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.

 

 

The Kata Lottery

lotteryAs a student you’ll remember what it was like when you first were asked to make your kata in front of the class.

It’s a nerve-racking ordeal for most.

But as you know it’s one you’ve gotta overcome to progress.

For me I shook like a leaf… I was asked to perform the kata Jiin (which I’d just learned) in front of the entire school. I’ll never forget that sinking feeling in the pit of my stomach.

Looking back all these years later, I’m glad our sensei asked us from time to time to perform our kata solo. It’s one of the first steps of conquering unwarranted fear.

So once a week I run a Kata Lottery! It’s just like being audited by the IRS – you never know when it’s gonna happen, but if/when it does you just got to deal with it!

Before class begins I’ll take my students attendance cards, shuffle them and then have another student randomly pick a card. The chosen student must come up and do a kata of their choice for the class. And it might be at any time during class, so nobody has had a chance to prepare.

Muhuhuhahahaha! Evil, right?

I know. =)

But it’s a good thing so long as you are judging to assess and give positive feedback, not to condemn or humiliate in front of the group.

Try it next time in class – tell your students you have a surprise for them. It’s something new that they’ve never done before. Let them know they’ve been entered into the kata lottery and that they might just be the lucky winner!

How to get through to students who don’t listen…

“Yoi!”, I commanded.

Osu!”, the class responded.

“Bassai Dai”, I said.

“Bassai Dai”, they announced.

“Hajime!”

My advanced junior class began their kata. Two or three looked super sharp, crisp with their technique, fast with their turns and with a visual intensity strong enough to burn holes.

Then there were students whose techniques reminded me of drowning men, arms flailing as they tried to keep up with the higher ranks.

They were speeding through their kata without focus or connection, bouncing from one stance to the next, colliding like pinballs during multi-ball bonus time. I was frustrated because I’d reinforced the importance of good solid basics when practicing kata many times in the past. I pinched the bridge of my nose and closed my eyes as I thought how best to address this debacle.

“Yame!”, I said. “Come over here to the white board and take a seat.”

(Yes, I have a white board at the dojo – and it’s a great idea to write notes and explain things from time to time)

“Ok… I need a volunteer please”, I requested.

Several hands shot up and shouts of “Me, me, me!” could be heard.

“Ok, David, (name has been changed to protect the innocent) would you come up here and write your name on the board as nicely as you can please?”

David wrote his name nicely as requested.

“What do you guys think? Did David do a nice job? I think so. Now this time David, I want you to write your name a quickly as you can as soon as I say go. Got it?”

“Yes”, he replied.

“Go!”

The scribble that came out from his marker reminded me of Mr. Messy from the Mr. Men book series.Mr._Messy

“Ok, thanks buddy. Would someone else like to have a turn?”

I chose 3 more students to come up and try the same experiment. And guess what… all had similar results.

“So what did you guys just learn?”, I asked.

“When you write fast it’s messy?, a student replied with a silly grin on his face.

“Kind of like rushing your kata, right? When you don’t take time to complete your technique and you try to keep up with other students, your kata kind of looks like that.”

An “a-ha” moment washed over some students’ faces.

“Remember kata is an INDIVIDUAL thing, not a group thing unless you’re competing in a synchronized event. So take your time to do your technique properly and completely. Don’t worry about keeping up with anyone else. Do it right, then later on once your technique is solid, we’ll work on the speed and timing. Got it?”

“Osu!”, responded the class.

Sometimes all it takes is a little analogy or a different perspective to get through to junior students.

Let me give you another example…

perspective

In the same class I have  student who is constantly overly-dramatic with everything he does. If he falls over (which he seems to do quite often) he lies on the floor like he’s been mortally wounded. When the class is doing basics, he struggles to keep still after he completes his technique. I had talked to him about it loads of times but it just wasn’t getting through.

So earlier this week during the basics portion of class, I asked him to stand next to me at the side of the tatami while the class continued. After each oi-zuki (lunge punch) I asked him, “Do you see that?”, as I quietly pointed another student whose technique was a little shaky.

“Yes”, he replied.

“That’s what your technique looks like. Now take a look at Joseph, and watch his technique”, I whispered. At the completion of the next technique I asked him what the difference was. He identified the first student as shaky and the second one as perfectly still.

“Ok, so I want you to be like Joseph from now on. Can you do that?”

“Osu!”, he replied.

Contrast these approaches to simply barking orders, “C’mon faster! Stronger! Sharper!”. Worlds apart in teaching methodology and can you guess which gets better results?

Sometimes students think they’re doing everything perfectly until they realize they’re not. These teaching methods are powerful tools to help students come to their own realizations about their technique….. and that, is the most powerful teacher of all.