In the ancient Orient, a law similar to the law of Hamurabi (an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth) was rigorously enforced. If you injured another person, you had to be punished, even when the injury was caused accidentally. Since modern free-sparring had not yet been developed, Taekwondo students who practiced their fighting skills against other persons risked their own safety if they harmed their opponents. Therefore, the development of fighting proficiency was somewhat hindered until the first patterns were developed. Then students were able to fight imaginary opponents with no chance of injuring an opponent.
Through the practice of patterns, students learn to apply various Taekwondo techniques in practical ways and to join the techniques into useful combinations. They improve their sparring skills by developing fluid, smooth, rhythmical, powerful movements. Gichin Funakoshi, the father of Shotokan karate, taught only a little sparring, he based his teaching on patterns. Funakoshi believed that "Once you have completely mastered kata, then you may adapt it to kumite." Patterns also help students refine their coordination, flexibility, balance, timing, endurance, and breath control, all of which are essential to the proper execution of Taekwondo techniques. Patterns enable students to practice techniques alone and to practice them against simulated attacks that are difficult to duplicate during class exercises or while sparring. While free-sparring enables students to compare their fighting skills to those of other students, patterns permit students to evaluate critically their own individual techniques in a controlled situation. Karate master, Richard Kim, always believed that within kata was all he would ever need to know to defend himself.
Just as individual letters form words, which are then used to compose sentences that express a thought; individual techniques and movements form patterns, which are then used to express the essence of Taekwondo. Just as students in elementary school first learn to print precisely and then to write in their own personal style, Taekwondo students first learn to perform each movement in a pattern in a specified manner, and then they begin to develop their own personal performance style. Patterns are the link between technique training and actual fighting.