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Principles based bunkai

I've been studying Naihanchi in depth for around 6 years now. I learnt it back in the 1990's, but only really saw the true value of it around 2018.

In really getting to the nitty gritty of Naihanchi, it's opened my eyes up to kata in general.

Naihanchi seminar at Karate Jutsu Gakkai

Many people do kata for different reasons. Some it's for competition. Others it's perhaps a form of meditation. It can be both these things and more. What I sometimes think though, is that the "bunkai" demonstrated (especially in competition), is sometimes completely unrealistic in a real world situation and over exaggerated. Please please, don't get me wrong, I love watching kata competitions and I used to compete in them as well, but I do feel that this gives kata a 'bad name'.

What I've come to believe, is that kata isn't just about techniques. What they are really trying to teach are concepts of fighting. Each kata also has a strategy that it's trying to impart on you (but that's for another blog post).

Now some people may already know this, in which case, what I'm saying isn't anything new.

Each move within a kata is trying to explain a principle such as:

  • Create space

  • Control the head, you control the fight

  • Meotode (husband and wife hands)

  • Fighting Go with Ju (hard with soft)

Kata is teaching concepts of fighting rather than techniques

The list goes on. But once you understand these concepts, all katas are essentially the same. They are just showing the principles in a different way. And once you understand the principles, you can move freely through a variety of katas in any situation (in theory).

Think of it in terms of writing. You first learn how to write the alphabet, this is like working on your basic techniques, maegeri, gyakazuki etc. Then you learn to write words and make sentences. This is similar to putting techniques together to make combinations. Once you understand the principles of your language (i before e, except after c etc.), then you can make a pretty good guess at spelling a word you hear. This is like understanding kata. Before you know it, you're writing poetry or singing songs (fighting) and it sounds (looks) amazing.

I taught a seminar recently in which we spent 3 hours looking into Naihanchi and the principles surrounding it. Check out the video:

So next time you are looking into your favourite kata, perhaps try and find out what it is it's actually trying to teach you and open up the world of kata.


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