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Paul Anderson
Paul Anderson's picture
Kata and then bunkai drill attitudes?


I placed an article on our club website regarding the your attitude when doing solo Kata based on a sheet our head instructor passed out.  Not sure what book this came from originally.

Wondering how many of these principles you guys think of these principles cross to bunkai drills/applications, and if there's a specific set of attitudes/princeples we should aspire to whilst drilling self defence?

JWT's picture

Hi Paul

This reminds me of a list of principles Hirokazu kanazawa used to expound, but I'm not sure if he was the original source.  It's a very Japanese take on Kata.

Do they cross apply to bunkai drills/applications? In my opinion - not really.  Here's my (possibly controversial) take on the list:

Breathing Control - yes I agree with the principle idea of needing to make the breathing as free and as natural as possible, but I disagree with the rigidity of breathing as described.  

Posture - I disagree with completely.  An upright posture is fine at a longer range, at close range my experience is that posture should be aligned slightly forward - we should be free and able to duck and weave.  

Spirit Engagement - I agree with the principle, but not with it as it is described here.  

Koshi - disagree.  We should always try and maximise power, but power generation will not always necessarily originate at the hips.  

Ashi - disagree.  Good leg movement can be a great deal freer than this description suggests.  

Whipping - I agree in principle, but I don't agree it should apply all the time.  There are some kicks (for example slicing round shin kicks) that often work better if they transist directly into a step without a retraction.

Efficiency - I agree with the idea of being efficient, but actually the description here seems to suggest an ignorance of application.  If a hand opens between two closed fist techniques, and that opening is in the Kata, don't take it out - study it.  

Kata is fighting, fighting is kata - I agree with this, but for most people this is a mantra to justify lack of ability at Kumite rather than true proficiency at Kata.

Do I have a list to outline attitude when doing solo Kata?  I do, but it's far more simple/complicated.

Visualise your opponent(s).  See the attack, hear the attack, imagine how the impact feels on your body, how your movements move them.  You should try and work from your strengths into your weaknesses.  Start with your strongest perceptual sense that you can recreate - be it sight, or sound, or touch, or smell - and create that picture.   Each technique, each sequence should be practised in context when training solo.  Don't do a move for the sake of a move, you move to create an effect.

Speed is a variable, not a constant.  Work slowly as you create your visualisation.  When it is strong in your mind, you can move fast, but there is little pressing need to move fast when you are creating such important pathways in your mind to reinforce appropriate behaviour.  If you run before you can walk here you will begin to dance rather than shadow box. Speed can be used for the supplementary impact training, which in turn helps create tactile memory. 

Treat Kata like an exercise book, not a Mr Men book.  People tend to want to do a Kata from start to finish, because that is how the memory of the movements is taught in class.  When you train Kata solo, treat it like an exercise book, don't read it quickly from cover to cover like a Mr Men book.  Pick and choose exercises, and work on them.  A single short exercise done for 5 minutes well is better than 3 rushed repetitions of a whole Kata.

Kata as a model. Kata performed as a group activity in the Dojo is a stretchy T shirt on a shop manikin.  When you train at home you are wearing that T shirt, so it conforms to your body.  Through training you can shape your body to make that T shirt look good, but the T shirt conforms to you.  Solo Kata should be your Kata.

Is there a specific set of attitudes/principles we should aspire to while drilling self defence?  Iain touched on this in a recent thread while discussing how Karate often fails when it comes to self defence.  My set of principles is as follows:

The range of skills should be based on predominantly everyday gross motor physical movements and genetically wired unconscious behaviours such as the spinal flinch reflex and the cross extensor reflex. This makes them less perishable and makes them more suitable for use in conditions where the subject may be under considerable mental and physical pressure.  DART’s training methods are based upon movements and tactics meeting as many as possible of the following combative principles:

HAOV Relevant

Legally Underpinned

Effective, Efficient and Easy

Minimizing Risk of Harm (defender)

Technique Multiplicity with Transferable Skills

Utilizing Predictable Response

Taking and maintaining the Initiative (Iain often refers to this as 'my turn' I believe)

Inherent Redundancy

Vital Points Targeting

Adrenaline Tolerant

Low Maintenance

Stable Posture

Physiology appropriate movements utilizing Natural Positions

Survival Mindset

In addition to this I use a number of different training 'models' that students are taught.  For example when teaching Blade defences I refer to Blauer Tactical Systems' 3Cs principle (Clear, Control, Contact).  I teach something I call the SAS Principle (Select Active Strategy and apply with Speed, Aggression and Sustain).  I also have models I use to describe fear management, verbal de-escalation and to describe the dynamics of a fight.

Hope that's of interest. :)


Paul Anderson
Paul Anderson's picture

Erm just came in this morning, read the above explanation and didn't think it was clear.

Imagine watching a dishwasher in a restaurant stood at the sink, reaching out, picking up dishes, cleaning them and placing them on the rinse tray for drying.  Now pluck that person entirely out of that environment but imagien them stood in a an entirely empty room washing imaginery dishes.

Now imagine a Karate-Ka doing Tekki Shodan in a Dojo.  Remove them from the dojo, take away the Gi (replaced with shorts you cheaky person) and imagine them doing Tekki Shodan on the spot without moving.

If you were a layman in Karate terms, from simply watching what factors would tell you the movements of the Karate-ka were martial in nature?

I started thinking about this when watching the following:


And wondered what the attitude differences are to this


and then how these attitudes are then transferred into this:


Maybe I'm trying to describe the core learning process we all go through to a certain extent?  To me the people in the first you tube video are doing Karate with the dishwasher's mindset, rather than a martial attitude.  Which made me try and define in black and white an actual martial attitude to Karate Kata, which I found harder than I thought.

ethnomethodologists eat your heart out :D

JWT's picture

Hi Paul

What you've asked for this time is rather different to what you asked about before.

An interesting selection of videos.

Video No.1.  I applaud the sheer effort that those chaps are putting in.   They are working hard and they have to be relatively fit to do that.  But... and you knew it was coming... every time I see a little demonstration like that I wonder what their teacher was thinking.  The only thing I can see there is the desire to move fast through a routine.  I could visualise all of them in suit and ties with some disco lights and they'd all look like the embarrassing slightly drunk uncles at a wedding on the dance floor.

Video No.2. I applaud the speed, precision and grace.  That takes skill. Can I see a martial attitude?  Not sure. I can't see any evidence of anything other than a desire to make each move as precise as possible.

Video No.3. Again the technique looks good.  The bunkai is different.  Getting back to the solo Kata though, I can't see any external sign that the practitioner is really thinking about what he is doing as opposed to thinking about performing a movement in sequence.

What am I looking for?  I'm looking for a Kata that doesn't look like a Kata, for movements that are more varied, for more facial expression, more signs that the grey cells are working and that the person is actually 'in the moment'.

Jon Sloan
Jon Sloan's picture

Hey John, your list on attitudes to adopt and the principles/criteria are great. Smart and practical for "karate as self protection".

Regarding those three videos:

Video 1: For whatever purpose they're doing that at such high speed, the speed should not compromise the technique (or more accurately the application of it) like it does with those guys. I have no idea why they'd perform kata like that.

Video 2: As obviously athletic and precise Luca's performances are I do see them as exactly that, performances tailored to the context in which he's doing it - to win a tournament.

Video 3: Decent technique for sure but, again, a strange mix of bunkai.

If you're looking at a solo performance of at least a reasonable level of competent technique, perhaps the only way to tell if there's a martial mind behind it is to question the performer. "Why did you shift your weight there?" "What's the reason for moving your hips that way as opposed to the other way?" "Can you show me how you think that could be applied?" "What parts of that kata are useful if you've been grabbed in a certain way" and so on.

Paul Anderson
Paul Anderson's picture

Thanks for your feedback guys, pondering an answer I'll write up later ...

JWT's picture

Thanks Jon. :)