"Ichi!" Turn left, otoshi tettsui.
"Ni!" Step forward, junzuki.
"San!" Long turn, gedan barai.
"Shi!" Slide back, otoshi tettsui shizentai
"Go!" Step forward, junzuki.
You might recognise the first section of pinan nidan, at least if you're a wado person. Your style might begin with gedan barai, or you might make more use of nekoashi dachi. There's some interesting applications and footwork to be found in this particular sequence, along with the body mechanics associated with it.
But you might miss it if you train everything in an "ichi ni san" fashion.
Kata by numbers is fine if you're doing military drill with 50 or 100 students in a large hall, but from a martial art point of view the kata is destroyed.
Actually that's not completely fair. I know that when first learning a kata then working to the count is fine, and also working to a count that has a sensible rhythm to is can be useful too. The gist of this article is to move beyond that, so please bear with me as I ramble on....
Kata isn't a series of fixed steps like pictures in a book. It is more like a video - a continuous stream from start to finish. The timing changes, and yes there are pauses at certain points - they are there for a reason; the problem with the kata is in the robotic performance. Understanding the correct timing opens up the whole form in terms of application.
The first two movements in pinan nidan demonstrate dropping body weight, entering, and projecting forward - and we haven't started to consider what the "block and punch" bit means yet; and we still haven't thought about how to apply those movements.
"Movements" 3,4,5 in pinan nidan are another good example. Taking the foot work alone, practice with a spring-like stepping and you get evasion, drawing in and entering techniques. You'll have difficulty getting good, quick fluid steps if you train with excess tension and a fixed count. Whole body movement, especially considering the hips and waist, is required to get this down part (yes you need to consider the feet and head too).
Applications appear in the transitions and parts of movements, not in the conclusion of each technique. Using another analogy, techniques in kata are the dots, and the transitions are the lines. You need both to see the whole picture. Each dot leads to the next one until the picture is complete. (Interesting how the last dot leads back to the first...)
Practice the first part of pinan nidan using different rhythms. Train with a partner, who offers basic technique to work with (at this stage it will look like 'bad bunkai', but it's really only a commentary or reference point for the movement). After that start to consider the movement in terms of dealing with 'realistic' attacks.
If you train for competition (traditional karate shiai) take another look at movements 3,4,5 especially withdrawing the front foot and springing forward with the left. Add in some body shifts and feel how to bring the technique into play according to the movement. Then see how that movement relates to the preceding and succeeding techniques.
Remember, kata isn't a series of fixed points. Don't be obsessed with the individual dots, but rather see the whole thing. The kata now becomes a map with a route and points along that route (yikes, more analogy!)
Look at how other arts practice "flow drills" and incorporate them into your own training. (Escrima is good for this, as are Chinese systems that feature push hands). By training "in the flow" you get a much better feel for application, and it's a quicker route to more realistic kumite.