There are a number of things I do on a daily basis that are considered "Old" and are considered basic "kata" exercises.
I think the difference is...I view them as exercises and structure, and NOT methods of fighting.
Well, a good kata will always be a good for developing structure, and in many ways, that can be more important than a particular fighting method. What did you think of Kanazawa's kata? And how do you suppose that influenced his fighting style? Would you have predicted from watching him do heian shodan that he would fight as he did?
And what does it mean that he and his opponent both had the same training? As far as I know, both were deeply trained in only shotokan karate do and both were considered at the top of their generation, so that was a very high level fight for its day. But we saw o soto gari attemped, o soto gari successfully done, and a sutemi waza in the first few seconds.
Clearly, for Kanazawa, at least, the kata did not hamper freedom of personal thought and expression.
Now, again, compare the karate katas to military close order drill. You have basic postures that link in series to move huge numbers of men cleanly over various distances and through procedures such as loading onto airplanes and unloading, etc. And each man must be able to perform all the basic postures and movements alone and with the group to be an efficient member of the fighting group.
But the kata of karate are a kind of training far beyond close order drill because the group movements become increasingly complex and demanding on the physique as well as the mentality of each participant. And the particular series of the movement contains deep information of its own, related to history, culture, fighting tactics, internal strength development and other things while also being a kind of Zen meditation to open a state of mind.
Of course, that mental state is also used in military close order drill and part of the purpose of close order drill is to empty the soldier's mind and make him directly responsive to the commands of the leadership and to the small physical cues from his fellows.
So what may look useless from the outside and maybe even more useless to the people participating in it, may in fact serve a much deeper usefulness, visible only to those who penetrate and come to understand them fully.
I understand that Kanazawa is 79 years old now and that he's still teaching (last I heard). Here he is at age 72:
The traditonal karate method seems to have served him much better than JKD served Bruce Lee.