Kata Bunkai – A Temporary Triumph (Dr. Feynman visits The Kata Lab – Part II)

9 Nov


So, you just finished a kata seminar with the latest karate-do Master. Long in advance of the seminar, you pre-registered and paid your $ 100 plus dollar fee. The Master showed those select few of you his or her previously undisclosed, “hidden” application of kata sequences. According to the Master, “You now know the final bunkai for the kata.”

Well, not true on several fronts.

First and foremost, the word “bunkai” does not mean the physical application of kata sequences. It means analysis. Analysis is an on-going process;
Second, what was shown to you was an application of a kata sequence. You learned. You did not analyze anything yourself. You merely mimicked someone else’s application;
Third, what you learned is merely a physical application of kata sequences. You have not investigated my remaining two aspects of kata (and by extension, kata bunkai). Namely, the spiritual aspect (the manner in which the kata affects your state-of-mind, emotional state and psyche and vice-versa) and the environmental aspect (the manner in which your surroundings affect the kata and vice-versa).

The second point self-explanatory and the third is answered by my entire 200 plus page Kata Lab project. So, lets look at the first point. To aid my answer, I would like to once again “invite” the eminent physicist Dr. Richard Feynman into my Kata Lab. (See Endnote # 1).

FEYNMAN  Dr. Feynman once observed:

An experiment that confirms your theory does not prove that it is right, only that it is simply not proved wrong. It can never be proved right. Because in the future there could be a wider range of experiments that proves your theory wrong.* So, we are never sure we are right. We can only ever be sure we are not wrong.
* (reference was made to Newton’s law of planetary motion which was accepted correct until 100 years later when the planet Mercury’s motion proved it wrong).

So, for your seminar fee, what exactly did you get in terms of bunkai (analysis of kata)? You received something (see point two) that is not only inconclusive (see point three), but also, temporary, momentary and subject to change. Dr. Feynman would say you were shown an application that, for now, is “not wrong”.

How is this so?
The application you were shown is based upon the Master’s understanding of the kata sequences. This understanding factors in his or her physical limitations and abilities. Your use of the application is affected by your own physical capabilities and skills (which differ from those of the Master). Based upon your own individual characteristics the Master’s application may be utterly useless to you. Unless, of course, you, “Just keep practicing, one day you’ll get it right.” Even if you are able to perform the application, as your physical health changes your ability to perform that application will change. Thus what you learned as, ahem, “bunkai” needs to be revisited. If you do not revisit the application and make necessary adjustments, including finding an entirely new application, you will reach a point of stagnation. “I could perform this application in my younger days, or when my knees weren’t so bad.” Such statements are ridiculous.

Kata is not meant to be stagnant. It is meant to be fluid. It changes according to the performer. An analogy is the “Clay in the mold” interpretation of kata. Kata is the mold which will form you, the clay. As each lump of clay is different and will change over time, the mold (kata) will affect each lump differently. As to bunkai (analysis of kata), I submit that Dr, Feynman’s observation be modified as follows.

A bunkai (analysis) that confirms your understanding (of kata) does not prove that it is right, only that it is simply not proved wrong. It can never be proved right. Because in the future there could be a wider range of bunkai that proves your understanding incomplete. So, we are never sure that our bunkai is right. We can only ever be sure we are not wrong. (Sensei John Szmitkowski modifying Dr. Richard Feynman).

Thus, there are no absolutes in kata bunkai (analysis). Any analysis is merely temporary. It is subject to the changing dynamics and needs of the individual practitioner. Your changing health, age and capabilities all affect your analysis. Your non-physical characteristics may have a more profound impact on your kata analysis. Your mental state, emotions and psyche play a major role in how you analyze your kata. (See Endnote # 2) Further, there is a greatly overlooked and often entirely missed factor that contributes to your analysis. This factor is the manner in which the environment affects your kata. The impact of terrain, weather, temperature and other such environmental factors cannot be discounted.

My “visit” with Dr. Feynman now concluded, it is time once again for me to “Think * Sweat * Experiment” with my kata. Maybe one day I’ll get it “right.”

Featured video: Kata Lab #2230 – Kata: Dr. Jekyll’s Potion. Full article:


Respectfully submitted, Cum superiorum privilegio veniaque (“With the privilege and permission of the superiors”) Sensei John Szmitkowski

   300-cactus.jpg  For information on my “no-risk”, kata seminars, please visit the seminar page using this convenient link https://senseijohn.me/seminar-kata/


1. Dr. Feynman’s earlier visit to my Kata Lab maybe viewed using this convenient link

2. Kata can and should be used to modify emotions link https://senseijohn.me/2013/10/06/kata-lab-221-kata-as-an-emotional-modifier/

and video:

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You may wish to view my other blogs –
LOGO-WEBSITE   my fishing blog which includes my fishing journals and the interrelationship between martial arts protocol & ideology to fishing http://flyfishingdojo.com
DOJO STICKER-1  the Goshin-Do Karate blog at http://defeliceryu.com

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