Kata (型) literally meaning "form" is a Japanese word describing detailed patterns of movements practiced either solo or in pairs. Shotokan Kata are executed as a specified series of a variety of moves, with stepping and turning, while attempting to maintain perfect form. The practitioner is taught to visualise the enemy attacks and their responses. Karateka "read" a Kata in order to explain the imagined events. There are perhaps 100 Kata across the various forms of karate, each with many minor variations. 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.
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 renamed many Kata to help Karate spread throughout Japan.
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.
In Shotokan Kata is not a performance or a demonstration, but is for individual/Karateka to practice full techniques, with every technique potentially a killing blow (Ikken Hisatsu) while paying particular attention to form and timing (rhythm). As the Karateka grows older, more emphasis is placed on the health benefits of practicing Kata, promoting fitness while keeping the body soft, supple, and agile.
The original Shotokan Kata syllabus is introduced in Funakoshi's book Karate-do Kyohan, which is the Master Text of Shotokan Karate. When the Japan Karate Association (JKA) was formed, Nakayama laid down 27 Kata as the Kata syllabus for this organisation. Even today, thousands of Shotokan Dojo only practice 26 of these 27 Kata. The standard JKA Kata are:
Taikyoku Shodan (sometimes termed Kihon Kata, discontinued in most of today's Shotokan Dojos) (太初) Heian Shodan , Heian Nidan, Heian Sandan, Heian Yondan, Heian Godan, Tekki Shodan, Bassai Dai, Jion, Enpi, Kanku Dai, Hangetsu, Jitte, Gankaku, Tekki Nidan Tekki Sandan, Nijushiho, Chinte, Sochin, Meikyo, Unsu, Bassai Sho, Kanku Sho, Wankan, Gojushiho Sho, Gojushiho Dai, Jiin