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NickH's picture
A Karate Seminar I went to last night.

Hello All,

I'm based in South-East France.  I now study Shito-Ryu, having graded to 1st Kyu in Shotokan.

Last night I went to a course conducted by an instructor who is big in France.  He is ranked 8th Dan in the FFKAMA, which is the principal governing body in France for Karate and afilliated martial arts.

The sensei specialises in Karate-Jutsu, and the man in phenomenal!  I was analysing the course in the car on the way home with a friend, and we decided that he dosen't move, he 'floats'.  Anyway, during the course, we broke down the kata Enpi and applied bunkai with a partner.  I was impressed by the bunkai initially, or maybe it was the way that the sensei delivered the defences and counter-attacks that impressed, with his power, speed and fluidity.  The reason I added the 'or maybe' was because the initial attacks were all kicks or the omni-present Oi-Tsuki.

Now, considering that many people on the forum have said that Kata was designed to counter the attacks from untrained fighters,  I found myself wondering why we weren't practising a defence against a wild 'haymaker' or a 'football-style' kick.  I would say at this point that I have a huge amount of admiration for the people who have devoted untold years to developing their Karate, but I am still a little sad that the practical bunkai that visionnairies like Iain teach appears to have not arrived everywhere yet.

I don't really have a point to make here, I just wanted to ask 'why'?  Is it a case of 'This is what I learnt, so now I'm teaching it to you'  or something else?  I feel a little uneasy talking about the shortcomings of an 8th Dan, me being 1st Kyu, but I guess I just don't understand why there aren't more people, particularly in France, that don't have a more 'enlightened' approach to bunkai. 


Dill Young
Dill Young's picture


A very valid question. Its only the last few years that karateka are waking up to these kind of issues. Including me. A lot of us have for years being practising styleised Dojo comfortable karate, and are now approaching our training with a more questioning attitude to what we have been taught. The bottom line is, what are your goals when training. I still enjoy the art side of karate to be honest , karateka against karateka. pre set drills etc. But the decline of Karate (certainly in the uk, compared to numbers training during the 70`s and 80`s,especially amongst adults ) and the rise of more popular  grappling/ street orientated fighting systems has opened karate up for those that choose to look . Thankfully there are people out there recently that have broken the shackles of what was the norm in karate and have taken a fresh look at the way we practise and interpret our art.  You seem to have a respectful and honest attitude in your line of questioning. That is a positive attribute . At least you wont spend years and years training without questioning what you are doing. Good luck to you.

ky0han's picture

Hi everyone,

The main problem I have with their approaches is, that they give up the advantage once they gained it just to fit in with the linear kata sequence. So when a kata shows an Uchi Uke than they wait for something that they can use that Uchi Uke for. The worst thing is they get something (e.g. Oi Zuki) that make that work. It is way to coreographed. What would happen if the opponent attacks with something else, that can't be received with that Uchi Uke? You can't predict an attack out of the blue.

But you can predict reactions to a certain point. When you force the opponent to do something, than you are on track. Like Iains always says. You do your stuff against an opponent not with a partner.

The kata is only a model not the actual thing. When things are going sideways you have to act (not react). Always try to gain the controll and when you have it don't dare to give it away ever. Don't block and lock, let go and wait for the next attack just to be in line with the kata.

Thats how I see it.

Regards Holger

Zach Zinn
Zach Zinn's picture

I think the reason oi-tsuki is such a common attack is because it involves a limb coming at you off of the lead leg, you are likely to face this position as someone closes on you...maybe the problem is that as ippon kumite practice became so stylized it went down the path of only working against the oi-tsuki. If  the material is solid though, generally alot of stuff in kata has enough utlity to work against a simple physical presence of lead hand, lead foot in the case of oi-tsuki....with a variety of different types of attacks and timing involved.  If the movements really work then they will be effective against a variety of things..there are things that work to stop an oi-tsuki that will also work just fine against a grab and punch...because they are simple, and direct.

On the one hand i've always understood the criticism about the oi-tsuki, on the other hand, we don't want 100 different techniques for every variation of a violent act either...in short if it really works, it will work against oi tsuki...and a bunch of other stuff.

Gavin Mulholland
Gavin Mulholland's picture

Totally agree Zach.

Also, training against a straight punch is fine - as long as you also train against rounder attacks.

The other thing to bear in mind is that the slavish belief that all attacks outside involve a wild haymaker, is as fictitious as thinkling that every attack will be a straight punch.

Zach Zinn
Zach Zinn's picture

Another thing to piggyback off of Gavin's comments, I think there are some benefits to training against Karate specific attacks, providing that your opponents are actually coming at you with intent. Karate punches tend to be quite fast, and difficult to read. Working stuff with an opponent over time, you will improve on acting against these more trained attacks, and get better at reading much subtler cues in movement than you do when you have your opponent attack with a wild haymaker or somesuch.

Of course this does not apply to more formal, "I stand in zenkutsu and kiai then slowly do oi-tsuki" type thing, but with real Karate attacks I think there is benefit to training against them...as long as you aren't limited by that.

Iain Abernethy
Iain Abernethy's picture

Gavin Mulholland wrote:
Also, training against a straight punch is fine - as long as you also train against rounder attacks.

The other thing to bear in mind is that the slavish belief that all attacks outside involve a wild haymaker, is as fictitious as thinking that every attack will be a straight punch.

I’d totally agree with this and I know of groups who train everything against right handed haymakers. There are obviously numerous problems with that.

I think the caveat needs to be that that there is little point spending the majority of training time on something that is extremely unlikely.

Straight punches are likely and therefore warrant practise time. However, a person dropping into a “lower block” over ten feet away from the person they are attacking, and then stepping forward to deliver an very contrived lunching punch, which falls a foot or more short of the target, and then standing there to permit the response, is so unlikely that I would suggest it warrants no consideration in training. And yet, that is what we see the vast majority of karateka practising against. The result is that they are spending the majority of their time training for a situation that is extremely unlikely to ever happen and would be highly ineffective if it ever did.

Not all straight punches are equal. We should spend time on the effective straight punches we are likely to face. We should, in my view, not spend any time on the ineffective straight punches that we are extremely unlikely to face. That’s the important distinction for me.

I did a quick websearch to illustrate the kind of thing I’m not keen on and this was one of the first examples I came across (I mean no disrespect to the specific individuals in the clip and am simply using it to show what is a very generic form of practise in some quarters of karate and TKD):

I’m sure those here will agree that the straight punches shown are unrealistic as is the distance. This kind of practise is pretty common in karate and TKD and I think it has no value and develops no transferable skills.

I totally agree with that straight punches need included, but that’s not the same as saying I thinks like the above have any value. Practise needs to be close and realistic in my view.

All the best,


JWT's picture

It is easy to gravitate to extremes to make life easier for ouselves in training.

The right haymaker, is not and should not be the be all and end all of realistic training.  Whether on its own, preceded by a punch, or by a close or pushing grab/hold it is the most common haov in many cultures, and easily makes up the greater proportion of all assaults.  It has earned the most prominent place in a Karate Jutsu training repertoire, but that place should not be an isolated one.  We should not forget the two handed pushes, the two handed grabs, the head butts, the knees to the groin and the simple dangers of that first push.. let alone the rarer straight jab or cross.  

As important as paying attention to these primary tactics may be, we shouldn't forget the secondary tactics.  That clinch or punch that translates into a head lock, the opportunity to give a lashing kick to the guy who has lost his balance and gone to ground, dislodging the guy who falls on top of you.... breakfalling.  Things do go wrong and the ability to recognise and adapt to the secondary attacks could be argued to be of equal or more importance than responding to the primary attacks.

As Iain indicates - range is a game changer.  The proximity of real fighting is what makes it different from so much of what is taught out there.  I think it is also the big turn off for many instructors and students.  At close range even the most beautiful and precise unbalaning, controlling and striking techniques have a tendancy to look messy and confused.

The best bunkai is stuff that works off reacting to a little telegraph that could develop into a range of different common attacks, and is able to deal with all of those attacks - whether round or straight.  The simplest stuff is always the best.

shoshinkanuk's picture


Several years ago I put this info together, based on police reports figures of violent assaults reported, my Seniors views and experience and my own experience and of course a bit of common sence.

       1.       Attacker pushes chest, defender pushes away, attacker then immediately attacks with a swinging                          punch to head

2.     Swinging punch to side of head

3.      Front lapel grab, one handed, round punch to head

4.      Double lapel grab, head butt to face

5.      Double shoulder grab, knee to groin

6.       Swinging bottle, glass or ashtray to head

7.       Lashing kick to groin/legs

8.       Bottle/glass jabbed to face

9.        A slash with a knife, most commonly a 3-4 inch lock blade to face

10.     A side headlock/rear choke

Whilst not mentioned in the police report, the following are also important to practise IMO.

        1.      Front ruby tackle to waist

2.      Knockdown, straddle and pound

3.      Knockdown, kicks to body/face

Important Info

85% of people are right handed and will primarily use that hand to punch/use weapon, train self-defence accordingly.

There are many on here that could do a better job, just thought I would share how we generally work 'Bunkai' and Drills. 

JWT's picture

That looks very familiar.  Is that Jeff Nash?

It's slightly out of date now.  The banning of smoking (no ash trays) and the introduction of plastic glasses into clubs have caused glass to fall just behind knives as the primary injury causing weapon of the night time economy.  

Despite that, human biomechanics remain the same.  I wouldn't expect the top of that list to have changed so significantly to require a reordering of training priorities.  Certainly the last 10 years of reading each BCS and Scottish Crime Survey and other Home Office reports, plus talking to people (victims, students and police officers) and watching CCTV footage have not convinced me otherwise.

I would note that according to people I've trained with in the USA you would not expect to ever find a head butt as a primary haov in the states, but instead you would see tackles up there.  

shoshinkanuk's picture

Hi John, yes I believe the origonal list was put out there from Jeff Nash.

I agree it's out of date, im going to refresh it myself over the next couple of months.

One of the limiting factors with it is it originated as 'reported violent assaults', im not sure that takes into accounts more serious attacks in legal classification.

I'm surprised, for example that a strong thrust (from close range) with a blade isn't featured - but maybee that isnt so common, just very serious etc etc.

I did doctor the list to suit myself, and will do so again - but I agree it's a solid starting point for application of martial technique in a self defense context.

If you could point me to a more up to date list of common assaults it would be appriciated.