I recently had the misfortune to read a book on the meaning of kata by a Japanese author. Besides having his own karate dojo, the author has doctorates in sociology and Japanese civilization. One could argue that this man, on paper, is just the authority we should be seeking guidance from. Unfortunately, I can't recommend this book. Chapters on the history of Japan and the uniqueness of its people; barely a paragraph on karate much less kata. I'll leave the author's name and work out.
If you distilled the essence of this book on the meaning of kata down to two words you would get "navel gazing." Let's pause and think about it. Maybe that is all there is to the kata of Japanese karate. Maybe it's like the tea ceremony, which is not so much about serving and drinking a tasty beverage, but "being in the moment" and finding some revelation in the gestures and empty spaces.
Did I sell you? If you're like me, you don't get high off empty gestures. I want to learn how to fight, get good at it, and then get drunk on my awesomeness, or else be teased with the hope that by learning and practicing, something close to awesome is within my grasp. Air technique, and the contemplation of it, won't do it.
And this brings me to where I left off last time. Let's say kata start out with the practitioner emerging from a position of vulnerability with a juji uke, and that juji uke, we agreed (we did agree, no?) was a small joint manipulation, in this case a finger lock. Think of the deadly karate practitioners you'd be churning out of your dojo if they became well versed in the art of finger locking. You could spend weeks, month, even years on this one subset of skills, and that's just the first bunkai in any kata. I could be way, way off. Juji uke might not be about finger locks at all. Bummer. You now have a bunch of ladies and kids capable of destroying their attackers (provided they were actually drilling finger locks and not just dancing the kata), but complete nincompoops at dance. Boohoo.
When it comes to kata practice, instead of counting belly button lint, turning inward and trying to imagine what you don't know, aka the usual approach, take from arts other than Japanese karate. Your karate will be better for it.