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OhioMike's picture
What is your approach? Looking for next steps in practical kata studies.

To all,

So I have been working on my practical kata skills for a couple of years at this point, and have gone thru Iain's pidan video series. I just recently purchased the beyond bunkai Nihanchi video and noticed that it was about two steps past where the pidan series was in the bunkai techniques. I am looking for the more contious flow drills that I have seen in the short seminar videos to fill in the gaps and help my class start to internalize the techniques. Ideally I would go to the seminar to learn the flow drill but I live in the middle of the US which makes times that Iain is in my area rare. I am most interested in Nihanchi and Bassai-dai but would be interested in any kata. Are there more detailed videos available? Are they in the Seminar's series, the app, or thru the WCA? 

In a more general sense I am also interested in how you are approaching the process, I have heard Iain's podcast on what a black belt should know and just would like to get a feel for how do you teach it/learn it. I am modifing my mostly sporting system's syllabus and stumbling towards one of my own and looking for what works for others. 



AllyWhytock's picture

Dear Mike,

After nearly 7 years transitioning here is our current curriculum (diagram) and syllabus http://www.blairgowrie-karate-club.co.uk/for-students/4537931154

The curriculum encapsulates what we learn and the syllabus is what we test our skills against.

I hope you find it informative. Iain kindly grades our black belts against the Yudansha sections. I'm not sure about further video/dvds/downloads but there is a Naihanchi in Iain's online shop plus there is a Naihanchi Close Range Striking FLow drill available with Iain's smart phone app.

Kindest Regards,




deltabluesman's picture

I'll share my thoughts.  This is just my perspective; not suggesting it's the best way.  Apologies in advance for the long post.

One of the most valuable articles on this website is Iain's discussion of the magnitude of kata (link:  https://www.iainabernethy.co.uk/article/magnitude-kata).  I use this as my starting point for bunkai.  In brief, I assume these things:

A)  that the kata records an holistic, effective fighting system;

B)  that the kata records enough information to handle at least 80% of the problems that arise in a physical self-protection scenario; 

C)  that this information must have been valuable enough to justify passing it down carefully over the generations.

(Apologies if you already know all of this.)

With that in hand, I create a "working theory" of the kata's bunkai.  Start with the bunkai that you are fairly sure you understand, and work from there.  The most important thing is to keep in mind that you have to squeeze an entire fighting system into one kata.  So if your bunkai ends up containing 8 wrist lock defenses, 1 advanced takedown, and nothing else, you've probably made a wrong turn.  There's usually a handful of motions in the kata that are really difficult for me to decipher.  For example, the double uchi-uke motions near the beginning of Bassai Dai were a major challenge for me until I saw this video (link:  https://youtu.be/xsfgWgJ-0sQ).  But it's always rewarding when you see the answer after a lot of effort.  Of course, you may never reach a point where you're 100% satisfied with your "working theory" of the kata.  

Once I have a working theory of the kata, full of practical, sensible bunkai, I start to sketch out the skills that are associated with that bunkai.  It's my view that the meat of the kata, the true value of the kata, lies in "support skills."  These are skills that are implied by/suggested by the kata, but not directly shown.  Let me give you an example.

The end of Kanku Dai records two fairly advanced throws, such as this one:  https://youtu.be/KaR8VpC4wvE.  This is a variation of the fireman's carry.  It's at the end of the kata, so we know it's probably not a major priority . . . . but it is in there.  So once I find something like this in my working theory, I ask myself:  "What skills do I need to pull this off against a resisting opponent?"  Specifically:  "what do I need to do to bring this fireman's carry to life?"  And it's this kind of question that reveals much of the kata's value.  The kata is kind of like a lighthouse guiding your navigation on the seas of combat.  Or if we instead think of the kata as a recipe book, these support skills are the ingredients it's telling us to go and find.

So if I want to truly bring Kanku Dai to life in its full form, I need to have the skill set of someone who can hit a fireman's carry reliably against a resisting opponent.  A fireman's carry is a pretty tough throw to pull off.  You have to put your time in.  So this means I need to have (a) pretty good timing, (b) a lot of wrestling experience, (c) a certain amount of strength and explosiveness, and (d) other important wrestling support skills.  Mainly, it means I need to spend a substantial amount of time wrestling in order to master the fireman's carry taught in Kanku Dai.  

So if I wanted to "master" Kanku Dai, I might start doing back squats to build the strength necessary to perform the throw.  I would supplement my regular training with a fair amount of wrestling drills to get the intuitive timing I need to pull the throw off.  We know that sometimes I'm going to shoot for the fireman's carry and it's not going to work, so I need to "fill in the blanks" and develop backup survival skills to use if my throw fails (maybe switching to a single leg takedown, maybe transitioning back to strikes, whatever works).  And that's how I try to bring the fighting style of Kushanku back to life.  

Of course, I should clarify that this is the ideal.  We have to tone this down to account for the realities of our budget, our time, our equipment, our mobility, our skill set, etc.  But this illustrates the concept of "support skills," and I think that concept is key to taking a kata and bringing it back to life.  (For another example, here's an old thread where we work on the bunkai for Rohai kata:  https://www.iainabernethy.co.uk/content/rohai-kata-helpthoughts

I'm sure there are a lot of people on this forum who have a much better understanding of Tekki and Bassai kata than I do, but I'll throw out a few comments on those specific forms.  For Tekki/Naihanchi, your "support skills" are probably going to include a tremendous amount of clinch work and infighting.  If I wanted to focus specifically on Naihanchi, I'd go so far as to study Muay Thai clinch work.  I'm not suggesting that the kata records Muay Thai clinch skills, but I do think they are a ready-made set of "support skills" that can help you bring the bunkai to life.  I haven't worked much with Bassai Dai lately, though I do know the kata, but if I were to guess at the key "support skills" for that kata, I'd look at double-leg takedowns, flow drills with joint locks (especially wrist locks), and footwork drills.  

Lastly, I want to emphasize again that this is just my ideal approach to bunkai . . . it's the goal.  In reality, I use a "game plan" concept to prioritize my training.  The game plan is something I borrowed from BJJ:  basically, it's just a list of my bread and butter techniques.  Only a handful of key skills make into my game plan, and that's all I worry about.  So for example:  the fireman's carry in Kanku Dai is not part of my game plan.  I understand it and I could teach someone how to do it, but there are many other techniques that work much better for my body type.  It's much more effective for me to study a simpler technique, like an ankle pick, because I can actually make that work.   

I do recommend Iain's bunkai app . . . it's got a lot of information and you can reference it anywhere.  If I'm remembering correctly, the app has a lot of material on Bassai/Passai, but it doesn't get the entire kata.  So I would suggest that you check out the app, and then maybe buy Bunkai-Jutsu 2 for the rest. 

Sorry for the long post, but I wanted to capture all of the major details.  I hope this is helpful in some way.  


Mark Powell
Mark Powell's picture

Hi Mike,

I too have spent the last 4 years or so converting a traditional club to a more practical style of karate. I find the app to be the best aid particularly the "exclusive seminar footage" section, for example here are two of my students practicing a Naihanchi flow drill:


There is a short video of Iain teaching this drill avaiable in the video section of this site here however on the app there is a detailed 40 minute instructional.

There is a lot of great free stuff in the video section of this site, for example I successfully introduced the grappling aspects of karate to the club initially based on what Iain teaches in this video here but there is lots more on the app.

Hoping this helps and the very best of luck,


Paul_D's picture

AllyWhytock wrote:
After nearly 7 years transitioning here is our current curriculum (diagram) and syllabus ...

This is by far the best, and most British, thing I've ever seen in a Syllabus.  Assault Scenario: Chip Shop Queue.

AllyWhytock's picture

Thank you Paul. Making things relevant to normal situations but with the occurence of violence. Basing it on peoples' real experiences is key.  The context is a noisy, aggressive person in the queue, who then appears to quieten down, who sidles up to your side. So your situational awareness is heightened and you assume a "thoughtful guard" e.g. one arm horizontal across the abdomen, supporting the elbow of the other arm, which is vertical and hand at the chin e.g. Motobu's Meotode.  The attack entry is an attempted sucker punch,  rising hooking punch to the face, along with a lot of shouting. The response is Naihanchi based with a quick escape (collection of chips is optional). 

Kindest Regards,


Iain Abernethy
Iain Abernethy's picture

Hi Mike,

OhioMike wrote:
I am most interested in Nihanchi and Bassai-dai but would be interested in any kata. Are there more detailed videos available?

As Mark mentioned above, there are more detailed videos in the app. The Naihanchi trapping drill is one that is probably of interest. Mark’s students do a great job if it, and here is my YouTube video outlining it:


As Mark also mentions, there is a 40-minute video in the seminar section of the app which breaks it down in detail.

This drill is also a good one for Naihanchi / Tekki:


I’d also agree with Mark that this video on the basics of gripping can be useful too:


As regards the Bassai-dai drills, this one could be of interest:


There’s not a lot of detail in that video, although the component parts are broken down in other YouTube videos.

As regards other kata, we recently added 2.5 hours of exclusive footage on a Chinto / Gankaku drill in the app. We also recently added a flow drill for Heian Yodan too. I have some very detialed Kanku-Dai footage lined up to share too. Aside from direct training, the app is undoubtedly the best resource. Loads of stuff in there and I add to it every week. Lots of bunkai, pad and partner drills. At the moment we are looking at Motobu’s two-person drills and I think they are something all practical karateka should be aware of.

I hope this helps.

All the best,


OhioMike's picture

Great stuff, thanks for the reply.