Tag Archives: Spiritual Bunkai

Bunkai – A Dirty Little Secret

18 Aug

Here’s a dirty little secret. Martial artists, karate practitioners and even my circle of Goshin-Do colleagues may disagree with what follows.

Bunkai, a Japanese term for the analysis of kata, is a closely guarded secret of karate practitioners. For a price (seminar fees, videos, books, etc) the purse strings around the secrets of bunkai can be loosened. So what is the dirty little secret about kata analysis?
Anyone, even those without five minutes of traditional karate lessons, can engage in kata analysis. Bunkai is for anyone.
How? First you need to know a kata. A fortiori, anyone can and should acquaint themselves with Sanchin Kata for free right here on this blog. Link: https://senseijohn.me/sanchin-book/

Next, you need to understand what bunkai is. Karate practitioners often mistakenly define the term bunkai as the practical self-defense applications of kata movements. This is limited and wrong. Bunkai is defined as “analysis.” Karate practitioners, to their detriment, limit their analysis of kata solely to the practical applications of the self-defense techniques within the kata movements.

It is my goal to broaden the concept of kata bunkai to include omitted aspects of analysis. In their bunkai practice, martial artists tend to ignore two fundamental aspects of kata. These aspects are the spiritual aspect of kata (the manner in which kata affects your mental, psychological and emotional state) and the metaphysical aspect (the manner in which kata connects you to the environment).

My non-martial artist readers can readily appreciate the value of kata analysis beyond the physical analysis of kata.

In my over four decades of karate-do, I have observed the application of time spent on kata bunkai (analysis) by martial artists is roughly:

  • Physical bunkai – application of self-defense technique within kata movements – 88%
  • Spiritual bunkai – the aspect of the ritual that is kata (how it affects our mind and emotions) – 7%
  • Environmental bunkai – the manner in which our environment affects kata and kata affects the environment – 5%

Those non-martial arts readers that avail themselves of my free Sanchin, can engage in analysis from an entirely different perspective. The time spent on such analysis would downplay the self-defense application and emphasize the remaining two aspects. Further, once a karate-ka (practitioners) have sufficiently studied the physical aspects of kata bunkai, they must expand their study. It might look something like this:

  • Physical bunkai – application of self-defense technique within kata movements – 5% (mostly from curiosity in the case of a non-martial artist; for karate-ka, this is to maintain a “sharpened-sword”)
  • Spiritual bunkai – the aspect of the ritual that is kata (how it affects our mind and emotions) – 50%
  • Environmental bunkai – the manner in which our environment affects kata and kata affects the environment – 45%

I’ll post future submissions to illustrate the idea that anyone can perform kata bunkai (analysis) and guide the non-martial arts reader through the process.

Featured Video:

Until, then, I remain ,


Sensei John Szmitkowski

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Kata Lab # 2230 – Kata: Dr. Jekyll’s Potion

9 Feb


All human beings, as we meet them, are commingled out of good and evil. (Endnote # 1)

Welcome to this teaser from my Kata Laboratory Series,

 Kata Lab # 2230 – Kata: Jekyll-Hyde’s Potion ©


The need to defend oneself occurs in a heartbeat.

In that instant, you must not only execute the physical techniques of self-defense, more importantly, you must be able to psychologically transform your mental state. You must instantaneously be able to convert from your mental state immediately prior to the attack to a life-or-death mental attitude; in less time than a beat of your own heart.

In the fictional story of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, the mild mannered Dr. Henry Jekyll used a potion to transform himself into his antithesis, Mr. Hyde. Similarly, in an attack scenario, you must be able to transform from your mental state prior to an attack, a Dr. Jekyll state, to a mental state of self-preservation (at all costs if necessary), a Mr. Hyde state.

Unlike the fictional Dr. Jekyll, there is no potion you can take advantage of to facilitate this transformation.

Or, is there?

Subject to one caveat, I submit that the transformative potion is kata. The sole caveat is that, like the experiments of Dr. Jekyll, you must experiment and develop a protocol for the transformation. For almost four and a half decades, I have already experimented. The result is this kata laboratory.

Kata Lab Experiment: (Recommended Reader Experimentation)

I suggest you keep the following preliminarily notes in mind,

  • This lab works best with a partner; however, if one is not available, a timing device with an alarm may be substituted;
  • This lab should NOT be part of a formal karate class (as physical energy levels & emotional acuity in class should be already be elevated, such time is not appropriate);
  • You may wish to preselect a kata to perform prior to commencing. With practice, you can have your partner call out a specific kata to perform as part of his/her command. This will add to the elements of surprise, spontaneity and transformation. Eventually, the performance of a specific kata should be completely spontaneous based upon your attendant circumstances and environment.
  • As to environment, same may dictate that your kata be performed using my deconstruction technique (please see above precursor reading). For example, if you are in a closet or tight space when your partner gives the command, or the alarm goes off, perform the kata in that space! What? You don’t think you can be attacked in an elevator, or other tight environment?!

Procedure For Practice:

  • Prior to beginning, ask a partner to arbitrarily give a command for you to perform a kata. (if a partner is not available, arbitrarily set an alarm on a timing device);
  • Go about your normal routine (but do not practice karate), talk, walk, read, play, anything but karate-do training. Do not confine yourself to one room. Go about a “normal” routine. During this time, do not anticipate the command to start kata. Rather, maintain your usual relaxed state of mind (the Dr, Jekyll state). Thus, the more distracting the activity prior to kata, the better;
  • When the command is given (or the alarm sounds), immediately begin your kata as if your life depended on overcoming an attacker. In the blink of an eye, you must transform your mental state into one of “kill-or-be-killed” (the Mr. Hyde state) Again, environment may require that the kata be deconstructed or pattern otherwise adjusted;
  • Once your kata is finished, you must have accomplished your goal of surviving the attack. Then, after assuring yourself that all threats have been neutralized (a brief Zanshin state of mind), you MUST then immediately transform back to your normal, relaxed state-of-mind (again, the Jekyll state).
  • Repeat the process of using kata to transform from a mental Dr. Jekyll state to a Mr. Hyde mental state and returning to a Dr. Jekyll state.

Here is a video I made to assist you. For your viewing enjoyment, it was filmed in the beautiful Lost Dutchman State Park and Lower Salt River, both in Arizona.

Benefits of performing kata as Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde:

This kata laboratory is designed to foster an immediate transformation to a defense-orientated combative state of mind. Without such an attendant state of mind, physical technique is quasi-impotent. Therefore, like the involuntary adrenaline induced reflexive “fight or flight” response, you must be able to transform your mental state. You must then be able to transform out of the defensive state and return to your default state of mind. With diligent practice, you can gain proficiency in this transformation.


Using kata as a transformative potion to modify and shape your state of mind is a fundamental concept to my ideology of Jiriki Kata-Do (Wellness from within though kata). Once proficient in this transformation, the utility of modifying your psychological state through kata is unlimited.

You may at last begin to see not only the life-taking (Satsugen No Kata) properties of kata, but also the life-giving (Katsugen No Kata) properties as well. Maybe.

Please remember, the mandate of the kata laboratory is


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


Sensei John Szmitkowski

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1. Stevenson, Robert, Louis, The Strange Case Of Doctor Jekyll & Mr. Hyde (Vintage Books, New York, NY 1991) p.80.

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