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Frazatto's picture
Fine tuning my interpretation for Gekisai dai ichi kata bunkai

Finally! I was able to meet with an old friend and he helped me to record the interpretations for Gekisai dai ichi bunkai I have been working with.

I'm still not confident enough to post this at Kata Application, it's quite rough around the edges yet and the footage is not that great either. But please don't take this as an excuse to take it easy on me, I'm hoping you guys can help me spot things I can make better before presenting it to my sensei.

Lets just take some details out of the way and we can start discussing my interpretation of the kata, I promise this is the last time in this thread that I write a post this size :D

I couldn't have done any of this without Iain's original video for this kata (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1hZ4iOHPuGU&t=5s), I will be using his opening throughout all my analyses, but I found different answers from him in almost all the sections. It was the key to understand all the sequences and It's my hope that I'm adding something interesting to the conversation and to this community.

I started this by trying to build a linear story from beginning to end, so it would be more relatable for everyone at the dojo, even if it ended up being a little forced. But despite my efforts, I couldn't find a connection between the sections and the most elegant solution was actually to interpret each part as a different suggestion regarding the same problem, an aggressive foe that grabs you by the collar and rushes for a punch with the free hand (lots of bar fight vibes here!).

In my view, it's a very didactic kata with low key violence, an interesting introduction to self protection and reaction when pressured to fight. Each section starts with the collar grab and ends when some sort of tactical superiority is achieved, be it enough space to flee, the opponent's immobilization or him being put out of action all together.

The big question is, how does one chooses between the four solutions? Is each section considering a different adversary's built? Different levels of aggression you may be inclined to use? If the adversary is moving forward, pulling or pushing?

I was not able to find a clear answer at this point.....

You will see it constantly takes the student safely and quickly to the outside and neutralizes the adversary free hand in one way or another. My friend (despite being taller and heavier than me) said it was quite difficult to try and attack me with his right hand even if he tried since he was always easily kept off balance and off angle. During our first tries, his natural reactions were precisely what the sequence expected for the following moves and even after many repetitions he said some of the moves was still catching him by surprise, specially the zuki on the first section. I take all this as sines I'm making the right questions and moving in the right direction.

You will also notice our movements are quite mechanical, besides having little time available to practice the sequences before recording, the sequences itself put a lot of strain in the elbow and shoulder, and after a few tries it was already hard to keep with the nice looking flows for the camera.

I will post one section per week so we have time and opportunity to discuss each one individually, but I'm letting the second section (the one with the mae geri) to the end. It's the only one I'm still not happy with my solution and it's also the most complex.

Frazatto's picture

This is the first section:


The kata is (almost) perfectly symmetrical, all sections can be mirrored for a left handed attacker.

It starts, like all the sections, with the aggressor catching the collar and readying a followup punch with his free hand.

I than sidestep, controlling his elbow with my right forearm and stopping him from following my turn to his off side. I than slide my right hand to control his left wrist, at the same time using a Jodan Uke to his elbow. We didn't do exactly that in the video because it adds a considerable amount a rigidity to the attackers arm and makes the following Jodan Uke quite dangerous.

Here there is the possibility of the attacker's hand to release its grip, if that happens, great! You are in a good position to get space and flee. But we found out that more often than not, the side step tends to tangle the attacker fingers to the fabric and he will double down, unconsciously closing his grip tighter.

The upper hand slides down to his wrist and the zuki that follows can be landed on the short ribs if his arm is high or, preferably, to the jaw if his shoulder is not on the way! If he tries to escape or get some space to defend himself, a short step is necessary.

At this point, to be extra sure he is out of the fight, I retreat in shikodachi, holding his wrist and pulling all my weight into the stance, wile my hand hitting down as hard as possible on the back of his neck or jaw (depends on how he rolls over your knee) with a Gedan Barai, using my knee as leverage for a fall. Shikodachi, being a little wider and the feet at 45 degrees, offers more stability and weight to the pull.

Even if this last part misses, once again you are in a good position, with enough space to flee.

Final thoughts:

- The side step can be achieved quite fast with little effort, the forearm to the elbow being the key to control the attacker response.

- I'm surprised how well this plays out with practically no deviation to the formal techniques it is built upon (all the sequences actually!).

Iain Abernethy
Iain Abernethy's picture

Hi Frazatto,

Thanks for posting these here! I always find such deleted breakdowns of a person’s thoughts, ideas and experiences to be very interesting and beneficial. I like the first video! (#) It’s the principles being employed that put it firmly into the “good bunkai” category for me:

1) You keep the enemy in front of you but move so you are not in front of the enemy (as per the kata angle).

2) You manipulate the enemy’s arm, so he twists away from you as you angle. This helps ensure he can’t immediately follow you around and correct the attack line in response to your shift. You therefore create and maintain the advantage.

3) You move towards what you know (grip) and away from what you don’t know (enemy’s free hand) which again increases your advantage.

4) You continuously exploit all the advantages you have created.

All good stuff! I look forward to seeing more!

All the best,


(#) – I was not able to embed it in the post because that has been disabled at your end. If you’d like me to post the actual video in the thread, please alter the YouTube settings and let me know.

Frazatto's picture

Iain Abernethy wrote:

Thanks for posting these here! I always find such deleted breakdowns of a person’s thoughts, ideas and experiences to be very interesting and beneficial. I like the first video! (#) It’s the principles being employed that put it firmly into the “good bunkai” category for me:

Thanks for the feedback Iain, I feel good about this one too and I'm surprised how even such a simple kata can offer this much opportunity for exploration. I think I can develop it a little further yet!

I corrected the embed issue as you requested, it should be working now.

Iain Abernethy
Iain Abernethy's picture

Hi Frazatto,

Frazatto wrote:
Thanks for the feedback Iain, I feel good about this one too and I'm surprised how even such a simple kata can offer this much opportunity for exploration.

Agreed! There’s a depth to kata and we need to see past the surface to the underlying principles. As Haruyoshi Yamada had on his dojo wall, “The esoteric principles of karate are found within basic technique”.

Frazatto wrote:
I think I can develop it a little further yet!

I look forward to seeing it!

Frazatto wrote:
I corrected the embed issue as you requested, it should be working now.

All done :-) All views, etc are still recorded on YouTube, but it’s easier for people to view if they simply have to click “play” in the tread and not go to YouTube itself.

Thanks once again for posting!

All the best,


Frazatto's picture

As I had mentioned, I'll leave the second section for last, so here is the third section.


(Iain, I'm trying to embed the video myself, but can't find a way. Is this on purpose so you can review the content before approving?)

As you can see, it's a very straightforward sequence with just two moves.

Just as before, it starts with the aggressor catching the collar and readying a followup punch with his free hand.

I than slip with a long step to his offside, taking my back lag out of the way and holding his left hand with my right hand, if possible. I also pull my left hand high, protection my face and getting ready for the shoto uke (or shuto? I'm not sure about the proper writing).

It finishes with a hard stomp to the knee and the shoto uke to the jaw or the back of the neck. (yes, the whole thing is done with the body properly straight up and the arm fully stretched out)

If this one looks particularly clumsy, it's completely my fault. I have a long lasting difficulty to generate power with shoto uke, my rips don't rotate enough and it ends looking like a cartoon karate chop. If you try for yourself, you will see it's easier to apply than the first section and puts you in a better strategic position.

We suspect this one works better if the attacker is pushing against you. If you get the timing right, you could even cause him to miss a step and pass right at you (which would be a best case scenario). Unfortunately we just noticed this after reviewing the recordings and there was no more time to make proper tests.

Final thoughts:

- Here we can see the repeating theme of the kata taking form.

- Again, the moves are applied with practically no deviation from the formal techniques.

Frazatto's picture

This week we get to the forth and closing sequence and the one with most variation among different schools.

(Bare with me, this one requires some digging and I will have to break the promise I made on the first post)

Take in mind through this explanation that the yama zuki in Goju-ryu is done different from the long C shape in which both fists come from the same side as of Shotokan. Here we draw the fists high almost under the armpits on both sides and hit straight.

The most common way of performing the kata on YouTube is pulling back the lag in a straight line zenkutsu dachi, with a move of the hands very similar to how one would begin mawashi uke and, when the hands are puled back, the sequence ends in a double punch (yama zuki).

I can't confirm this, but it was explained to me that is a simplified version of it....don't know when or by whom it was done.

In our dojo we are taught to perform a 45° retreat to zenkutsu dachi (first time to the left), both hands are thrown straight forward in a grabbing motion (Ha! now we are getting somewhere) and, when the hands are puled back, the sequence ends with a yama zuki (lower arm being the same as the front lag).

My Sensei said he learned to do it different when he was young and, after some insistence (six months of it :P), he agreed to show me. It's just slightly different, but it makes ALL the difference!! The hands are thrown in a circular way, coming from the same side you retreat the lag.

At first it got me a little confused. Considering the most common left handed foe, why would the kata tell me to go to the inside of the guard (my left), offering a clean shot at my face???? So this was our first solution!


You will notice it's not the same, I'm going to the offside!

This worked so so nicely with the pattern we established so far that I would be hard pushed to accept a different interpretation. Even the double punch works, aligning with the jaw and short ribs effortlessly.

But maannnn!! That was bothering me....

All the other sequences plays just fine with the formal moves. Maybe the kata is inverted here just to keep a symmetry to the overall structure? But why the damn hands come from behind instead of the front like my solution??? Maybe there was a older still modification that we don't know about??

Fast forward three weeks later, back at home frying neurons because I just can't let that go, it hit me! If we change the opening just a little.

Lets say the attacker didn't grab you, let's say they do that thing where they stretch the left arm to take aim (apparently very common to happen), there is nothing to grab, there is very little to do actually, but you can be SURE that heavy hard straight right is coming for your face!

So you just get out of the way and deflect it, using both hands for extra safety. This was so effective I almost threw my wife to the floor the first time we tried (she has been training box for some time and it was a real right cross from her). Take a look at the sequence being done the way the kata tells you to do it:


I think this is one of those situations that a good kata, when faced with reality, helps you to adapt but keeping the general form and shape just as effective. If the adversary grabs you or don't, if you mess the timing, if you miscalculate the retreating side, doesn't mater! It can be performed to both sides almost just the same.

Please try for yourselves and let me know what you think. Are both interpretations just as valid?

Frazatto's picture

Lets wrap this up this week with the second sequence and, let me be honest right from the start, I don't like my solution.

I just can't explain the two chudan uke and why it starts to the left. This is the only sequence in the kata that is not symmetrical and, although we could easily say it's just an aesthetic choice (to permit the following kick to be practiced on both sides), the second Gekisai uses an even more pronounced asymmetry with interesting consequences to the play.

Take a look for yourselves what we come up with. I would say it's a good first try, but it requires more work:


Once is chance, twice is a fluck, but three times is a pattern! So, if getting out of the attacker way is safer and strategically advantageous, why now the kata tells us to go straight?

Here is where we started thinking there must be a level of specialization to each sequence. The simpler explanation is the attacker did something to prevent us from going to the sides or the physical location leaves you no exit rout but forward and your best response is running over the attacker as hard and determined as one can.

I chose to consider the attacker, after grabbing the collar, aggressively pulls us close and thus, we have two tings to worry about. Most immediately, a headbutt, and latter, the left hand that is still a constant threat.

So I respond by securing the attackers left wrist and with my right hand, using the opening they created by pulling me close, hit with a uppercut to the jaw (can we call this an ura zuki?). Everybody have a plan until you get a punch to the face and this should prevent any followup attacks from them, at least momentarily.

I than grab the attacker's left shoulder (however you can) and pull them to the front and right, putting all their weight to the space in between us and out of line. This will cause them to louse balance and expose the back leg, which we will promptly take advantage of by kicking as hard as you can with a mae geri to just over the knee.

From now on, there is no time for doubts, you need space and you are tired of this bullshit! With determination, advance and run them over. First with a straight elbow to the sternum or chest muscle, this will cause them to retreat a little sideways (my wife is overselling this part hahaha). I follow with a uraken to the nose, they will try to close the guard high or give us more space (both work for our intents) creating an opening for a gedan barai to the groin or inside of the thigh (again, either is good). This will cause their head to come prominently forward and a clean target for a zuki to the side of the head.

This last part worked consistently every time we tried, even after many repetitions, the instinct to protect the face and retreat from an attack to the groin is a hard one to overwrite!

And this is, so far, my interpretation for Gekisai dai ichi kata bunkai.

What you guys think????

PS: to everyone that read to the end, thanks for your patience  o/