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Elmar Schmeisser's kata bunkai rules

Over the last few years, several authors have tried to put together sets of rules or principles for decoding kata - for figuring out what the kata movements mean. One oft-cited set of kata rules comes from Elmar Schmeisser's several books on Shotokan kata and the bunkai (analysis) thereof. Schmeisser's rules, stated somewhat generally include:
  • Each movement/position must do something useful to the opponent from the defender's point of view.
  • No opponent may be left in a condition to continue or resume an attack.
  • There must be a safety margin in case of the failure of any technique to have full effect.
...and restated more explicitly...
  • Damage the incoming limb(s) while avoiding the main vector of the attacker.
  • Keep control of the opponent by using offbalancing movements and remain physically attached.
  • As far as possible, always have both hands engaged with the opponent.
  • Move away from or interdict any remaining threatening limb(s).
  • Have a backup and/or a continuation available if any techniques fails.
  • Escalate defense combinations with progressively more damaging counters that move inward towards the opponent's body.
Interested in reading more of Schmeisser's ideas about kata, bunkai, and self-defense? Check out his book, Channan; Heart of the Heians:

Patrick Parker is a Christian, husband, father, martial arts teacher, Program Director for a Cardiac Rehab, and a Ph.D. Contact: or phone 601.248.7282 木蓮
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