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Alex.M's picture
Practical Solo Practice - need advice as to if that's possible


Longtime lurker, once or twice poster. I find myself in the less than enviable position where I train in an absolutely outstanding and wonderful karate dojo with dedicated partners and instructors and great camaraderie, but I have one problem. There seems to be virtually no interest in exploring bunkai and associated partner drills, live practice, etc. Focus is very heavily placed on sports kumite, kihon (and I think our dojo's focus and sense of body mechanics is fantastic) but kata, while emphasized, is purely form (if you'll excuse the obvious use of the word kata).

For me, that's - even though I'm not very far along my journey - a little perplexing and somewhat frustrating since I've come to believe that WHY you do something is more important than simply looking good doing it. I want to explore the function of kata and, more importantly, the principles underpinning it - but that is not a part of what we do at our dojo unfortunately (in fact, to our instructor's credit, he said as much and that it was because he didn't understand those aspects well and didn't want to teach us faulty applications and principles of kata) - and I have no other karate options or non-sports-combat options available to me (switching schools is not an option - the other options behave similarly but under different systems).

My question is - are there things I can consider or keep in mind/research during my solo kata training that might help foster a practical karate/bunkai mindset? I understand that the best way to prepare is actual live practice and application and testing against resistance, but since I don't have that option I wondered what the next best thing might be as it applies to "things I can do on my own". My ultimate hope would be to eventually find a school that does focus on practical karate (or other practical arts, though karate is really what I enjoy) but until such a time I'd really like to walk along the path towards practical training as far as possible.

Iain Abernethy
Iain Abernethy's picture

My advice would be to see if anyone at the dojo wants to do some extra training in the form of a “bunkai study group”. You may find there are people in your dojo who would really enjoy that. It may also be worth asking if groups of the nature already exist in your area. There are lots of regular gatherings like that where people get together, irrespective of core style or affiliation, and share ideas and train. Where in the world are you based?

There are lots of effective ways to train on your own – kata, bag-work, intense conditioning (good for combative mind-set), etc. – but ultimately you need bodies to work on technique, timing, distancing, tactics, etc. I’d therefore look to make your solo training as pragmatically focused as possible, but also look to get some like-minded practise partners.

If the dojo you are at is giving you solid technique, a good workout, and an enjoyable place to train with good people, then that’s an important part of the mix. You can supplement that with your solo practise and study. All of that is good. The bit you are missing is bodies to practise bunkai, etc. with. If the group is not providing that, look to getting a training partner, a study group, or seeing what already exists within traveling distance. I know loads of folk who work that way and it gets good results.

All the best,


Alex.M's picture

Thanks for the advice! I'm based in Stockholm, Sweden. (I saw that you have an upcoming seminar in Finland, but, argh, cannot attend).

I will talk to my head instructor on Monday (with some luck, other's may also have approached him about including bunkai, or there might be senior students and other instructors that share that interest) about bunkai based training, then approach my fellow students (that way it doesn't add any unintentional layers of this or that). I really like the dojo I'm at, I just feel I'm missing out on an aspect of karate that is important to me personally.

I have no illusions - I'm fully aware that - as a member of modern society - I'll be more likely to cross swords with heart disease and diabetes because of lifestyle choices (which is one of the many reasons I think sports are important, whether martial in origin or not), rather than be in a life and death altercation, but I would still like to be able to defend myself if it came to that.

And, more importantly, even if I never get truly good at performing and honing the tactics within bunkai and its associated training I can AT LEAST rid myself of the notion that "all karate is self defense" and self defense is "easy for a martial artist". Those two notions will kill you faster than an all-you-can-eat-bbq-chicken buffet! Again, thanks for the advice!

Wastelander's picture

Something you can try is building a kakiya/kakete-biki. It's an Okinawan wooden training dummy with a weighted or spring-loaded arm that you can use for working blocking, trapping, locking, deflecting, limb control, etc., in conjunction with your strikes. Because the arm moves, it functions quite differently from the mook jong (Wing Chun dummy) most people are familiar with. Some also have arms made of very thick spa tubing, which allows you to work joint locks with some give to the limb. Here is a playlist of all (or close to it) of the kakiya/kakete-biki related videos on YouTube, to give you some ideas: https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PLhsi0HUtMXCKinrzAARV6FhLqb3aMbidW

Mark B
Mark B's picture

One idea would be to ask a friend who is nothing to do with your karate club, or karate at all. This will give you a body to practice with, and a partner who will act like a "normal" person, rather than giving you the energy that he/she thinks you want. I find that when I occasionally do this type of practice I get a very honest workout