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Sunday, April 4, 2010

Rules of Bunkai or Kata Applications

Since the fall, I got into deeply research the kata and their applications for practical self-defense. My Live Like a Karate Master Challenge has me performing all the advanced kata once a day which has me thinking constantly about each of the techniques found in the kata.

In researching Bunkai (Kata applications of self-defense), I discovered that many of the applications provided for kata moves are either strange or ineffective. In my studies of videos, books, experimentation with students, and constant practice, certain rules or ideas arise. I call them the Rules of Bunkai that I'll present below.

Rules of Bunkai

1. All Bunkai Reference-able  - All bunkai should be currently used techniques that can be referenced. This is the biggest error that most karateka make. I don't think the applications are secret techniques. It's more likely that they are currently used techniques or self-defense in other styles like Judo, Aikido, Ju Jitsu, even Military Techniques, etc.

2. Variations - Most moves include many variations, for example turning into manji uke could be interrupted as a hip throw or shoulder throw. Evidence suggests that karate masters looked at these techniques as variations of the same move. Japan established the Dai Nippon Butoku Kai in 1895 to organize all traditional Martial Arts. They required each Martial Art to classify of each technique of their technique for entrance into the organization. At that time, these variations became separate and individual techniques.

3. Waldrow Principle - One of the best books on Shotokan that I've read in a long time is Shotokan Secrets. He describes this principle, coined by Shihan Beth Waldow of Mariposa, CA, in 2004: "Itosu never did anything harmless." If you don't squint, squirm, or feel squeamish when you think about how deadly the technique is then the application isn't good enough. Think about the techniques in Rule #1 and figure out how to add some teeth to them.

4. Best techniques work if attacked by right or left hand - Does the bunkai work whether you are attacked by someone right or left handed? In many cases, you can do the same motion in the kata and the self-defense will work whether it's the opponent's left handed or right handed although the technique is different. The book, Warrior Speed, talks about Hicks Law. Hicks Law states that reaction time increases dramatically with a decrease in options. Hicks proved that we react about 58% faster with one option compared to two. When defending yourself, you will not want to think whether your opponent is a righty or lefty so you can perform the technique correct.

5. Dream like Distortions - Kata are similar to a waking dream of a self-defense sequence and like a dream, some of the parts just don't add up. Because of the divergence and changes of kata for purposes that don't relate to self-defense (Click here to read more a about divergence), some dream like distortions appear in the katas.

Here's some quick examples...
Shadowing - A technique performed standing up but in application would be performed on someone on the ground.
Transposing - Transposing is a technique that would make more sense if performed opposite of what appears in the kata. It's like looking in the mirror.
Grouping - Simultaneous techniques performed at the same time that are actually two separate possible follow-ups for a self-defense move.
Misstepping - Some moves work better stepping back instead of forward.

6. Practicality - Is it practical? I've seen bunkai presented as a self-defense that a novice could think of five better ways to defend against the same act of violence. Do you really think some of the greatest karate masters of all time would create awkward self-defense techniques? Really think about the bunkai and determine if it is simple enough to pull off in the heat of combat. Can the technique work against slight resistance?

7. Technique illegal in competition - If it's illegal in a competition because it's to dangerous this is a perfect application for self-defense.

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