Do not think of patterns as the imaginary fighting of one or more opponents, think of them as a set of individual techniques performed in a specific order in a manner that is artistically pleasing. In square dancing, students learn a few basic movements. Then, instead of the instructor quickly calling out a series of basic movements for the students to perform, which would cause everyone to perform in jerky motions, the movements are put together in different sequences named "calls." Each call may consist of 10 or more movements performed in a certain order. When the "caller" calls out a certain pattern, the four couples in a "square" are able to perform all the movements smoothly and in a artistic manner. Patterns are performed in much the same way. Students are taught individual techniques, and then they learn to perform a sequence of the techniques, which is called a pattern. When the instructor calls for that pattern, all students may perform the sequence of techniques in an orderly and artistic manner.
The first step in learning a pattern is to understand its moves. When they become automatic, the real learning begins. Remember, the techniques were preserved from actual combat techniques. Study the moves by visualizing a real opponent in actual combat. Many karate stylists have done the same move in the same way for years, and then suddenly, while doing a technique, they discover a new meaning for it. This is why one instructor in a system can show you a technique exactly the same way that another instructor does it, but the interpretation is different. The move stays the same, but a visualized change in the opponent causes the application of the move to change.
Each element in a pattern can be studied as though it was a separate martial art. Such elements include punching, grabbing, kicking, blocking, and throwing. Some techniques that first appear as blocks can later be interpreted as grabs and throws. This switching of elements makes the study of patterns an intriguing art and science. However, it can also make pattern more confusing. You understand moves through the practice of patterns as a whole, and through the practice and perfection of each separate element. The separate elements combine to make one pattern.