Martial Arts Blogs A Journey to Shodan: Form vs. Function.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Form vs. Function.

There are two ways to do a kata: one for form and the other for function, or in other words – Bunkai. I’ve done enough bunkai to know that every move in a kata has more than one function, the tough part is figuring out exactly what that is.

I am used to doing kata for form, trying to make my movements as sharp as possible and letting my body take over instead of my head. I feel with bunkai I am taking a step backwards though, because suddenly my head takes over again and I’m constantly thinking about who is standing where and at what level the next attack will be placed. Adjusting the more precise moves for functionality can be mind-bending to say the least.

With the prospect of some serious bunkai training on the horizon, I feel myself slowing my katas down slightly as I actually visualize someone standing on the receiving end of my blocks, kicks and punches. What exactly should I use that shuto for? A block? A strike? Both? Is my gedan blocking a kick or punch? Is it even a block? I probably should have been incorporating this into my training all along.

Two of my problem areas are being creative (coming up with unique bunkai moves) and remembering things (retaining said bunkai moves in my memory for longer than 10 minutes). I have had some challenges in the past, but to come up with my own individual bunkai for six kata is going to be the biggest challenge of my karate experience to date.


  1. Hi Karen,

    One thing that I have found is there are many, different bunkai for different kata movements. Out of the 10 different Sensei's that I have trained with, each one has given different or variations of bunkai for the same movements and all of them have said there is no wrong or right as long as it works.

    It would be extremely hard to incorporate all of the bunkai into your training while trying to learn all the movements in a kata. I am lucky if I can remember all of the moves much less the bunkai for each and every move.

    One thing that we often work on is doing one-step sparring but we have to block and counter with a move for our katas. You can tell your partner what attack you want, do it slow at first, and then try out the bunkai that you think would work. It is really effective at proving what works and what might not work. Sometimes, what would seem to be an esoteric move in a kata is really something simple and effective enough.

    Very nice blog you have here too!


  2. Thanks for the kind words Doug, I really appreciate you taking the time to read my blog.

    Thanks also for your input on how to approach my Bunkai training. I always have such a hard time trying to think of a block during one-step sparring - I tend to over think it which causes me to draw a blank. I was thinking of your comments as I enjoyed my first class back on Sunday after recovering from my injury. We did Bunkai, and it was followed by one-step sparring. One of my Sensei's told me to draw from my kata... so if two of you have said it, there MUST be something to it. :) This is advice I will carry forward.
    Thanks again, Karen