Kata is the "art" in Martial Art. It is the language of the system. All the secrets and techniques of the style are contained in the forms. Kata must be viewed on many levels. At the basic level, kata teaches balance, rhythm, and technique in a dynamic form that is more interesting than simply learning techniques in a line up.
The next level of kata is Bunkai. Bunkai are the hidden applications. This is where the maxim "every strike is a block, every block is a strike" comes in. In my classes, all "self defense" training comes out of the kata. Understanding bunkai from a kata is critical for the understanding of the Sansei system.
I personally feel that it is sad that so many "karate" systems do not feel it necessary to emphasize kata. They teach that kata is something that you do at tournaments to kill time while waiting for the Kumite. They get Black Belts, open schools, and teach whatever of the kata they can remember. It is just not important to them. It is not "real karate". I suppose that if I had never been taught to love kata for what they are, I might feel this way.
The third level of kata is spiritual. Proper performance of kata builds Ki, and proper rhythm of the kata allows the performer to become tuned into nature. Some people seem to take to a certain kata from the beginning. They can do all the others well, but there is something magical for them about a certain kata. It is likely that this kata represents an element of life that is key to them. Spiritual people working their key kata represent a type of beauty normally only seen in the higher levels of Dance.
It is at the third level of kata that "meditation in motion" becomes a reality, and the practitioner may transcend the physical shell and commune at a higher level. Most practitioners never take the leap of faith required to reach this step.
Here are some examples of kata:
To see the Eight Point Hard Blocking System in a Windows .mpg file, click here.