Monday, 4 April 2011

Ippon kumite and kata applications

A bit of a brain teaser this one but if you can make sense of what I’m trying to say then I would welcome your feedback……..

This may seem like a strange question to ask for someone who is very close to grading for shodan in karate! My question is: What is the difference between ippon kumite and bunkai?


I thought I knew the answer to this until last Saturday when I went on a black belt/brown belt course with my organisation. We didn’t focus at all on kata or bunkai but spent a lot of the time practising ippon kumite. It was made clear to us that what was being looked for in our demonstration was a clear understanding of the application of basic kihon moves to a one step attack showing particular heed to distance and timing.

Well, that explanation tightened up my understanding of ippon kumite a bit but didn’t offer any new major revelations – I already knew what ippon kumite was about.

Here’s a definition of ippon kumite: Ippon kumite is the practice of not allowing your opponent more than one attack. In other words, due to the evasive and blocking actions of the defender the opponent is prevented from continuing his attack. A counter attack may or may not be necessary. It's all about shutting down your opponent's attack quickly. Ippon kumite techniques are generally learned against a range of pre-defined attacks.

Here’s a definition of bunkai: The analysis of moves extracted from a kata. In other words, a study of the applications of movements taken directly from a kata or an analysis of the meaning of the kata.

These two definitions don’t sound too similar until you delve a bit deeper.

Old karate master, Chotoku Kyan said, “First learn the movements of karate, learn how to strike, block and immobilize, learn the kata and you will then be ready for kumite.” The implication here is that kumite is the application of kata movements. Dan Smith Kyoshi of Shorin Ryu Seibukan adds, “…the kata is designed to always provide an ‘ippon’.”

So if ippon kumite techniques are built from basic kihon techniques; kata are the assembly of kihon techniques into set sequences and combinations, and kata provide us with sets of ‘ippons’ then isn’t the analysis of kata (bunkai) just the analysis of ippon kumite techniques within the kata? Are bunkai and ippon kumite essentially the same thing?

All the bunkai I have learned are effective against a single step attack (bar one*) and are therefore essentially ippon kumite techniques. However, many of the ‘ippons’ I have learnt have not necessarily come directly from a kata. So does that mean that all bunkai are ippons but not all ippons are bunkai?

Not many people will talk about ippon kumite and bunkai in the same breath (or even write about it in the same book) suggesting that they are different things. In fact, some people who consider themselves bunkai experts may even be very dismissive of ippon kumite considering it to be too stylised and people who are proponents of ippon kumite may not even refer to specific kata in their teachings of it.

So, what is the difference between ippon kumite and bunkai? Perhaps they are just different sides of the same coin or perhaps bunkai is a process and ippon kumite a practice? Perhaps bunkai just assumes more realistic attacks and ippons use more stylised 'karate' attacks? I’m just thinking aloud here.

What do you think about this condundrum? Ippons and bunkai – same or different?


* I have learnt a kata application from Bassai Dai which requires the attacker to throw two punches. In Iain Abernethy's Bunkai Jutsu book he suggests that one should not assume that the attacker will act in a pre-determined way and throw a second (known) attack in response to a block. If your bunkai application requires a second predicted attack then perhaps the interpretation should be looked at again.
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16 comments:

John Coles said...

Sue. Very interesting issue, and one which I've been contemplating albeit without reference to those terms. Ippon kumite sounds like Jan de Jong's shinken shobu no kata (kata of real fighting). One thing it teachers you, that is emphasised when you study sword work, is timing, distancing, and not dancing around like modern free fighting. It is a different approach to 'real fighting' which goes against the normal instinct of 'dancing around' or as Musashi refers to it as jumping step (or something like that).

Charles James said...

Awesome post, I have never been asked that question and actually stole the idea for a question to my blog on questions( SueC ;-) ) which is a long tirade on the subject.

I would post it here but it is large and it gave me an error message so would ask that anyone interested go the the Q-n-A blog to see my view on it.

Really, Sue, an awesome question and absolutely wonderful post on the subject.

In my humble opinion you are already a "Yudansha!"

Sayo said...

They are the same side of same coin. Always remember what you are learning and why you are learning it for.

Don't forget the aim of kata and the aim of ippon kumite (or what ever other form of kumite. Learning to apply that basic technique in different/ changing circumstances. So basic technique becomes applicable technique.

SueC said...

Hi John, The ippon kumite that we do in our club is related to the classical self-defence karate rather than the sports kumite that we also do, so when we do ippons we don't dance around but rather work on things like how stances can be used to unbalance as well as issues around distance and timing. I agree with you about sword work - I've learnt a lot about distance, timing and body movements from that.

Charles, thank you! I like your humble opinion and in 10 weeks time I'll hopefully like it even more because then it might be true!;-)

Sayo, "Always remember what you are learning and why you are learning it for." A good comment, learning to understand the different components of karate training and how they all fit together is definitely a tough part of the journey. Thanks for commenting.

Charles James said...

SueC said, "Charles, thank you! I like your humble opinion and in 10 weeks time I'll hopefully like it even more because then it might be true!;-)"

MIGHT BE? TRUE? Let me suggest that self talk should be:

WILL BE TRUE!!!!!

SueC said...

Charles, okay! okay! WILL BE TRUE :-)

Journeyman said...

Interesting post and topic. You've given me some food for thought.

Aton said...

Very good post Sue! I liked it very much! Of course, is a bit different our practices in Shorinji Kempo, but I always learn a lot with your posts.

SueC said...

Journeyman, thank you. Look forward to reading what ever it is I might inspire!

Aton, thank you for your kind comment.

Ninja Training said...

I might have to pose this question while training students.

SueC said...

Ninja, do you learn kata in ninjitsu?

Anonymous said...

I can't comment on the specifics of your question since I do not practice karate but I would like to respond to your remark about the two punch attack: it is very necessary to presume the attacker is going to launch a second attack since it would be foolish to assume you'll always succeed in elimating him with your first interception. Of course shutting him down on the first move he makes is ideal but in reality it's very possible a trained fighter or someone on drugs will take the punishment and continue. In Jeet Kune Do and Panantukan there are series of defenses against boxing attacks in the form of the old 1-2 (jab, cross), 1-3 (jab, left hook), 1-2-3 (jab, cross, hook) and so on. In my view you should always assume a second attack will be coming and act accordingly: if not excellent but if it does you have to learn to flow and adapt accordingly. Only amateurs will attack using single, fully committed blows: trained or semi-trained individuals will likely throw combinations of real and fake attacks. I train with a boxer or thaiboxer in mind: if I can counter these types of fighters I'm pretty sure the average thug or drunken fool will be no problem. Once someone throws a left hand it's very likely he'll follow up with the right (whether a cross, hook or uppercut), of course other attacks are possible and should be trained and the ultimate test of skill (without getting into a real fight) is sparring to see how quick you can react and what is likely to come after the first attack.

That being said I'd like to know what combinations are standard in karate so if you could help me out with that I'd be much obliged. It would be useful to change the routine once in a while and you never know what type of fighter you'll encounter.

SueC said...

Anon. I agree with you that it may be possible for an attacker to launch a second or even third attack. However, in karate, you treat each of those attacks as if it was a single attack and use a technique that is designed to shut it down. So each technique learnt is against a single attack - you just string them together if necessary. In karate we have the saying "one strike, one kill". We obviously don't mean this literally but the idea is that you put everything into stopping the attack at the first strike. If that fails you put everything into stopping the attack after the next strike and so on. The whole fight is treated as dealing with a series of single attacks.

I'll just make it clear at this point that I'm talking about defending oneself in the street and not about sports karate. Sports karate is different - it's about scoring points and the use of feints and combinations is used. The way sports karate is done makes it inapplicable to street defence.

In the street your attacker is likely to be an amateur since even the dimmest martial artist must realise that they are not being trained to go out and attack people! Amateur attackers will not necessarily launch a series of attacks in a predictable way i.e a right punch may not necessarily be followed by a left punch - it may be followed up with a kick, so you don't train a technique that assumes a right punch is always followed by a left punch - you may get caught out waiting for that second punch.

Regarding set combinations: Each ippon kumite technique could be regarded as a combination. In our system we don't have set ippon techniques, we are shown some but expected to experiment to work out combinations that work for us as individuals. In other styles of karate they do have set ippon techniques that are taught to all students.

However, all ippons will be composed of some or all of the following elements: avoidance, evasion or blocking; simultaneous block and strike; counter striking (punches, kicks, elbow strikes, knee strikes);unbalancing and takedowns; pins and locks.

Karatefighter said...

Karatefighter on "Ippon kumite & kata applications"

I practice a style of traditional karate which can be considered a sister karate to the Japanese Shotokan Karate.

Although I do not practice Shotokan, the Japanese karate masters typically refer to the 3 K's standards of traditional karate training: (1) Kihon, (2) Kata, (3) Kumite.

To me, Ippon Kumite, colloquailly known as 1-Step Sparring, is a key exercise in the kumite component. The worth of 1-Step Sparring is that, to me, it forms a bridge between basic technique (Kihon practice) & actual fighting (Jiyu-Kumite).

In 1-Step Sparring, we focus on taking the conditioning & techniques learned from basics, and alter & apply these for actual fighting situations. IMO. 1-Step Sparring is 'kihon-kumite,' very basic applied fighting.

Much more importantly, with 1-Step Sparring, done properly, we learn to take the mental discipline instilled in basics and develop & apply a heightened sense of mental concentration, one that dynamically & precisely outmaneuvers our cooperating opponent.

Traditional karate is a mental discipline, not a sport. And here I differ with some others who view Jiyu-Kumite (free sparring) as a sport where 1-Step Sparring principles & applications are not useful or effective. Completely disagree.

Ippon Kumite, 1-Step Sparring, can be practiced in a relaxed manner, in which case they can be considered miniature katas. At full power, 1-Step Sparring is clearly Kumite.

I believe that Ippon Kumite develops the most skill for the karate practitioner when practiced @ the lower (like kata)to medium level (kihon or kata also) of intensity.

Going high to full power simulates the kumite level of testing your disabling power on your opponent.

Kata is the comprehensive karate exercise, and so the bunkai (applications) may represent 1-Step Sparring type responses to an imaginary assailant.

The important distinction between kata bunkai & 1-Step Sparring is the former's focus on the principles of developing strength & fighting principles--the latter on the focused practice & testing out of a single 'bunkai' applied against a cooperating opponent, also conveying principles as well.

Karatefighter

SueC said...

Karatefighter, thank you for your comprehensive comment! Your interpretation of jiyu kumite is the correct one and should form the next step on from ippon kumite. Alas in my system jiyu kumite is practised in the 'sports' sense which is okay for practising for competition but no good for practising for reality. I'm not quite sure why you consider kata a low intensity activity? It's certainly not low intensity the way we do it!

Kevin said...

Within a kata, you can interpret the moves in an "ippon" fashion, but this is not the only path. Some katas (like Hangetsu) provide exercises to improve strength or flexibility. Many of the advanced katas contain strategies for handling multiple opponents, and for handling opponents in different situations. In Bassai Dai, for example, I have the feeling of taking the fight to the enemy with urgency, while Jion is more relaxed, one seizes opportunities without needing to create them. Also, the katas can be interpreted to contain many weapons lessons, both using and defending against. We don't usually use weapons in ippon kumite, in my dojo.

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