I have noticed in our club that people are polarised between either prefering kata or kumite. There seems to be a slight sex bias here with women on the whole preferring kata and men preferring kumite, though there are one or two exceptions. I presume that this is probably because women generally don't like confrontation and therefore don't like sparring with each other whereas men like to test themselves out against each other.
I could understand this difference in attitude if the the type of sparring we did in Shukokai karate was full-contact but it isn't. We only practice non-contact (or minimal-contact) sparring so the aim is not to land a punch or kick on your opponent. This means that, unless you get it wrong -as we do occasionally, you don't get hurt so its very non-threatening. It's not so much about learning to fight as learning to have good control of your strikes and kicks in order that they stop within 1or 2 inches of your opponent or just make touch contact. This is incredibly difficult to get right as you must throw the kick or punch as if you really mean to hit them but focus it on a target just short of your opponent. You need a lot of control over your limbs to do this right!
I suppose kata is completely non threatening and non-competitive so appeals to women a lot more. I think most women in our club do karate a form of physical fitness training rather than because they really want to master the art. In this respect learning kata is a bit like learning a dance and dancing is good exercise! But if you are interested in karate as a fighting art you have to see kata as more than a sequence of choreographed moves but have to understand it as something that encodes real fighting and that means you have to learn the bunkai. The men in our club definitely seem more enthusiastic about learning bunkai than the women.
So what do I prefer? Well I admit I find learning kata much easier than learning to spar. I like the grace and elegance of performing a kata well and I try to make the moves as sharp and punchy as I can. But I don't want to learn kata merely as a means to getting my next belt and then forgetting it and learning the next one. I admit that I do inwardly groan when sensei says we are going to some bunkai but that's only because I find it difficult and confusing to to learn. I want the katas to mean more than a strange kind of dance, I want to understand them so I'll just have to persevere with the bunkai. Kumite is definitely harder to learn. We are introduced to it right from white belt but even as a purple belt I still struggle with finding openings or having any sense of strategy! But despite that I am a competitive person and I don't want to shy off from the confrontational side of karate. My aim is to feel confident and competent enough to enter a kumite competition, hopefully within the next year.
So are you a kata or kumite addict? I'd love to hear other peoples views on this.