Bunkai, or application of technique, assists in understanding the movements once they have been learned. Kaisetsu, or learning the principles behind the movements, may then be drilled, so as to assist in learning how to adapt and apply kata. As such, there should not be any one prescribed method for teaching bunkai. As such, drilling the following bunkai is not meant to be ‘the only way’, but instead meant to help gain a basic understanding of “kaisetsu”.
Kihon Kata Shodan
Basic awareness, stances, defenses, attack angles, economy of motion, & focus. High Blocks 2 & 3 may be used as strikes.
Kihon Kata Nidan
This kata builds on the previous one by drilling kick-punch combinations.
Kihon Kata Sandan
It teaches power generation through hip twisting and body torque as well as momentum.
This kata helps movements become stable, efficient, and intimidating. The first technique, ‘c block’, sets up for a redirection. Even the sword hand blocks can become attacks.
This kata instructs further on timing, distance management, and counter-attacking quickly.
This kata teaches a continuous guard. It also helps become body shifting, consistency of stances, and redirection of attack. The middle & low blocks in the beginning may be termed ‘continuous block’, which may be interpreted in many ways. The turn after the spearhand strike, and follow-up with the outward tetsui, is twisting out of the opponent’s grappling of your arm, and countering.
The use of the elbows in naihanchi dachi may be either strikes or strong blocks. This may be interpreted in many ways in close quarters. The last moves of the kata may be seen as elbowing to both the back and front, breaking rear grapples with an elbow to each opponent’s abdomen and a hook to the face, or a powerful hook or elbow to an opponent in front.
Stepping into a back stance as you double block disrupts the opponent’s movement, as you simultaneously block and counter. Blocking behind you immediately after the initial blocks cuts a sneak attack short. The low block, front snap kick, and elbow combination will block, stumble, and knock out an opponent. The sequence after the second elbow assists in learning how to follow through with attacks, and helps practice economy of motion.
The cross-block that begins the second half of the kata counters a grab attempt. Pulling the hand back as you kick may be interpreted as trapping the opponent’s arm under yours, and pulling him/her into a kick to the groin.
The high cross block sets up for an arm lock, tetsui, and finishing punch. The jump ends with a strike to a fallen opponent. The palm strikes followed by pulling motions represent attacking the groin and causing severe trauma to it.
The Pinan kata help understand Kushanku, as there are many similarities. The slow motions are used for breathing and focus, but may often be used as blocks and/or attacks. Practice consistency in stances, torque, and momentum in this kata.
In the second half, the sequence that ends with a punch to the ground represents blocking a kick, throwing the opponent, and knocking him/her out. The next sequence blocks and throws an opponent, then jumps over him/her to kick another, and follows through with a finishing strike. The last sequence is a takedown with a knockout blow.
Naihanchi develops lower body strength. It also teaches one to settle all one’s strength in the abdomen/center and draw from it. The methods employed in Naihanchi are best applied and interpreted in a narrow space.
Bassai builds a stronger, more efficient defense. The first two middle blocks may be seen as a kick counter and takedown; the backfists near the end may also be used this way by performing scooping blocks to set up for the attacks. The crescent kick redirects an attack, so as to set up for the elbow strike. After the elbow is 3 sets of double strikes to counter a rear grapple attempt.
Wanshu, like Bassai, is technical and efficient, but is of a more aggressive nature. It is also a study in timing and follow-through. Stepping into side stance as you set up for a low block may be seen as body shifting to dodge an attack, as you move in to punch the opponent. The jump represents stomping on a downed opponent while preparing to block an attack from another.
Jion is very direct, yet powerful, stable, and technical. Its use of stances will greatly assist your footwork. Remember, the physical side of fighting is done from the ground up.
The first technique may be considered as a striking block, and its uses are numerous. Compare this to Pinan Sandan. The low block and middle block in back stance sequence sets up for a pulling block and punch counter. Performing low block in back stance, then a supported backfist in jigotsu dachi may represent blocking a low punch, then sweeping a kick.
As an Okinawan kata, Seipai uses a small structure to reinforce mobility. Due to the Crane influence, Seipai is a study in entering and parrying. The first combination blocks and pulls a low attack, then knocks the attacker down. The rolling motion of the arms after the turn, low block, middle block, and mawashi uke combination represents a damaging arm lock. In a variation of Seipai, juji uke is performed just before the sweep. The last two strikes of the kata knock the opponent down, then out.
This kata is a study in close quarters techniques. The first sequence is a double wrist block, and counter attack. The sequences after the elbow strike represent a kick counter, nukite, and grapple counter. The last sequence represents blocking an attack to the midsection, blocking a grapple attempt, then counter attacking to the collar bones.
Annan contains many practical, efficient counter attack methods. It is also useful in practicing breathing and focus. Raising the knee and striking with the finger may represent blocking a kick, then hitting the vital point below the ear. Stepping into horse stance, extending the hands, and clinching them into fists will jam the opponent, and grab him/her to gain control for the side kick. The ‘ox jaw’ wrist blocks near the end block a middle punch, then knock the shoulder out of joint.
Shu Shi no Kon / Shuji no Kon
The bo (staff) is known for its versatility, speed, power, and adaptability, and ease of use. Shu Shi no Kan is a great example of this, as well as an excellent training aid. Once learned and understood staff skills may be applied to makeshift weapons.
The usage of both ends of the staff allows a great degree of control. This also enables may long range (yet deceptively fast) block-and-counter techniques. The use of centrifugal force also adds to the power. We must remember, however, to treat the staff as an extension of our existing karate techniques – and practice accordingly.
Seishan is direct yet graceful. The primary stances used are seishan dachi, tate seishan, and shikodachi. The footwork and a number of the techniques utilize forward whipping movement for speed and impact. The open handed blocks near the beginning may counter grappling as well as strikes. These blocks may also be seen as double spear hands. Also, in the second half of the kata, what appears to be a shortened high block may be used as a wrist block, and the jammed front snap kick becomes a knee kick.
This article is a part of the author’s concise guide to karate. Be sure to visit Johnston Karate Home Page to view the guide as well as many other free resources.