Kata Bunkai Drill

So you’ve seen 5 year old kids pull off remarkably sharp kata like this:


And you’ve seen competitors jump high like this (2:20):

And you’ve probably got a handful of students who are *really* sharp too…

But as aesthetically pleasing as these examples are, it surprises me how many students can’t actually apply the movements of the kata in a realistic and effective manner against another person. Fresh air techniques can look sharp and powerful, but lack of understanding and being able to actually make the techniques work are two completely different things.

Random thought…

Remember that movie “Days of Thunder” with Tom Cruise? He was ultra fast on an open track – faster than everyone else. But he had to learn to deal with other drivers pushing and nudging him, and that wasn’t so easy.

It’s the same deal here. Students might look great, but can they apply?

Here is a little bunkai exercise to help students bridge the gap between technique and application.

It works like this…

  1. Pick a random sequence of kata. To keep it simple, let’s say the first few moves of say Pinan Shodan / Heian Nidan.
  2. Have one person stand in yoi dachi (ready stance) and have their training partner approach from the left with a punch or shoulder grab.
  3. Now the first person must turn to their left, shift away and apply their bunkai. Once complete return to yoi dachi.
  4. Now the attacker approaches from the right side. The defender applies the same sequence again, but this time using the opposite side of the body.
  5. Now the attacker approaches from directly in front. The defender shifts back (or moves left or right relative to the incoming attack) and makes the application with either side of the body.
  6. Now the attacker approaches from behind and the defender must turn, shift back, left or right and apply the bunkai once more.

Advanced methods:

  1. Attacker approaches from any angle. Defender must apply using whichever side of the body that makes sense. As a general rule move to the opposite side of the incoming attack.
  2. Defender starts with their eyes closed. Attacker approaches from any angle and as soon as they begin their attack, the Defender opens their eyes and applies. The attacker can kiai to alert the Defender before the attack to give them some time to respond. (As opposed to stepping over and punching the defender in the face while their eyes are closed, and THEN then making kiai).
  3. Defender may apply any kata bunkai you specify (example – they can do any application from a chosen Pinan kata), attacker may attack from any direction.
  4. Defender my apply any bunkai they know from any kata, attacker may attack from any direction.

This is all just a precursor (as are ippon kumite, and regular kumite) to more realistic personal defense. An attacker might throw any technique from any direction at any time. The purpose of training is to be prepared for that. This exercise helps students get one step closer.



You’ve got to market and market and market and market and market and market and market…

This year to date I’ve enrolled 20 students… roughly 6 per month.

Guess how much I’ve spent on marketing during that time?


I’ve been lazy.

(Actually I’ve been extremely busy with another business. I just have fallen behind in marketing my dojo this year.)

The funny thing is that even though I’ve done nothing in terms of dojo marketing, it’s nice to know that my school is at a point where it just ticks over like clockwork bringing in new students without lifting a finger.

And I am extremely grateful for that.

However it wasn’t always that easy.

You see when I first started I was working my tail off, promoting left and right. I was doing events, posting ads, doing demonstrations, joint ventures, mailings, and doing loads of internal marketing.

I was doing exactly what a mentor of mine says, “You’ve got to market and market and market and market and market and market and market <take a breath> and market and market and market and market and market and market and market and market.”

martial arts marketing

But with so many different people telling you different things on what works and what doesn’t, how do you ever know what’s true?

Here are a list of things I’ve done over the last 12 years in terms of martial arts marketing:

  • Flyers
  • Door hangers
  • Direct Mail
  • Demonstrations
  • Joint Ventures
  • Signs
  • Bring a friend day
  • Karate parties
  • Cold calling door to door
  • Vendor booths
  • Hand out business cards
  • Web site
  • Coupon books
  • Online ads
  • Newspaper articles and ads
  • more

And you know what? Guess how many of those things I do now?


That’s 3 out of 15.

Or 20% of the things on that list.

Funny how the 80/20 rule works.

80% of your students will come from 20% of your marketing!

And I estimate the other 20% takes 80% more effort, more money and more time to acquire.

Seems like a good idea to focus on what works best, right?

But how do you know?


Test it.

What works in my community might not work for you in yours. So test what works and what doesn’t. When you find the things that work best for you, invest your time, energy and marketing budget into the things that bring you best results.

However, before you start marketing drinks for sale in 100° F weather, you might want to consider if it’s hot cocoa or ice-cold lemonade you’re going to sell.

Same holds true for martial arts. You’re not going to have a hugely successful kids program in a 55+ community. (In fact you’re not going to have much of a martial arts program at all in a 55+ community, but you understand my point!)

When I first started teaching here in the US, I didn’t want to teach kids… but because of the location where many adults commute and get home late, getting them into class has always been a challenge. However, getting kids has been easier than shooting fish in a barrel. My dojo demographic is about 20% adults (16 years and up), 80% teens and kids.

Yet back in Australia, friends of mine run dojos where their adult / kid ratio is about 50:50.

It just depends on your market, and how well you position yourself in that market.

“But I just want to teach karate… enough of all this marketing stuff!”

Yep, I hear you. But that’s why your dojo hasn’t grown in 4 years….

Truth is, if you want to grow your school or have a full time club, you’ve got to market and market and market and market and market and market and market <take a breath> and market and market and market and market and market and market and market and market.

Until you get to a point where your dojo is self-sustaining through passive marketing methods.

It took me 3 about years. Then a funny thing happened. I reached a stable 100 student strong base. And now it just seems to take care of itself with minimal effort. My active student count is around 125 right now and it goes up to as high as 140 and drops back down with seasonal changes.

And it’s been like that for the last 9 years.

Could I grow it bigger?

Of course.

Do I want to?

Not particularly. There’s a point where you need more infrastructure and employees… and it takes a lot more effort to take it to the next level. I would rather serve 125 students to the best of my ability and maintain high skill standards, than have an overcrowded dojo with massive classes and poor skills.

But if I did want to grow bigger… can you guess what I’d have to do?

I’d have to market and market and market and market and market and market…