How do you go about finding the interpreting bunkai to kata?

Kata being more then the obvious interpretation,
Are there certain key principles you use, to understanding the movements, to kata.
Many great answers so far pbj that has been one of my favorite sites for years and johnathon i do have an extensive library on kata and many style of martial arts
i’ll add my list and points in a little while

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8 Responses to How do you go about finding the interpreting bunkai to kata?

  1. LIONDANCER says:

    I usually find them when practicing kata. Sometimes the way I shift my weight, putting different emphasis on different parts of the moves can give me ideas. Sometimes my teacher will show me something and I can apply it in several different places in the different kata with slight variations which will give me ideas. Sometimes my students give me different ideas to modify things if they have trouble with a move which can lead to more interpretations. Sometimes watching a totally different style and their bunkai can give me ideas. I usually “try out” bunkai before deciding if I might have something of if I am way off base.
    When practicing “new” Bunkai it is important that one has a solid foundation of the basics and principles of a style or you will end up with some really wild and bizarre stuff that does not work. I get it from my white belts all the time when they play the “what if” game. How good the bunkai is depends on your understanding of the basics and principles and your ability to analyze movement correctly.

  2. Jim R says:

    Bunkai we were taught changed with our progression, and I teach a bit like that. In the beginning it is block and punch or kick. Then it begins to change, until it doesn’t even resemble block-punch-kick anymore. Soto ude uke is a good example. When at work (bouncer) I used my own variation of this technique to great advantage. I have long reach, so when I got swung at, I would reach out with the left hand (right hand attacking me), put my fingers on the elbow of the attacking arm, and simply help it along a little. That doesn’t even look like karate, but the result was, at times spectacular. So I discovered the bunkai that is taught is good, but the variations and applications you may discover yourself are too. I have no formula for this, but it becomes apparent when you study other bunkai, and when you must apply that bunkai in a dangerous situation. But I am sure I haven’t told you much you don’t already know, but hopefully another way to look at it.

  3. Johnathan Pierson says:

    The major principle I use is that nothing is ever constant.
    The hand that makes the fist may not be a fist to strike as it is to grab. The height of the attack may change depending on how you put an opponent in an indefensible situation.

    There are many books on the subject.

  4. PBJ says:

    It takes a great deal of thinking. Check out this website for some interesting articles:

    Some principles I use:
    1. There are multiple potential applications to each movement
    2. Do not limit thinking to only striking/blocking
    3. Do not limit thinking to techniques that are considered “karate techniques” by the general populace
    4. Keep in mind that these techniques were designed largely for fighting against people with weapons (such as swords and spears)

    Keep an open mind and analyze. Good luck.

  5. SiFu frank says:

    Kata is like a library of moves. They are in order and follow a system. That does not mean that the applications evident in the Kata is carved in stone. A good Master can open up the applications. As you gain experience and live with the Kata a while some things will become more evident. It is why you see great masters focusing hour upon hour practicing and pondering a single move.
    Taekwando is often faulted by novices for not having a ground game; however much of the stand up can be taken to the ground. 😉

  6. nwohioguy says:

    Two ways I have done this.

    1. My Sensei taught me what he was trained as Bunkai.

    2. I come up with an idea and have one, or more, of my students attack me to test it out and see if it would work while I am doing the Kata.

    Then whenever I practice Kata I imagine an attacker and do the Bunkai against them.

  7. pugpaws2 says:

    There are a number of things I look at when looking at Kata Bunkai.

    A few of them are:

    * The two hand rule…. in many cases the hand that looks like it is not the one doing the technique (punch, strike, …) is what is making the hand that appears to be the main technique work. For instance in Naihanchi Shodan there is a technique where one fist appears to be striking to your side using a hammerfist. At the same time the other fist appears to be doing a hook punch. Both of these are involved in the actual technique.

    * The touching rule….. There are many examples of this. In Pinian Sandan there is what appears to be a spear hand thrust. The other arm is bent 90 degrees placing the open hand under the thrusting arm at the elbow. The version I do has the tip of the middle finger touching the inside of the elbow of the thrusting arm. This indicates that there is a technique that is applied to the attackers arm at the heart point at that point on his arm. Another example is in Naihanchi Shodan. Some versions have what looks like a leg sweep. in my version, the leg sweeps up tapping the other leg near the knee. This indicates that I would really be kicking the attackers leg.

    * The one attacker rule…… Kata appears to be a fight against multiple attackers. However, as I understand it at any instant in time there is only one attacker being dealt with. In many basic Kata you turn left block down then step forward while punching, then you turn 180 degrees and repeat the same moves in that direction. Many people think that the turn is only to face the next attacker. My bunkai has a totally different use of the turn. One example is that your right wrist is grabbed by someone behind you. As you slip the right foot back and to your left rear, you begin to as they say chamber the down block to come. We are taught to cross the arms so that there is a pulling and pushing movement when executing the block. In my version I am turning while crossing my arms, . That allows me to be striking to attackers grabbing arm while I’m turning to face him. This frees you right hand and also strikes the attacker on pressure points that set up the punch that follows with my left fist.

    The Three technique Rule….. We are taught that techniques are repeated on both sides so that you develop both your left and right sides. but on closer examination that does not always explain some moves. Many Kata step forward three times and execute three punches or techniques. In even case I know of there will be two techniques done with the right hand and only one with the left hand. Since most people are right handed, wouldn’t it have made more sense to have the left hand do two techniques and the right one only one? That would help to even out your development of the left side. Clearly there is another reason for Kata to be done as it is…….. someone proposed to me that if a technique is done three times it is telling you this…. The technique will work on both sides of the attackers body. But the fact that it does the technique more time on the right, tells you that if striking a heart point on the attacker, it will or might work better if you strike his left side with your right hand. As is commonly known, some meridians are bilateral or have a path of points on both sides of the body. Since the heart is slightly more to the left side of our body, the theory is that the heart points on the left side of our body are more easily effected than the heart points on the right side of the body. Is there any truth to this? That is debated often. I suggest trying the techniques on either side.

    The No Block rule…. This rule says that there are no blocks in Karate. It states that all techniques that appear to be blocks are strikes or other applications. In some cases the actual applications may look as though they are blocking, when in fact they are re-directing the attack while effecting pressure points on the attacking arm. This sets up the follow up strike.

    There are other rules, but these are the main ones I use to interpret Kata.

  8. David E says:

    Wow, great question and some humbling answers.
    The only thing that comes to mind that can be important that hasn’t already been covered much more completely than I could hope to, is the Kata name. That will give you a clue to the spirit of the kata, or how it follows and what its focus is on.

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