I enjoy sparring. I have sparred for as long as I have practiced karate. The karate student can gain many benefits from sparring. The most obvious benefit is aerobic exercise. Just a few minutes of vigorous sparring burns more calories than practically any other activity. Also, sparring helps the student overcome fear of contact and it helps to learn timing and distance.
Despite all these great benefits, sparring is not a regular part of the curriculum at Tallahassee Karate Club. Why not?
Because sparring is not as realistic as practicing kata. Kata are a framework for karate. They are a framework for how to move, how to block, how to strike, how to learn distance and timing, and most importantly, how to train your body to work together as a whole.
Also, with kata, one can practice to throw techniques as fast, hard and realistic as possible. In sparring, we must control our techniques in order to avoid injuring our sparring partner. If someone gets injured too often in training, they won't want to train, and that is counter-productive.
Karate is a self-defense art. I do not consider sparring as an exercise in self-defense. Once again, I look to kata to learn self defense concepts and techniques. Real self-defense techniques are very dangerous and must be practiced carefully to avoid injuring a training partner. Karate should only be used in a life or death situation and the techniques are not practical for application in sparring for this reason.
So, sparring is good, it's fun, it's aerobic, but it can't replace Kata for it's practicality and effectiveness as a tool to teach realistic self-defense.