Photo courtesy of Gypsy4
Before I learned the art, a punch was just a punch, and a kick, just a kick. After I learned the art, a punch was no longer a punch, a kick, no longer a kick. Now that I understand the art, a punch is just a punch and a kick is just a kick. (Bruce Lee)
The guys that designed the solo karate kata were feindishly brilliant. I mean serious genius-type guys. There is so much useful information encoded in the karate kata that you'll never master any or all of them. The really mind-blowing thing is the ability of those guys to encode information into a solo exercise in such a way that the practitioner will be prepared for a conflict against a real opponent.
But... (there's always a but...) if you approach the kata naively thinking that you are doing blocks followed by punches, your idea of kata will be so impoverished you may never achieve much of anything. In order to get useful information out of the kata you have to have some guidelines or algorithm for decoding what the founders encoded in those kata. Following are a handful of the guidelines that I use in kata bunkai (analysis)...
- There are no blocks in kata. It is assumed that the defender will naturally throw arms in the way of an oncoming threat. Actual blocking (when and if it is ever done) is considered to be an innate, automatic thing.
- You have to get out of the way first. There is often an evasion out of the way of an attack that is assumed in the kata. It's the stuff that is not on the embusen that is important. The end position in the photo in the book is meaningless because you can't tell how to get to that position. It's the stuff between the poses that is important.
- A closed hand may be a closed-hand strike or a grab - as in closing your hand onto something.
- The larger ideal motions contain the smaller pragmatic motions. A small part of a large motion may be sufficient. For instance, you may step forward 3 feet in a lunge punch in the kata, but that doesn't mean that the opponent is 3 feet away. You may only have to shift your moving leg a little bit to get in the right place to hit him.
- You are fighting one guy in several potential scenarios - not 3 or 4 or 8 or 12 opponents - and especially not backed up against the edge of a cliff!
A great resource for more info on principles of bunkai is Iain Abernethy's website, including this set of articles in particular.