests in all karate schools, and you can watch great kata performances at tournaments done by groups and individuals.

“Kata” is such a popular part of karate, but why do we need to practice it?

What is kata?

Kata” is a word that describes the training method in which techniques such as attack and defense are packed in a series of fixed consecutive movements and it is believed that practitioners can acquire techniques needed for karate through repeatedly practicing the same kata. Some kata were created recently, some are so old that we don’t know where they came from, and some have already been lost.

Nowadays, many textbooks have been published, and it is an era where you can always watch the performances of famous karate performers in videos. However, until recently there were no textbooks or prints to describe kata, and you could only learn orally from masters. As a result, the interpretations of the movement and meaning of kata can vary massively depending on who it was taught by.

Even the same kata is taught differently within each school. In karate, dozens of kata are still being passed on today, but the meanings in them have already been lost. The enthusiastic karatekas worked hard to restore the lost techniques and added various interpretations to restore them. As a result, the interpretations of the same kata differed in each school, and the movement had also been changed based on the variety of interpretations...

Some may believe that making changes will lead to an inaccurate interpretation of the original kata. However, kata may have been changed already through misinterpretations when you first learned it. Some people believe that it is necessary to reconstruct the kata they learned in order to restore it to its original form.

A new idea may sometimes lead to another change. Most kata has a long history. Therefore, the techniques used in them are old. It is often the case that anyone who wants to use the latest techniques will want to evolve kata from its ancient tradition into something better. Therefore, even today, many katas are being changed through various researchers and enthusiasts.

Is karate kata useless?

As kata has always been an important aspect of karate since ancient times, karate practitioners are constantly evolving and changing it in an attempt to restore their lost techniques. Many dojos practice only kata in their training. Although kata is a greatly respected aspect in one's training, we often hear the debate about whether it can be used in actual fighting.

Kata incorporates not only striking techniques such as kicking but also various techniques such as joint-locking and throwing. By repeating a series of movements many times, you supposedly learn the necessary skills for actual fighting. However, in a real-life violent situation, many people will not instinctively use the skills they have learned through kata, and therefore they reach the conclusion that kata is useless.

If you are also thinking the same, let me tell you.

You haven’t practiced enough.

Did you repeat the same kata 100,000 times?

Yes, 100,000 times. In order to see the results of kata, you need to repeat it for a considerable amount of time. This is because techniques in kata are useless if you have to move consciously, you can only use them if you make them usable to an unconscious level. There is no way you can use it with just one or two weeks of practice with a few turns here and there. In that case, you have merely just remembered the order of the kata (see also my article about “Dedicate your entire life to learn the basic stance”).

You can practice karate alone.

Unlike interpersonal training, where you cannot practice without someone’s company, self-training allows you to practice anytime, anywhere. It’s a great way to practice the same action over and over again.

Let’s first start with repeating one kata 100,000 times.

By the end of 100,000 times and has been through many trials and errors, you will begin to sense that you have learned something, at least one thing.

If you can’t make enough time or increase the number of practice, try reducing the number of katas you are working on. Originally, it took three to five years to learn a single kata, and after one learned all the kata of a certain style, two or three would be selected and polished for the rest of one’s lifetime.

Even if the number of katas you practice is low, it is better to be able to perform techniques to the highest possible standard rather than learn a large number of movements from a wide variety of kata.

There is another factor that makes kata useless in actual fights.

Do you practice with virtual enemies?

Even if you can repeatedly train kata for many years and drop it into your unconscious level, you cannot activate the technique without a trigger. This means that the trigger to initiate the technique must also be sunk into your unconscious level.

All kata start from the defence. In other words, the trigger is created the moment a specific attack comes towards you. For example, it is impossible to defend an upper-level straight punch using the sweeping low block.

For an upper attack, use a rising upper block. For example, if you have repeated a particular kata with a rising upper block in it, you should be able to defend an upper attack without thinking. After that, your body will automatically move on its own based on the movements in the kata following the rising upper block...

However, if you only practice the kata self-centered, your opponent’s attack will not act as a trigger. This is because, during practice, you are not considering the presence and movements of other people.

Don’t practice self-centered, don’t focus on whether you are moving smoothly or looking good, but practice with an invisible partner to become capable of moving according to your opponent.

Every movement in kata assumes an opponent. When practicing alone, don’t lose track of your opponent’s move. Be aware of where your opponent is standing, and what attacks are being launched at you. It is only when you have repeated this simulation many times that it becomes possible to use the same techniques in actual fighting.


Even in the same kata, there are various interpretations depending on the school. But as long as it’s effective as a technique, there is no problem.

Whether or not you can use the skills learned through kata in real-life situations depends on whether you have practiced in a way that’s actually used in real fights.

Kata practice requires patience and the capability to imagining your opponents' moves. This will allow you to unconsciously respond to any attacks.

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Mas Kikuchi

Written by

UK-based Japan-born karateka with 38 years of practice across Japan, USA, and UK. Founder of Jokukai karate. All opinions are my own.

Live Your Life On Purpose

Get Purpose. Get Perspective. Get Passion.

Mas Kikuchi

Written by

UK-based Japan-born karateka with 38 years of practice across Japan, USA, and UK. Founder of Jokukai karate. All opinions are my own.

Live Your Life On Purpose

Get Purpose. Get Perspective. Get Passion.

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