This Guest Post is by my friend and senior, Sensei Pat Nakata. Nakata Sensei is the head of the Okinawa Shorin-Ryu Karate Association in Hawaii. He was a student of Chosin (Choshin) Chibana in Shorin-Ryu, and also studied Ryukyu Kobudo under Sensei Fumio Nagaishi. When he was a young man, he studied Wado-Ryu Karate under Sensei Walter Nishioka.
I do agree that Kata is a waste of time for tournament competition, because many of the techniques in the Kata are outlawed. Tournament competition, dojo sparring, and self-defense or street fighting are all different.
In my close to 50 years of teaching and observation, I believe that Kata training will develop a strong fighter, but not necessarily a strong tournament competitor. I have always said that I could build a strong competitor in 1 year with just basic drills, but it would take me 2 to 3 years to build an equivalent strong fighter with Kata training. Where the competition trained fighter may peak in a few years, the Kata training fighter keeps growing. I have observed that in the majority of cases, the strong fighters all had strong Kata, even the strong tournament competitors. It is sad to see that many excellent Karate practitioners, who believe that Karate begins and ends with tournaments. As Chibana Sensei often said, "The way (path) of Karate is training. Karate training is Kata training. From Kata training one reaches self-realization".
Many times the quest to become a champion is nothing more than the search for one's true identity (ego) or the proving to one's self of one's ability, thinking all the while that being successful in competition will clear self-doubt and thus, develop confidence. This is not to be, for real confidence does not come from winning, but the acceptance of defeat. When we accept defeat, we remove that fear of losing. Now we fight with true confidence, because we have nothing to prove and with nothing to lose, we are Fearless.
Kata is fighting, yet Kata is Kata and fighting is fighting. If you do not know how to fight, you will have difficulty understanding Kata. If you don't know the fighting applications within the Kata, then Kata is a waste of time.