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Shpend Ibrahimi
Shpend Ibrahimi's picture
What have we learnt from Iain?

Hi, I would like to use this thread to add all the things we've learnt regarding kata bunkai from reading Iain's books, articles, newsletters, watching videos etc. I'll start off with a few: 1. The 'inactive' hand does one of the two things: a) it moves the opponents limbs out of the way, or b) it tells you where the opponent is. 2. Angles are important, that is when kata shows a movement at an angle it means that you have to move to that angle in order to avoid being hit and/or be in a better position compared to the attacker. 3. Bunkai of kata will look 'messy', because the real fights are messy. Please feel free to add the things you've learnt and impressed you most.

Wastelander's picture

Well, I think if we all list the things the we have learned thanks to Iain, between everyone he has affected, we would just be writing all of his books, articles, videos, and podcasts :P. I will say that I discovered Iain's work after I moved away from my first dojo, which did not teach any practical kata bunkai. I had to keep training my karate at home, since there were no karate schools I could go to at the time, and so I started doing tons of research. It's actually thanks to Iain that I discovered that kata HAD practical applications, in the first place! Without that background information, and the work Iain had available online back in 2008 and 2009, I would never have found my current instructor, because I never would have known what to look for!

Shpend Ibrahimi
Shpend Ibrahimi's picture

Thanks for your comment Westlander. I should apologise first as I think I wasn't specific enough on what I wanted from this thread; what I meant was to add things (bullet points) that specifically helped you understand things better in kata bunkai, especially the ones that you didn't understand before or you completely misunderstood them either due to being taught wrong or from whatever other reason. For e.g. in the beginning of my karate training we were always taught that the first move in karate is a 'block' and missing the point that every move in kata is designed to either incapacitate the attacker or put him in a vulnerable position. Hence, the 'block' is actually being used as a strike. I hope this makes a bit more sense now. Regards Shpend

Tau's picture

What I've learned from Iain:

If you want to get more traffic to your web site, be sure to include the words "buttocks" and "naked" in the same page. These actually referred to the cross buttocks throw and the rear naked choke, but it worked.

Quick2Kick's picture

Some katas are a complete stand alone style. Strike just past the halfway point in a forward stance transition for maximum power( i was taught to strike as the foot lands) Why some movements occur in sets of 3 in kata And of course a plethora of practical applications to traditional movements

Nezumi's picture

Husband and wife hands.

Long sequences of "blocks" are anything but (i.e. joint locks, strangles, take downs, etc.)

Cameras and eyewitnesses abound; once you vanquish an attacker, appear shocked and unthreatening for ethical and legal reasons.

Early on, all martial systems/combat sports were more complete and "evolved" toward specificity.

Actually train to employ awareness and avoidance skills before using physical force.

Kata-based sparring with scenarios, dialogue, props, etc.

Pre-emptive striking is both smart and traditional.

Mr P
Mr P's picture

Knowledge and awareness of practical and pragmatic karate that I would not of learnt from just going to the dojos I have trained in. Attached and unattached fighting, clean and dirty fighting, both hands do something, kicking low is ok, grappling at close range. The karate that you practice is context specific - art, sport or self defence? The history and culture of karate practice. Exposure to some great debates in articles and on the forum. Exposure to the writings and thoughts of contemporary martial artists. An awareness of my own gaps in knowledge and skills.

Iain Abernethy
Iain Abernethy's picture

Hi All,

I’m finding this thread really interesting and humbling! Over the years I’ve thrown quite a lot of stuff out there and it’s interesting to see what people have found to be of value. From my perspective, the things I personally believe to be most important also seem to the the things that others have also found to be of most importance. That’s pretty gratifying and reassuring :-)

I’ve found the community that has developed here to be hugely beneficial to me too. The alternative ideas presented, the discussions and the feedback (both positive and negative) have helped me to refine and sharpen my thinking. I’m therefore grateful to all (past and present) for all the sharing that goes on here.

All the best,


Paul_D's picture

Well, as I don’t study karate or do kata, I can’t really list bullet points of things I have learned to help me de-code kata.  So you are probably wondering why I am here :-)

There too many things I have learnt to list, but the biggest thing I have learnt is that Martial Arts and Self Defence are not the same thing.  Sounds simple, but you have to understand that when I started training the internet wasn’t around, and until it came along and I found people like Iain and Geoff Thompson I was struggling to figure out what was presented to me in the dojo related to civilian self-protection.

I cannot underestimate how much of a difference this has made to not only my training (which is now much more enjoyable as I can accept “I am just doing this for MA in the dojo”) but also to my life.

Being 5’5” it’s not that was to relax in pubs for example, when all you know about SD is physical techniques from the dojo which bear little or no resemblance to actual violence.  Once you learn that you need a completely different set of (non physical) skills for SD, and that physical techniques are only 1% of SD, then it makes it much easier to relax knowing you have a game plan.

Dale Parker
Dale Parker's picture

I'd have to say different ways of using English.  

karate10's picture

From what I learn from Mr. Abernethy with the podcast, YouTube and the videos DVD's that I own at home, body positioning for each vital techniques, the "Husband and wife" connection to execute strong techniques to become one in CQC and the history of the Pinan/Heian story background is extremely rich for MA knowledge.....There's a lot that I want to put, but ever since discovering Iain's vids, my bunkai practice took to a new level in terms of more than 5 techniques variations is concern.


Andrzej J
Andrzej J's picture

Just saw this thread and feel inspired to add to it. Been training for years, but Iain's work really addresses all the things I find lacking in my regular training. I love karate and I love my style (Kyokushin), but I've always felt there was a great deal in the katas which was never adequately explained, by anybody. Since some of our katas are also heavily altered and adapted from the original forms, and Mas Oyama kept some of his secrets close to his chest (as I've heard said by senior instructors), that means we're left to decipher a great deal on our own.

* So the main thing I'm learning from Iain's work, is how to think - or how to look at a kata and interpret it. I feel like there's a long way to go, but I'm already starting to see a lot of possibilities in sequences that I've always found hard to understand.

Specifically, here are the main things I'm starting to grasp:

* The role of the hikite is so much more than I used to think it was.

* Every single 'block' is a strike, and/or a breakhold, arm bar, throw, neck crank etc ...

* No movement, stance, or angle is insignificant.

* The Pinan katas are so much more than most people think they are.

Right now, I'm trying to think my way through the bunkai of our version of Kanku Dai, which has some significant differences from the more familiar versions you see in Shotokan and others. I've already had at least three 'eureka' moments this morning. There's a lot of work still to be done, but it's a pretty great feeling!