We have just had the last grading examination of the year, so except in the case of a few enthusiasts, kata training has been put on hold until the next pre-grading panic.
I am certainly not excluding myself from the kata dodging majority, as I tend to do kata only if I am asked to demonstrate or teach it before a grading. When I practise kata I enjoy it, but normally I gravitate towards some exercise or another that involves a full set of bogu. I think this is not specific to Europeans. I practised in Boston, USA for a while back in the 80’s and we never did kata. During my time in Japan, kata practice was very sporadic and I remember asking a 30 year in grade nanadan for some pre-grading coaching. He went through the list with a book in one hand and a boken in the other. I am not sure if it is still the case, but in some prefectural gradings, up to and including 5th dan, it was possible to avoid the kata examination by attending a pre-grading seminar.
The best kata in Japan story, (and I will not guarantee that it is not urban myth); is about the candidate at the Kyoto 8th dan grading several years ago. It is alleged that having successfully passed jitsugi, he left because he did not know the kata. This, in the light of the fact that if you take the kata section and fail, you get a second free try without retaking jitsugi. If you walk away, you have to start from scratch. With sub 1% pass rates, you have to be very brave or very stupid to leave without a token attempt.
Of course kata has value and the better at it you become, the more it benefits your kendo. Not only is kendo no kata a toolkit of techniques, timings and opportunities; done correctly it teaches mind-contact and zanshin as well as riai (the reason for making a technique).
When you start learning kata, the objective is to remember the techniques, the number of steps and the order in which everything happens. This is not the aim of kata training but only the beginning. Once you have mastered the basics, kata gives you the opportunity to really feel the nuances of the techniques it features.
So, I will try to make the effort to practise kata regularly, rather than save it for the far off day when I have to join the remedial 8th dan candidate kata class.
Kata on the beach in Norway. More fun less precision.