5 (More) Reasons Why Your Bunkai (Still) (Probably) Sucks

By Jesse | 46 Comments

Remember that article a couple of months back, where I basically outlined why most bunkai (practical applications to kata) on the market sucks?

(Yeah, that one.)

Well, it’s time for part two.

For all you enthusiasts who have stood there completely clueless when your sensei went “Umm… I’m not sure about that one…” after you showed off your 720 Dragon Kick of Awesomeness bunkai, this one is for you.

Here we go:

#1: You presume your opponent does a combo.

“Quick, punch me. Hah, I blocked! Now punch me again here. Haha, I blocked again. Now kick me here, punch me there, and then grab me here. I block everything, add a counter punch to your abs and throw you down, finishing with a stomp on your head. Success! End of bunkai.”

Ninja, please.

This is perhaps one of the biggest mistakes people do when figuring out bunkai. They are so obsessed with a fixed series of techniques in a kata (a so-called pre-determined combo), that they simply have to be attacked by a multitude of clearly defined blows before they can *finally* end the bunkai by shifting from defensive mode to counter mode with the last technique in the series.

Okay, let’s do a quick probability analysis, for a bunkai that has you defending against a low straight punch, high straight punch, straight kick and wrist grab:

  • The probability that you will be attacked by a low, straight punch: 1 in 100.
  • The probability that the preceeding low punch will be followed up by a high, straight punch: 1 in 10’000.
  • The probability that the low punch, followed by the high punch, will be followed up by a straight kick: 1 in 100’000
  • The probability that the low punch, followed by a high punch, followed by a kick, will be followed up by a wrist grab: 1 in 100’000’000

And then you magically defend yourself against this fairytale attack scenario and win.

(By now you probably realize that I’m no mathematician. But you get the point)

The mere notion that you can actually anticipate *exactly* what follow-up attacks your opponent is going to do – in every possible scenario on earth – and then easily defend yourself against those anticipated attacks, is so unlikely that I find it simply mind-blowing how people can keep defending against thirteen techniques in a row and finish up with a gyaku-zuki/foot sweep combo in e-v-e-r-y friggin’ demonstration out there.

You should be lucky if you even manage to defend against the first attack.

Most brawlers on the legendary “street” don’t expect you to still be standing after that one anyway.

The rest is just a black hole.

So my suggestion is, you’d better prepare for that black hole instead of making up fairytale scenarios (which decrease in probability for every extra attack you add).

Stop presuming that your opponent will do a series of techniques that magically fits into your kata.

Because it ain’t gonna happen.

Think outside of the xob.

#2: You presume the attacker is a martial artist.

Continuing on the theme from the previous point:

I mean, come on; who is going to attack you with either a straight punch to the sternum, straight kick to the belly or even a simple wrist grab?

I’ll tell you who:

A martial artist.

Hey, Einstein – newsflash: kata and its bunkai were never meant to be used against trained attackers. It was meant to be used against a 400 pound testosterone monster nicknamed Gargatua with only one goal in mind – ripping your face off. Which means that 90% of your dojo techniques will fly out of the window from the pure fear and paralyzation you’ll most likely experience as he it rushes against you in a dark alley.

You have one shot.

Don’t screw it up.

And the likelyhood that Gargantua will give you a clean straight punch, and then stand still with his arm stretched out in in front of you while you proceed to blast him it with a 10-hit combo finishing off with a perfect hip throw is not really on the map, is it?

Unless he is a Shotokan grandmaster, that is.

So let’s cut the crap and simply realize that you cannot expect to be attacked by Karate techniques when performing a bunkai, because we Karate people have better stuff to do than attacking each other.

[Fun sidenote: My friend asked ten buddies (including his girlfriend) to hit him with a straight punch to the face the other day. Not a single one of them could do a straight punch, unless he showed them how.]

And wrist grabs? Come on. In 9 times out of 10 a wrist grab is simply the result of your opponents natural reactions against your first line of defense.

Which brings me to the third point:

#3: You forgot your opponents reaction.

The flinch response. Look carefully at the people's natural reaction.

Question: What happens when you flick sand into someone’s eyes?

Answer: They flinch. Throw their head back, and then to the side. Maybe turn around. Hands go up to their face.

Easy enough. A natural reflex that we all have since birth. Next one:

Question #2: What happens when you punch somebody in the face?

Answer #2: They flinch. Throw their head back, and then to the side. Maybe turn around. Hands go up to their face.

Oh… my… GOD!

It’s the EXACT same response!

How come? Are we all trained to react this way? No, we’re not. But, just like we react when dirt, sand or gravel is thrown into our eyes, we have a natural pre-determined response to being punced in the face, that might change a whole self-defense scenario if you didn’t count it in.

Quick! What happens when you get a kick in the groin?

You bend forward.

What happens when somebody bends your fingers violently down?

You stand on your toes.

These are natural physical reactions that we must always take into consideration when we figure out bunkai, because in my opinion these natural pre-determined responses are the single most important reason to we even have such things as “combinations” to begin with! The old masters knew this.

A foot sweep can easily succeed a joint lock that get’s your opponent to his tippie toes. Even a little girl can sweep somebody who is in that position! Just as a downward elbow strike to the neck can easily succeed a kick to the groin. Even a baby can elbow somebody in the neck when slumped over in that position.

Kata, and its bunkai, is built upon these universal physical responses.

Remember how I said in point #1 that you can’t possibly anticipate what the next attack would be in a series?

Well, you still can’t.

But you can – and should – anticipate the reaction to an attack.

Sure, it will look a bit theatralic when you practise (unless you actually want to pull out the hair of your friend, kick him in the groin, stomp him on the foot etc.) but that’s just because we need to practise that way in order to know what will happen in real life.

Quick! Run away from the computer and grab a guy’s groin violently.

His reaction?

There’s your wristgrab right there.

Easy.

Unless he just gives you his telephone number…

 #4: You don’t think laterally.

Ever heard the term “lateral thinking”?

Lateral thinking is solving problems through an indirect and creative approach, using reasoning that is not immediately obvious to a beginner, and involving ideas that may not be obtainable by using only traditional step-by-step logic.

See that word up there, in the end?

“Traditional”

To truly figure out awesome bunkai, you need to look past the many obstacles hidden under cloaks of tradition. “In our style, we don’t do that” will not cut it anymore, as more and more modern martial arts people are laughing at us square Karate people.

Solution?

Think lateral.

When you step forward in a kata, are you moving towards something… or away from something? Is a punch actually a punch forward… or is it in fact an elbow strike back? Are you kneeing your opponent… or are you actually stomping down? When you drop down to the floor, are you avoiding something up there, or are you going to something down here? The list goes on.

Depending on where you lay the emphasis of a technique, it changes the whole meaning of the technique.

If I remember correctly, Albert Einstein advocated that there were in fact four basic dimensions (as opposed to 3-D), with the fourth being T (time). So why don’t you try to do a technique several times, each time changing the meaning of the technioque through gradually tweaking your perspective of time and its correlation to the impact?

Do it.

Once you really start going with the lateral thinking, you can’t imagine doing anything else!

Which brings me to the last point of today.

#5: You don’t care what others have done.

But you must.

Because other people might have awesome solutions to your bunkai problems, even though you don’t know it until you actually meet and exchange knowledge.

And hey, if they have no interest in exchanging – steal. Steal ideas ruthlessly. Nobody owns ideas, they are just floating around there. It’s how you use them that’s important.

  • YouTube.
  • Books.
  • Seminars.
  • Videos.
  • DVD’s.
  • Online Courses.
  • Blogs.
  • Magazines.

There are so many sources out there that you can’t ignore them!

But what you must ignore is the labels.

In fact, I encourage you to NOT look at stuff labeled Karate.

Which reminds me of a great story told by the king of Karate research, hanshi Patrick McCarthy, from one of this numerous visits to Fuzhou, Fujian Province, China in November 1990:

Amid the several foreign countries partaking in the martial arts festival was a Japanese delegation with members from various fighting arts. One evening in the banquet hall after dinner, several of the groups were enjoying, “a few drinks,” and exchanging stories. In a rather lively conversation, “alleging that the Japanese misunderstood the original fighting arts of Shaolin,” one of the Chinese delegates blurted out something like, “…for example, jujutsu is an application-based practice but without our old solo routines [kata], and yet karate has preserved our old routines but still don’t understand their application!” The comment was greeted with a roaring silence, until one gentleman from the Japanese delegation responded with, “are you suggesting that each of these arts is a smaller part of a larger whole, and incomplete in itself?” As the Chinese gentleman skulled the last of his beer, he proudly announced, “Karate and jujutsu both trace their roots back here to our Fujian- based Shaolin practice, therefore, wouldn’t you all just be better off studying our original art?”

Food for thought, for real.

And with that being said, this post is finished for now. But believe me, before you know it, I’ll be back with a couple of more reasons to why your bunkai (probably) might suck (again). Just in case.

Now go figure some moves out, aiight!

About the author

is a self-titled Karate Nerd™, best-selling martial arts writer, unreasonably handsome elite athlete, autodidact, karatepreneur and carrot cake aficionado. He really thinks you should become a Karate Nerd™ too.

46 Comments

  1. warrioress

    August 20, 2011 at 3:44 pm

    YAY! First comment! lol. Actually, I don’t even know what I’m going to say, I’m so excited at being the first to comment on this post. The story in the end was really interesting. I’ve always been interested in Chinese styles but this made me feel a little depressed. It doesn’t mean our beloved karate is useless does it? Oh and another question (read problem). EVERYONE in my country (Iran) practices sport karate. I haven’t seen ONE proper bunkai in the 4 years that I’vebeentraining. What the hell am I to do?! (except reading your blog that is)

    • Leo

      September 14, 2011 at 2:06 pm

      Interesting. Go to the strong men in Teheran -practising under their lead, you soon will laugh about proper bunkai and sports Karate alike.

  2. Everest

    August 20, 2011 at 4:31 pm

    Hi jesse, great article as always! I enjoy kata but just to be controversial.
    If you enrolled in a jujutsu class (or judo) and practiced the basics of karate dilingently. Then what’s the point of kata? Aside from a cultural perspective that is.

    • Jesse

      August 20, 2011 at 4:44 pm

      Well, the point of kata would have to remain the same. To practise a collection of the best self-defense templates as a solo routine (assuming you know what you’re doing), ultimately establishing “inner peace” and “tranquility”… ;)

    • Jeff

      January 9, 2014 at 11:22 pm

      I would offer a thought that I got from my Renshi -- the purpose of solo kata would be to practice the techniques with full power, because when you practice the techniques with a partner you have to adjust your eye gouges and groin strikes so that he gets his turn to practice on you…

  3. Greg

    August 20, 2011 at 5:39 pm

    Really interesting article yet again Jesse, thank you for a great read :) Keep up the great work please!

  4. Mike

    August 20, 2011 at 6:39 pm

    Your last point is particularly good. Cross-training is extremely important. But I think too many people train in a second, third, art and view them as separate, never relating the concepts learned to each other.

    I took a 2-hour seminar in Silat about 10 years ago, and in that 2 hours, I learned how to make 20 years of Karate and TKD actually work. (Short answer: move a step closer.) But I don’t do Silat. Or Kuntao, or Tai Chi. I do Karate.

    I do practice Judo. It’s not as direct, but I also find Karate bleeds over into that practice, and vice versa. You do have to approach things with that intention in mind, however.

  5. Rae Leggett

    August 21, 2011 at 12:46 am

    From my limited experience with real life violence, wrist, throat and hair grabs all happen fairly commonly in male on female violence. The “You’re coming with me!” -> grab type encounter. Thats why i learn and teach those defenses, not that I think I’m going to get accosted that way, but female students might.

    In regards to cross training, my karate bunkai improved greatly by doing a year of traditional jujitsu. You generally wont see a technique in the kata if you don’t know it in the first place.

  6. Kyle

    August 21, 2011 at 3:54 am

    nice work Mr Jesse

    You can either see it as a
    literal understanding of the movement
    Or a practicle understanding

    I know what I think it is.

    Cheers

  7. Diego Romero

    August 21, 2011 at 4:44 am

    yo

    re: combos: choreographed bunkai routines of variable silliness aside, one has to take into account something though (i personally first noticed it in seipai, but it’s especially noticeable in pachu), which is that every time you focus on one place, you lose focus on another. many’s the time someone has eaten a second punch even while landing their own counter to the first, or even worse without even throwing a counter-punch. two defensive movements interpreted as fully applied defensive movements might represent an unlikely situation, but you should always look to plug whatever gap you left with your first one before doing something else. seipai is almost entirely composed of combined high-line/low-line controls with offensive maneuvers after them, and pachu starts with a perfect example: you do a gedan barai (whatever your interpretation of it might be), and you’re wide open from your solar plexus and upwards. so what do you do? you cover that opening while punching (which also gives you a nice evasive rotation in the process). FWIW.

  8. Francis Duguay

    August 21, 2011 at 5:52 am

    Hej! M.Jesse, you just created something that has never been seen in the modern karaté world.
    Behold, people, for that this northern man has just created realism.
    Yes, realism!
    Our (karate) world was lacking realism, and he just created it.
    Our world was lacking unity, he created…the karate lovers(?!)
    Two thumbs up for you.
    I’m going to feast on beer-and-bread soup in your honnor !

    • herrle 58

      August 21, 2011 at 12:55 pm

      Ohhps, sorry, jesse-san did NOT create realism…there are few out there who practise this since decades…he is just one of them and the one to bring it to this site…with his unique fun-to-read-writing-style.
      However thumbs up for this, too

  9. Joe Paden

    August 21, 2011 at 6:53 am

    Bunkai is a study of kata, which should be drilled with a partner. My teacher, AJ Advincula, teaches kata contain principles, concepts, techniques, etc. The novice practices the standard ippon & sanbon bunkai kumite and flow drills of bunkai kumite, then moving to semi-improvised drills using bunkai and jiyu-kumite from kata, then combining techniques and concepts from all kata together. Kata are part of a system, bunkai defines the system.

    Where you wrote about anticipating the opponents reaction, I agree. However, we should without a doubt have confidence they will go down and stop aggression, but we shouldn’t depend on it. Ikken Hiasatsu (1 punch 1 kill) is at the core of Okinawan Karatedo and that should be our goal with every strike, kick or punch, but combinations are essential.

    If the defender is proficient, the attacker can only do what they are allowed to do. After a few decades of training we should base our actions not on what the opponent is going to do, but put the attacker into a postion where they can not be a threat.

    Everyone has different beliefs about training, but I can attest from from the line of work I’ve been in, that training bunkai does work, but depends GREATLY on how it’s taught and drilled.

    Bunkai is a training/teaching tool, nothing more. My 2 cents. :)
    Joey Paden

  10. herrle 58

    August 21, 2011 at 8:41 am

    “After a few decades of training we should base our actions not on what the opponent is going to do, but put the attacker into a postion where they can not be a threat.”
    I love this sentence!
    :-)

  11. Jim

    August 21, 2011 at 7:06 pm

    You are certainly spot-on with your assessment of kata bunkai . Those of us who started out with JKA bunkai obviously learned “children’s bunkai”. Later delving into Okinawan bunkai, I thought I really knew some great secrets, not realizing that unless someone attacked me with a specific single technique, I was still lost. Now decades later, it is just beginning to make sense to me. My compliments on a great article.

  12. Mukesh

    August 23, 2011 at 1:10 pm

    Well for people like us, where people practice mostly sports karate (India) and with teachers mostly doing JKA style bunkai’s (label disease carriers, which in turn are carried from their masters with dilutions of their own, lack of practice etc.) your advise and reminders that how and why our bunkai’s really suck are really helpful to work smarter in learning true karate. Keep up the good work.

  13. Everest

    August 23, 2011 at 2:08 pm

    I like to keep an open mind and take from all styles what I can. I cannot criticise any one style. What works for one may not work for another, but surely that is the fun and part of the journey?!
    Around where I live a well known shotokan instructor was attacked by 5 males. The males didn’t remain on their feet for long!
    Another male I know works as a prison guard and had to get involved in a violent confrontation. Afterward he swears the kata he was learning came into play by body shifting, foot work etc. He hadn’t practiced bunkai.
    All styles are great but it comes down to the karateka and what he/she is willing to put in.

    • BF

      August 28, 2011 at 1:16 pm

      Everest, I know a similiar story from a training colleague of mine who ended an attack by a simple age-uke followed by a tsuki (then leaving the place and informing the doorman on the way out). Still I feel that Jesse has (again) come right to the point: disregard of reaction and ‘pre-expeceted’ attacks.
      I’m just a Shotokan green belt and the (slightly modified) JKA bunkai, When I learned Heian Shodan I was already wondering (for the first two movements): What the heck? Why should I first learn to defend against an attack from the side (and not from the front)? And how is it supposed to work that I do a step forward to counter? If my opponent does *not* step back, what am I supposed to achieve with a tsuki (now not to mention that then I ‘sense’ an attack from behind, which I counter, and then a wrist grap…..).
      I love kata. I have the feeling that it helps me to focus, learn techniques by repeating them and, as Jesse put it in one comment here, to reach tranquility. When it comes to the application I’m glad that I came across Iain Abernethy (and of course Jesse ;) ). He postulates the same points as Jesse. If you don’t know Iain Abernethy, just have a quick look at this video: http://www.iainabernethy.co.uk/content/stances-heian-shodan-application-video.

      • Everest

        August 28, 2011 at 3:16 pm

        A quote I like and try to live by ‘When one begins, he should approach training with an attitude of acceptance, follow instructions wholeheartedly, and always give his best’ Shigeru Egami

        Iain Abernethy was an interesting link, one word of caution though he advocates kicking a man when down ‘as you can’t get done for self defense under uk law’. That isn’t true it’s called excessive force or even affray (fighting in the street).

        • BF

          August 28, 2011 at 4:40 pm

          I agree with the Egami quote, and my attidute for training is to try to follow what I’m shown. In the end I’m just a bloody beginner. I have therefore not questioned such bunkai during training, though I had frequent discussions with my first sensei about them. After training. And I suppose he also found my questions worth asking since we are still in good phone contact (I had to move and therefore change the dojo).
          One word in defense of Iain Abernethy: His advise for self-defense is to get out of the situation as quick as possible (he proposes a hit-and-run approach. Preferably without the ‘hit’-part). You can see this at the end of the video when he advises to take a defensive instead of a provoking or aggressive posture (and he also clearly advises against multiple punching of a laying opponent). His advise to kick here may appear dubious if this is your first contact with him. I guess it comes from the general advise to gain control of the confrontation as fast as possible. Even Funakoshi wrote in a comment about the famous ‘karate ni sente nashi’ that if physical violence appears to be imminent it is acceptable to attack repeatedly until ‘victory is gained’ (to be more precise, Genwa Nakasone wrote and Funakoshi approved them. I just have the German version of the book, so I can not give the original wording of the English version)

          • Everest

            August 29, 2011 at 2:10 am

            I apologise I don’t think I have been very clear in my meaning.

            All I mean is as a beginner (in my opinion) you have a lot on your plate. Building timing, focus,muscle, flexibility and general perfecting of technique. At that level I would look at things and keep an open mind but not question to much till you attain the physical understanding to match your mental knowledge. Some may disagree :)

            If you practice a prearranged bunkai as self defence it may be worth considering the ramifications legally. If attacked and you set off a whole chain of movements not taking into consideration how a moment can change in the blink of an eye. For example the first strike being more effective than you appreciate, but you have trained for four more strikes and so deliver them. You may then be seen as the aggressor.
            Just something to consider.
            Hope it is of help.

          • BF

            August 30, 2011 at 9:07 pm

            @Everest: Yep, it helps ;-)

  14. Theodore

    October 8, 2011 at 12:28 am

    An earlier commentator asked why is kata still useful and I understand your response, but from a fighting perspective, wouldn’t a lot of these problems go away if Karateka practiced the moves on a partner far more often then they practice solo kata?

    Kata makes a lot more sense to me if we don’t have access to YouTube and the ability to read and write. You suggest that we should look to other styles (I agree), but why don’t Karateka ever practice our styles with other martial arts training methodology? Any insight would be great.

    • Everest

      October 8, 2011 at 4:45 am

      I’ll give my pennys worth if your interested?!

      Rarely when practicing with partners doing indepth movements do the proponants go at full speed and power. This is simple you don’t want to permenantly injure your training partner(I hope). Here’s the problem your practicing to not follow through and commit in your moves.
      Kata practice means you can follow through with every technique. You can practise often building muscle memory and practice it almost anywhere for how ever long. Unfortunatley training partners go home.

      My final point is by practising a full kata, you are conditioning your body, building balance, learning to turn, drop weight, move smoothly and suddenly.

      Or even because its enjoyable and good exercise.

      Hope it was a good penny worth!

      • Theodore

        October 8, 2011 at 7:14 am

        I would definitely count that as at least two cents :). My counter-argument (not that I am for one position or another) is that with the extreme advances in safety equipment, I can go full contact with 98% of the moves in kata (bone breaks would be an obvious exception).

        I think that your point about people going home and not having a partner is also valid, but again there are so many styles of other martial arts that have no kata/form. They practice combination work and individual movements rather than a kata

        I do agree that kata provides a lot of things like balance and combination work. Is there anything that kata provides that cannot be learned without it? Maybe it is simply “our” method of practicing a martial art -- neither better or worse than others. Thanks for your feedback Everest.

        • Everest

          October 8, 2011 at 1:41 pm

          I think your actually quite right (get strung up for that!). Kata is a training tool one of many, some enjoy it some don’t. Practising certain moves or even shadow boxing I would see as comparable.
          For example I like using a makiwara but knowing it may have limitations I also use a heavy bag.
          The only thing I’m not so fussed on in personal protective equiptment is gloves add an extra inch or two to your fist and the body protectors feel restrictive (personal preference). Also it can give you an absence of pain, I found it an important tool in finding your own limitations.
          Hopefully another penny worth. :)

        • Jim

          October 8, 2011 at 7:21 pm

          I tend to agree with Theodore when he asks:” Is there anything that kata provides that cannot be learned without it? The old kata were put together in a pattern as a way to catalog various techniques into form easy to remember so that when the participants wanted to practice certain moves, they could go to their book ( kata ) and extract what they needed . In and of itself, the kata is nothing more than a moving book or reference guide. The real meat and potatoes of it are what we practice with a partner.

          • Theodore

            October 8, 2011 at 7:40 pm

            Thank you Jim. If we now have better picture books (YouTube), are we really doing our students justice by teaching them with antique training methods? I can video record all of the movies, rather than teaching my students to reference a few as a way of trying to remember all of the moves? I am really grateful for all the feedback on this matter. I love traditional Karate (no tournaments, no flashy techniques, just good defense and philosophy), but the supposed need for kata in “traditional” Karate has been bothering me lately.

            I think that if Soken Matsumura had YouTube, he would have used that instead of Kata, but I think he still would have done a corkscrew punch, a front kick, etc etc. That is my last comments on this, just really enjoying some feedback from other Karate students/instructors.

  15. Jim

    October 8, 2011 at 8:57 pm

    Re: Theodore’s comments on our need for kata practice.
    I might add that in the old days, books and videos were certainly not an option. Another point might be that since many kata techniques are quite rigid and do not resemble actual combat, why practice movements you will never use ( other than for foundation training as in kihon training? ) We are beginning to sound like karate heretics here.

    • Theodore

      October 11, 2011 at 10:14 am

      I am sure someone thought the same thing when Itosu said, “So I am thinking I will start teaching these five new katas. They are clearly parts of other katas, but I see a new market in kids.” (Don’t quote me on that.)

      Karate has been changing for 300 years. Suddenly no one can change it? We added belts 100 years ago. So 200 years without belts…100 years with belts…lets go sashes. What that is forbidden? Says who? Or maybe we can keep the belts -- they work for me. Not really heresy is it? Look back and call it progress?

      • Everest

        October 11, 2011 at 5:42 pm

        I agree with some of what has been said but not all. Change takes place for a reason. Youtube and books don’t seem like a reason to me, they are just an added tool to your arsenal.
        I like change if it makes sense but a lot of change is done by people who do not yet understand what they are changing.
        Itosu was highly respected and experienced karateka and many years under his belt (excuse pun).
        I read an interview with hirokuzu kanazawa, someone asked if he would make up his own kata, his reply I could but I don’t feel I’m experienced enough yet(if he aint who is?). A lot of karateka out there are touting themselves as ground breaking new techniques or making it real for the street. Unfortunately when you look at them they don’t have a small percentage of the talent of their teachers.
        Can you change anything till you can truely hand on heart say you have mastered it and all that goes with it.

        • Theodore

          October 11, 2011 at 7:10 pm

          I completely understand your point, and don’t get me wrong -- I still do Kata regularly. However, if even those we consider to be masters, don’t think they can change Karate -- then who can?

          I am not a follower of Shotokan, but Gichin Funakoshi, arguably, changed Karate for the better when he brought it to Japan and started making changes like the belt system, how katas were performed, what they were called. All pretty big changes. He started Karate in his mid-teens (if memory serves me well), so around 1885. He made these changes by 1910. That is 25 years of experience? Then we have guys like Shoshin Nagamine who were in their 90s and claiming they still had a lot to learn. When can we really know we are “masters”?

          • Jesse

            October 11, 2011 at 11:49 pm

            Like Sakumoto sensei once said: “The less you know about Karate, the more you need to change it”

          • Everest

            October 12, 2011 at 2:23 pm

            The one thing about gichin funokoshi that everyone forgets is he was surrounded by accomplished martial artists okinawan and japanese. I doubt he made all his changes without help or direction from his peers.
            I know of two people who have abandoned kata altogether, both accomplished but both trained in kata before abandoning it. The problem comes when its not taught so you don’t get the benefit of it.
            I met a strong black belt who had not been taught freestyle because his instructor thought it was of no value. As soon as this person went to seminars he was destroyed in kumite even by inexperienced people. The instructor never had that problem though because he had been taught freestyle years ago.

          • herrle 58

            October 12, 2011 at 3:19 pm

            Hmh, ..if i understood Gichin Funakoshi himself right (karatedo, my way of life), he never was a good student of karate nor claimed to be a master!?!
            In the veeeryyyy old days you knew you were a master, if ALL the people around you called you one!

          • Everest

            October 12, 2011 at 4:22 pm

            I always thought that was gichin being humble, a trait not much seen anymore. He must have known something to still move the way he did when he was old.
            Not to mention the skill he must have had to produce such awsome students. :)

          • Diego Romero

            October 12, 2011 at 4:26 pm

            @everest: yeah, i do believe funakoshi knew something. i think he trained in karate, but i don’t have any sources for that, sorry :D

          • Jesse

            October 12, 2011 at 4:28 pm

            Easy now guys… :P

          • herrle 58

            October 14, 2011 at 12:26 am

            Don`t want to be misunderstood, i honor funakoshi for beeing a humble man of “DO”, the above mentioned book is one of my favorites!
            None of us met him alive, so we have to trust in this: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YNrslr9LWIw ! So far about “He must have known something to still move the way he did when he was old.”
            Very old movie, but compare it to this: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SugmDuEwhzo . ;-)
            Maybe Sakumoto is even older at the time of shooting?
            Hmmh

  16. Jim

    October 11, 2011 at 6:30 pm

    One thing we might want to think about when practicing bunkai is this simple idea: How many different ways can I use this technique or series of techniques? Blocks may become strikes, and then the same moves may become grappling techniques, etc. How many different kinds of attacks can I use this technique against?

  17. Stephen

    October 22, 2011 at 11:28 pm

    “[Fun sidenote: My friend asked ten buddies (including his girlfriend) to hit him with a straight punch to the face the other day. Not a single one of them could do a straight punch, unless he showed them how.]”

    I liked this point, and how many of us have seen this at the dojo? New members bend their elbows, or straighten their arms far too soon, so the punch is almost like a raising arm bar!

    This is something that I try to keep in mind. Realistically, you’re going to get someone who charges at you & wraps themselves around your waist, or throws haymakers, or will go into a wild swing of largely uncontrolled punches.

    Just watch YouTube videos of actual street fights (I don’t mean circles of people with two underground boxers, I mean actual street fights). They’re unpleasant to watch, but you need to watch it if you think that you’re going to use your karate to defend yourself. That’s the chaotic stuff that you would be defending against, not the straight kicks and punches that we have at the dojo. :)

  18. hans

    November 11, 2011 at 11:57 am

    I like kata and will practice them forever, and self defence is not the sole purpose of my training, but after >35 years of karate (mainly the well known japanese styles) I found my judo and old scool japanese jiujitsu training to prepare me best for actual skirmishes on the streets.

    As a sidenote: according to Taikiken/Yichuan philosophy you should get rid of fixed forms, as they hinder you in being able to react in a spontaneous way.
    Some well known kyokushin karateka incorporated Taikiken/Yichuan, in their practice, not abandoning kata completely however.

  19. Rick

    November 28, 2011 at 7:46 pm

    You nailed it very well. Take a look at the series I wrote on the subject. We are very much on the same page.

    http://www.examiner.com/martial-arts-in-pittsburgh/the-practical-kata-bunkai-checklist

  20. Fabio

    January 30, 2013 at 6:24 pm

    HAHAHAHA!!!!! Laughed a lot in that part: “Most brawlers on the legendary street don’t expect you to still be standing after that one anyway.” because I am a very bad blocker, I dodge poorly… but my head is apparently made of titanum.

  21. shankar

    October 3, 2013 at 3:40 pm

    damn you about the shotokan grandmaster part

  22. Jeff

    January 9, 2014 at 11:26 pm

    As my Renshi tells us every time we train, when we kumite in class (or play tag, as it were), you have to play my turn, your turn, my turn, so everyone gets a chance to try out techniques (at least for the kyu ranks anyway, the black belts aren’t so polite with each other, you have to take your turn not wait to be given a turn).

    When you look at kata and the bunkai for it you are looking at techniques for a real fight, and you don’t want to give your opponent a turn to try to hurt you.

    Kumite = my, turn, your turn, my turn
    Kata = my turn, my turn, my turn

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