This blog is about realistic applications to the katas/forms/patterns of traditional martial arts. However, it is hoped that martial arts of other disciplines may also find it useful and you are invited to contribute as well. As there are only so many ways that the human body can move, there are bound to be overlaps between styles, wherever in the World they were developed. Leaders in the field like Iain Abernethey and Rick Clark have studied multiple systems (including Eastern & Western grappling) and found that the throws, locks, chokes, pressure points and other control methods of these other systems are all present in the katas/forms/patterns of systems that were at one time considered to be almost exclusively punching, striking and kicking systems. Applications to Karate, Tae Kwon Do, Tang Soo Do, Kung Fu (etc) can look very close to Aikido, Judo, Ju Jutsu and even Western grappling etc.

My own Karate and Tai Chi teacher, Sensie Paul Mitchell says that Shotokan Karate is all about punching and kicking at low levels, but very much about grappling at high levels.

More and more people studying these traditional Oriental martial arts have been searching for the real bunkai (applications) to their kata’s/patterns/forms. For decades we have been taught stylised responses to pre-arranged (and sometimes unrealistic) attacks. This is particularly true of Karate and the styles that it has influenced such as Tae Kwon Do and Tang Soo Do. Kung Fu has also been affected as it has been opened up to teach to large audiences, though perhaps not quite to the same degree (varies a lot from style to style).

With the advent of Mixed Martial Arts/Cage Fighting which while being a sport, does seriously pressure tests the martial artist; many of our training methods and old bunkai explanations have been found to be lacking. This has led to the rise of a number of very efficient “reality based” martial arts who tend to look on many traditional Oriental martial arts as a good method for self development, but too stylised and ritualistic to have much real self defence value.

Are they right? Do we practice systems that have more to do with self development, self improvement and character development than they have to do with real self defence applications?

Without going too deeply into history (not the scope of this blog) Karate, Tae Kwon Do & Tang Soo Do, traces many of their techniques back to Okinawa, to the bodyguards of the Okinawan Kings. These were the only bodyguards to a head of state in history who were not allowed to carry weapons and had to rely on empty hand techniques to protect their King (laws set down by their Japanese overlords). These bodyguards could have to face armed Samurai, or more likely, the whole crew of a Western Whaling boats who were upset by being refused permission to do much needed trading (again, Japanese ruling).

Facing a superior number of men who would be armed, do you think that these bodyguards would practice ineffective techniques for their personal development and enlightenment?

I doubt it. It is more likely that they developed fast, efficient, ruthless methods to dispatch their opponents as quickly as possible. Even aside from the Okinawan King’s bodyguards, practitioners would have have had to defend themselves from all sorts or attacks, be it punches, grabs, grapples, knives or other weapons. They would have needed a versatile system to protect themselves from all of these threats (a bit like modern day Krav Maga or Systema). It is unlikely that they would have placed limits on their training to only deal with straight punches and kicks.

However, after the death of the last Okinawan King, when his former bodyguards introduced Karate into the Okinawan school system, the applications would have had to be “dumbed down”, so that the school kids did not do each other too much damage. Many other social aspects came into play in the development on Karate which contributed to the art of the Kings bodyguards being diluted (again, beyond the scope of this blog). However, we still have the techniques that they practised, passed down to us in their kata’s which we still practiced today. We just have to read between the lines of the “dumbing down” and see what these moves might really be used for.

We are fortunate today however, that many people have been able to “unlock” the codes of the kata’s/patterns/forms and show us more realistic ways to use these movements. Men like Iain Abernethy, Vince Morris, Rick Clark and George Dillman to name but a few. What they teach may not necessarily be the original bunkai. However, it does not matter; these people give us bunkai that would work under pressure and against realistic attacks that we might face in the street, rather than just in the dojo/dojang.

As others have learnt from these leading lights, so many of us have begun to interrupt movements for ourselves. We have learnt to read between the lines of the so called “stylised” techniques. Though many of us may come up with different answers for any given technique, this is fine as we are all different people. What suits one person many not suit another, so having different answers is a good thing, it gives us a choice.

That is why this blog was created. It is to share bunkai. It is not for me to teach my way or promote my interpretation, it for anybody interested to share their ideas and thoughts.

In exchange for sharing with us, you will get a link back to your club/association/event, so that you can promote your own business. As this blog grows, so more and more like-minded people will see your input. Should any of them be searching for something more realistic than what they are currently practicing (and there are a lot out there), then your link-back might gain you new members to your club/association or even just to a special course that you put on. This blog is set up to give back to those who contribute.

To submit content, you can either:

  • Write an article and include photo’s to demonstrate the bunkai (applications).
  • Film it, put it on (with another link back to you) and then send us the Youtube link with a short explanation (ie: what style, which kata/pattern/form and your club/association links.

Try to make all contributions as clear as possible (as if you are teaching a class).

There are only 3 rules:

  • No blatant advertising. Useful content only in a “teaching format” that others can learn from (rather than just a demo where people may not be able to see what just happened).
  • Submissions must be realistic and be able to work under pressure.
  • No disrespect to other styles or one-up-manship (keep it friendly and we all move forward together).

Karate is largely based on the Southern styles of Kung Fu. Tae Kwon Do and Tang Soo Do are largely a blend of Karate and Korean styles, which themselves are partly based on Northern Chinese styles of Kung Fu. All point back to Shaolin to some degree; therefore despite many adaptions we all have a lot of overlap and commonality. By sharing and learning together, we can all accelerate our understanding of our own arts; with none of the childish rivalry that we often see between martial artists of different styles.