Kata Lab # 2130: Kata Deconstruction – An Introduction

9 Jun


What did I know best that I had not written about and lost? What did I know about truly and care for the most? There was no choice at all. (See Endnote # 1)


Welcome to the second installment in my Kata Laboratory Series, Kata Lab # 2130: “Introduction To Kata Deconstruction” ©



I’ve come to identify several deficiencies with the commonly accepted method of kata training and bunkai (analysis) associated with kata. I do not use the word “deficiencies” as a criticism of the commonly accepted methodology utilized by my karate-do brethren. Rather, I use the word simply to describe areas of established training methods that were insufficient from my personal perspective.

One area of deficiency is the foundation upon which kata bunkai (analysis) is based. Often the first method of introducing a student to the application of kata (not bunkai, see Endnote # 2) is a scripted, choreographed practice of kata techniques with a partner. While this approach is extremely important for the student at beginner and intermediate levels. It is wholly inadequate for the advanced student. As such, it must ultimately be supplemented. This realization has led me to one of the maxims of my Kata Lab, namely,

“When Kata is lost, the nuances of kata begin to manifest.” 

 This installment of the Kata Lab sets forth my basic procedure to allow the advanced student can go beyond the commonly accepted choreographed kata applications. This procedure can then be built upon with more complicated kata and bunkai protocols.


The commonly accepted manner of introducing a student to the subject of application of kata usually involves three general procedures. I call these procedures the “drill procedure”, the “storyboard procedure” and the “kumite procedure”.

In the drill procedure students learn various choreographed drills in addition to and as a supplement to kata training. For purposes of this submission, I reject the drill procedure as a kata procedure. It does not rely upon kata and is taught in addition to and unrelated to the kata, thus it is a separate part of the overall karate-do curriculum. The storyboard procedure involves the use of partners who attack the kata performer as he performs the kata sequences within the established pattern of the kata. (See Endnote # 4) Within the Goshin-Do Karate-Do Dojo, this was a common approach.
In the kata storyboard, the performer would stand ready to perform the kata. A number of students, acting as attackers, would position themselves around the performer, in front, back and left and right sides. In turn, as determined by the pattern of the kata, each attacker would attack the performer with a pre-determined technique directed at the appropriate target. The performer would perform the normal kata sequences and pattern responding to each choreographed attack. The essence of this procedure is that the performer executes the kata sequences and PRESERVES the kata pattern.
The kumite procedure involves the performer executing the kata sequences but REJECTS the kata pattern in favor of a linear pattern. Thus the kumite procedure involves only two individuals, the kata performer and his partner (who serves as an attacker). For those readers familiar with a classical Goju-Ryu curriculum, examples of this procedure are the Gekisai-Dai-Ichi kumite set and the Gekisai-Dai-Ni kumite set. Within the former Goshin-Do Karate-Do Kyokai, such kumite procedures existed as the Fuku kumite and the Gekisai kumite (please see Endnote # 5 for the unique origin of Hanshi Van Lenten’s Gekisai Kata). Archival photographs of Hanshi Van Lenten and Sensei Wesley Evans performing the Fuku Kumite and HISTORIC video of them performing kumite drills may be found in Endnote # 6.

Scanned Image 110320000

Need for my method of Kata Deconstruction:

Once again, the above procedures are important for the beginner and intermediate student; however, due to various limitations, they are inadequate for advanced study. These limitations include, but are not limited to:

  • The attackers must “learn” the sequence and manner of attack, therefore, additional extraneous training is required. A failure to adequately memorize the attacker’s role results in a wholly non-functional and frustrating procedure and learning experience;
  • Though commonly referenced as such, neither of the above approaches should properly be termed “bunkai” (analysis of kata) as they do not require analysis, rather they require rote memorization;
  • Both approaches are limited by a lack of spontaneity in the methodology of attack and kata. As such, they are susceptible to predictable boredom with repeated practice over the long term.

For these reasons, and others, I developed the concept of kata deconstruction as a foundation upon which to build more advanced kata bunkai (analysis). My procedure is a very simple procedure for any student to utilize and subsequently build upon based upon individual needs.

Method of Kata Deconstruction: (Recommended Reader Experimentation)

While kata deconstruction can (and eventually must) be practiced with any and all kata, I suggest beginning with the kata you are most comfortable and familiar with. You deconstruct the kata as follows:

  • identify and be absolutely familiar with the sequences of the kata; that is to say those movements that are identifiably linked together and usually followed by a pause in the kata before proceeding to the next sequence; (an example is contained in the video below);
  • practice your kata as you normally would to familiarize yourself with the kata sequences and pattern;
  • now deconstruct your kata by performing the first sequence, when done, pause like you normally would
  • instead of performing the next sequence, turn in any direct and walk a few steps
  • stop walking and perform the next sequence of the kata, pause when this sequence is complete,
  • again, instead of performing the next sequence, turn in any direct and walk a few steps
  • stop walking and perform the next sequence of the kata, pause when this sequence is complete,
  • repeat until you have performed the entire kata. note: it does not matter that you neither end facing in the same direction that you started nor that positional coincidence (see Endnote # 7) is preserved.

NOTE: As you can see from the video below, while the pattern of the kata is ignored, it is of the utmost importance to pay attention to the accuracy of the kata sequences as if they were performed within the kata pattern. That is to say, one must follow from the other.

To assist you with the above, I have created a video of Gekisai Kata performed normally and as deconstructed with sequences identified. 

Benefits of my Kata Deconstruction:

I submit that there are many benefits to this simple, introductory deconstruction procedure which include the following (even with decades of practice, there are probably more I have not discovered – – yet):

  • First and foremost, more advanced procedures are built using this simple procedure. For one, simple, example, ippon kumite is inserted into the procedure in lieu of the walking seen in the video.
  • Deconstruction can be practiced individually as shown on the above video
  • Deconstruction can be supplemented with a partner;
  • The partner does not have to learn anything new, such as the sequence of a storyboard or the sequence of a kumite drill.
  • Deconstruction develops spontaneity in kata itself and subsequently in the execution of the technique of kata in combat
  • On a more advanced level, deconstruction allows the performer to begin to understand the spiritual underpinnings unique to each specific kata.


By supplementing routine kata practice and commonly accepted partner applications with my kata deconstruction – a simple exercise that preserves the kata’s sequences but ignores the kata pattern, – a foundation is established whereby more detailed bunkai (analysis) can be conducted. These more advanced procedures will be set forth and discussed in future submissions in the Kata Laboratory.

Please remember, the mandate of the kata laboratory is

☑ Think   –  read and reflect on the narrative of each kata experiment

☑  Sweat  – work, again and again, the protocol of the experiment as set forth. This aspect is crucial. I wholeheartedly invite commentary and yes, even criticism but please SWEAT FIRST, do not pontificate. Comments such as “That’s not the way we do it”, or, “That’s not traditional”, “That’s not pure in our system” and the like are not only egotistical and insulting, but will show the depth of your hubris, and laziness. 

☑  Experiment  – after sufficiently working the specific protocols, begin to experiment with your own thoughts and variations. Do not be afraid of failure – the only failure is not thinking and sweating for yourself but being a slave to dogma.

Cum superiorum privilegio veniaque (With the privilege & permission of the superiors)


Sensei John Szmitkowski

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1. Hemingway, Ernest, A Moveable Feast (Simon and Schuster, New York, NY, 1996) p. 76.

2. It is worth reiterating the misuse of the word “bunkai.” The word bunkai is commonly misused to mean “practical application of kata”, or simply “application” of kata. The correct translation of bunkai is actually “analysis” thus, “analysis of Kata.” For more, please use this link: https://senseijohn.me/2013/05/20/kata-lab-101-three-states-of-bunkai/

3. Extremely rare and unique archival photographs of Hanshi Van Lenten performing one such drill – “Kumite set number 2” – (please click on thumbnail to enlarge and use the “back browser” to return here).

kumite-1    kumite-2

4. The storyboard procedure was analyzed and critiqued in my work: Koryu Kata-jitsu: Ancient Style Art Of Kata (Issho Publications, East Rutherford, NJ 2001).

5. Sensei Van Lenten’s Gekisai Kata (which is preserved in the Goshin-Do Karate-Do style of Shihan DeFelice) is the unique Gekisai-Dai-San Kata of Sensei Seikichi Toguchi who, in addition to Sensei Masanobu Shinjo, taught Sensei Van Lenten Goju-Ryu Karate-Do.

6. Extremely rare and unique archival photographs of Hanshi Van Lenten performing Fuku Kumite: – (please click on thumbnail to enlarge and use the “back browser” to return here).

fuku kumite-1   fuku kumite-2

fuku kumite-3   fuku kumite-4



7. Positional coincidence is a concept, found in “modern’ (post 1940) kata, that requires the kata to begin and end at the same point.

Filming the Kata Deconstructed video was bittersweet – it was a “first” on many fronts: the first in my Kata Laboratory category but also the first video without little Chloe (who passed away February 14th, 2013) as part of the video crew.

Little Chloe (R.I.P.) Issho Dojo, East Rutherford, NJ. Circa 2005

Little Chloe (R.I.P.) Issho Dojo, East Rutherford, NJ. Circa 2005

Sensei John is now on Facebook, under – FLY FISHING DOJO, you are invited to send a Facebook friend request.

You may enjoy the Goshin-Do Karate-Do blog using the following link: WWW.DeFeliceRyu.Com

You may wish to view my blog dedicated to the interrelationship between martial arts protocol & ideology to fly-fishing and fishing in general by clicking WWW.FlyFishingDojo.Com

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