Krav Maga is unique compared to other martial arts for its practicality. In order to be a better warrior and fighter, I also occasionally train in other martial arts styles, many of which use traditional training methods involving practicing Katas or forms. To a Kravist, this seems boring and impractical.
So then why do they do it?
Once, when I was practicing another martial art for several months, one particular instructor helped me to realize the purpose of Katas. Other instructors simply taught the movements required for the Kata, whereas this instructor broke down each part of the Kata and showed how they would be used in a real life situation. Katas represent a sequence of movements against a particular line of attacks. For example, if someone is grabbing your wrist, you can use a specific Kata to react, pull your wrist away, and move into a follow up position.
The existence of Katas is logical, however their modern application is nonsense. Many instructors simply teach students how to do Katas, have the students repeat the form, while failing to explain what the Kata is actually for in real life.
It seems that they are missing the point
Focusing solely on how the fabric of the gi snaps, or the precise angles of a hand or foot, will not help people in a real fight. When you watch fight competitions, the fighters’ movements rarely reflect the forms of the particular style used.
Nevertheless, Katas have their place in the martial art world. Being meticulous and correct helps with mastering a particular sequence of movements. However, the real world application must be explained as well. For example, in this video and this video (click the links if videos below don’t load), you can see how the movement of Katas are applied in real fights.
If Katas aren’t practical, why do they exist in the first place?
I was prompted to understand the origin of Katas when I once found myself using footwork more natural to Karate than Krav Maga. I certainly do not have enough Karate experience to have these movements ingrained in me. However, my body simply did the movement in the way that seemed most efficient. Thus, my conclusion is that Katas were created to mimic natural movements.
The development of martial arts like Judo, Jiu Jitsu, Kendo, and so on can be traced back to many great warriors of the past, like the samurai. They would have had to learn half of their movements from training in a dojo, and the other half forged from life and death battles on the field. In their time, such warriors trained with the knowledge of an impending battle within the next few days, weeks, or months. With this expectation of a violent situation in the near future, of course warriors would want to be as close to 100% prepared as possible.
However, the problem was that training full force all the time with full contact sparring is not appropriate. If you are a martial arts or Krav Maga student, you should know that if you and your training partners use full blown strikes against each other to practice, you will be left in a state not ideal for self-defense, never mind a battle.
Practical then, not practical now
It is likely that Katas were developed as a softer way to practice the sequences they regularly expected in real life. This soft approach to training meant that they could continue to develop their muscle memory without the risk of injury.
Nevertheless, in modern times, most people practicing martial arts are not regularly engaging in life or death battles, and do not have the chance to go full force with their skills in the field. Thus, real experiences and application of Katas and forms are virtually non-existent, which quite often leads to a disappointing or fatal result when a real violent situation arises.
Katas are logical in the purpose for which they were created. However, exclusively using soft training and practicing forms is highly detrimental to a person who wants to learn self-defense. Without creating a realistically aggressive and chaotic environment in the classroom, through full contact sparring and other orchestrated exercises, one would not be prepared to react to those situations when the undesirable and unpredictable time comes. Repeating Katas can never replace real experience.
What once made sense, now seems foolish. What once produced warriors, now assemble well-oiled robots. Be a true warrior and train in a way that prepares you for a real life or death combat situation.