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Theories of the origins of Asian martial arts range from the highly diffusionist to models which show greater recognition of independent invention.

Gracie & Danaher identify a number of different theories of the history of martial arts—the centralized origins theory, the shared conditions theory, the great person theory, the politico-historical conditions theory, and the sociological class theory—and state that a satisfactory account "will have to include elements of all these theories (with the exception of the centralized origins theory)

Kata is a Japanese word describing detailed choreographed patterns of movements practiced either solo or in pairs. Kata are used in many traditional Japanese arts such as theater forms like kabuki and schools of tea ceremony (chadō), but are most commonly known for the presence in the martial arts. Kata are used by most traditional Japanese and Okinawan martial arts,. Other arts such as t'ai chi ch'uan and taekwondo feature the same kind of training, but use the respective Chinese and Korean words instead.

In Japanese martial arts practice, kata is often seen as an essential partner to randori training with one complementing the other. However, the actual type and frequency of kata versus randori training varies from art to art. In iaidō, solo kata using the Japanese sword (katana) comprises almost all of the training. Whereas in judo, kata training is de-emphasized and usually only prepared for dan grading.

In kenjutsu, paired kata at the beginners level can appear to be stilted. At higher levels serious injury is prevented only by a high sensitivity of both participants to important concepts being taught and trained for. These include timing and distance, with the kata practiced at high speed. This adjustability of kata training is found in other Japanese arts with roles of attacker and defender often interchanging within the sequence.

Many martial arts use kata for public demonstrations and in competitions, awarding points for such aspects of technique as style, balance, timing, and verisimilitude (appearance of being real).