“a path of personal development through the study of traditions and techniques originating in the arts of war of the samurai (侍).”
At the center of the budo stance the control over one´s body and mind as well as the cultivation and civilization of one´s convictions and behavior. This foundation leads to the execution of good and just actions.
Bunkai (分解) literally means “analysis” and “disassembly”. It refers to the practice of putting kata into practice and applying it to fighting situations. Therefore, it works as an analysis of or the deconstruction of a kata. Technical analysis but also interpretation go hand in hand during this process. But on closer inspection it’s more the whys and wherefores of each movement and each transition, the student is looking to explain to themselves what Karate is about.
Bunkai as Economical Analysis and Interpretation
Due to the abstract nature of all Shotokan katas, their application must be creatively interpreted and technically deduced. Especially advanced students are encouraged to analyze the potential self-defense options katas offer. On the other hand, it takes some level of experience and advancement in karate in order to come to realistic interpretations and deductions.
While karateka need some degree of creativity to apply kata to a real-life conflict. Applicability and efficiency is the paramount aim. Therefore, every good bunkai follows an economic rule: Efficiency and effectiveness first, creativity second. Hence, bunkai focuses on the whys and wherefores of each movement and each action.
Bunkai suru (分解する) refers to the action of analytical disassembling the kata. In this case, only one move or a sequence of motions becomes considered in the analysis. Therefore, it focuses on the isolation of moves.
For instance, a sensei only takes into account move 3 from Kata Nijushiho.
Bunseki (分析) is also an analysis of isolated kata moves and sequences. But goes beyond bunkai suru because it focuses on the versatile applications of one technique or sequence. Therefore, it utilizes the whole range of possible interpretation and technical deduction from it.
For example, a sensei analysis move 3 from Kata Nijushiho and highlights several possible applications.
Dojo (道場) literally means: the place (jo 場, Japanese reading: ba) of the way (道 do, Japanese reading: michi), the place where the “way” (e.g. a martial art) is practiced. A correct transliteration of the term dojo must include two circumflexes: Dōjō. They indicate that the below must be pronounced in a long way. For better recognition, following we leave the circumflexes out.
Three definitions of Dojo
Dojo has three distinct, but inter-related meanings:
1. Originally it was the translation of the Sanskrit term bodhimanda. This indicates the spot under the tree, where the historical Buddha Shakyamuni experienced his awakening (bodhi). The manda (= dojo) is therefore the place, where the “essence” of enlightenment is present.
2. In Zen-temples it denotes the hall or room, where sitting meditation (zazen) is practiced. In a broader sense it signifies every site, where one follows the “way of the Buddha” (butsudô 仏道), e. g. temples or assembly rooms for buddhist practices.
3. For the Karateka the dojo is the place, where he hones his skills in his martial art (budô 武道). In this sense it became widely used only since the end of the 19th century. It actually is the abbreviation of budojo 武道場, which was besides keikoba 稽古場 (training place) the common denomination until then.
Do as a “way” of cultural practices
A dojo can be a separate building or a temporary space used for engaging in some martial art. The “do” (道dao in Chinese) in “dojo” has an extensive philosophical meaning in Daoism as the ultimate essence or natural order of the universe. In Japan it also denotes a “way of life” in the sense of being dedicated to an art, craft or study.
Since the Edo-period (1603-1868) it was used to denote traditional “ways” like chado/sado 茶道 (tea ceremony), shodo 書道 (calligraphy) kado 華道 (flower arrainging), kyudo 弓道 (archery), judo 柔道 (the “gentle way” of grappling and throwing), kendo 剣道 (swordsmanship) etc. In the latter cases it replaced “jutsu” 術 (“technical skill, method”) as in jujutsu 柔術 or kenjutsu 剣術. The implication was that these martial arts where meant not only for refining physical or technical skills, but also for mental and spiritual training and development. A clear distinction has been drawn between bujutsu 武術 (classical martial arts of self-protection) and budô 武道 (classical martial ways of self-perfection).
From Karate-jutsu to Karate-Do
Funakoshi Gichin still used the term Karate-jutsu in the title of his second book published in 1925. Karate-jutsu was then streamlined along the concept of “do” and appropriated by the Japanese on the main island as a form of “budo”, thus renamed “Karate-Do”. Hence the place, where Karate is exercised also became the dojo. In the Japanese understanding a dojo is not just a sports facility, but a space where body, mind and spirit are trained in unison. It is a place to strive for self-perfection. Therefore when entering and leaving a dojo, one should make a bow as a sign of respect.
(Zen-)Buddhist meaning of Dojo
The Mahâyâna-buddhist scripture titled Vimalakîrti-sûtra (Jap. 維摩経 Yuimakyo) is highly appreciated and widely read in Zen-circles. Its protagonist Vimalakîrti is a lay practioner and householder, who teaches the doctrines of nothingness and non-duality and silence as an adequate expression thereof. He serves as an example for someone, who attained the highest buddhist wisdom whilst leading an “ordinary” life.
One line out of the Vimalakîrti sûtra is often quoted by martial artists, and it recurs to meaning 1 of dojo: Jikishin kore dojo 直心是道場. Verbally this means: “Where the mind is straight, there is the dojo.” Thurman translates it as: “The seat of enlightenment is the seat of positive thought because it is without artificiality.” (Thurman 1976:36). The “seat of enlightenment” is translated into Japanese as “dojo”. In a broader meaning it can be interpreted as: the dojo is everywhere, where an activity is pursued with total dedication and mindfulness.
The Zen monk Genyu Sokyu states: “In the end everything in Zen is about everyday life.” (Genyu 2003:153) He illustrates this with some famous Zen-sayings. The most salient among them might be: “Meditation in the midst of activity is infinitely superior to meditiation in stillness.” 動中の工夫、静中に勝ること百千億倍 Dochu no kufu, jochu ni masaru koto hyakusenokubai. (Genyû 2003:153) This was actually a bold calligraphy brushed by the eminent Zen-monk Hakuin (1686-1768) three days before his passing. The chu (“midst”, Japanese reading: naka 中) is emphasized by thick strokes and by prolongation of the line in the middle of the character (Stevens 1999:100).
All life is a Dojo
Every Japanese “do” is inspired by Zen and infused with Zen-idea(l)s, exactly because according to these every activity can be transformed into a meditative act or spiritual exercise. In this spirit the 8th principle in the Shotokan niju-kun, The 20 Guiding Principles of Shotokan, by Funakoshi Gichin can be understood: 道場のみの空手と思うな. Dojo nomi no Karate to omou na! Do not think that Karate training is only in the dojo. The acute mind nurtured in the dojo should be shown in everyday life. Good practice in the dojo will have good effects in our daily life and undertakings other than Karate. Many a Karateka will attest to the fact, that Karate-training had/has positive consequences for their lives. The whole life can be a dojo!
The Dojo kun (道場訓) comprises five rules that should guide the behavior of the Karateka inside and outside of the Dojo. The suffix Do, which means “way”, in Karate Do refers to this ethical dimension of the art. Every Karateka is therefore on an ethical journey to righteousness and to make its character perfect. The Dojo kun as well as the longer Niju kun shall guide them on this way.
Each person must strive for the completion and perfection of one’s character 一、人格 完成に 努める こと (hitotsu, jinkaku kansei ni tsutomeru koto)
Every person must be faithful and protect the way of truth 一、誠の道を守ること (hitotsu, makoto no michi wo mamoru koto)
Each person must endeavor (fostering the spirit of effort) 一、努力の精神を養うこと (hitotsu, doryoku no seishin wo yashinau koto)
Everybody must respect others and the rules of etiquette 一、礼儀を重んずること (hitotsu, reigi wo omonzuru koto)
Each person must refrain from hot blooded behavior (guard against impetuous courage) 一、血気の勇を戒むること (hitotsu, kekki no yū wo imashimuru koto)
Embusen (also Enbusen, 演武線) describe the route or line of movement of a kata. Every Shotokan kata has a unique flow of techniques and sequences. They also have unique lines of movement. Like a fingerprint every kata can be recognized in this regard. An embusen can be depicted as a diagram. While their a very simple embusen, others can have a high degree of complexity.
The embusen defines from which starting point the karateka has to begin to execute a certain kata. In addition, the starting point defines also the ending point in every kata – they are similar. Therefore, the karateka can immediately check whether he or she executed the kata in a right way. If so he or she must arrived at the same spot where they departed.
Gohon Kumite (五本組み手) means 5-step kumite. It is the most simple form of kumite. The roles of the defender and the attacker are set as well as the techniques used by both roles. Gohon refers to 5 steps the attacker and the defender execute. Both step in the same direction. The attacker goes forward the defender backward.
With every step the attacker attacks the defender, who uses ab pre-defined block to defend. The technique during the attack as well as the block stay the same during the whole cycle. In the next round both can be changed. At the last step, the defender counters with a gyaku-zuki. Then they switch the roles.
Goshin-jutsu (護身術) means “art of self-defense”. Unlike point fighting goshin-jutsu applies the whole variety of Karate techniques. It focuses on real-life situations and how to master them. Therefore, it also applies knee and elbow strikes, poking with the fingertips, throws, leverages, and hits with the edge of the hand. While jiyu kumite only takes a limited amount of techniques goshin-jutsu uses every technical option, which is available in the katas.
Happo Kumite is a member of the Oyo Kumite group, which is a subset of the Yakusoku Kumite group. A commonly held misconception is that it has to be practiced with four opponents because it refers to the four directional cardinal directions.
However, its purpose is to allow the practice of technique in a more self-defense based situation. It is the practicing of self-defense techniques from the possible 8 directions of attack. It was originally practiced by forming a circle and placing eight attacking opponents on the circumference of the circle at eight equally distanced points. Each defender stands alone in the center of the circle for a period of 30 seconds up to 2 minutes for the more advanced Karate-ka.
The amount of opponents and angles of attack differs according to the decision of the instructor. The kumite setting can thereby be kihon ippon and jiyu ippon kumite or even jiyu kumite.
Hikite is a technique utilized in most Japanese forms of martial arts, i.e. Karate, Judo and Jujitsu. The name refers to the hand, which is pulled back, for instance, to the hip during a strike, while the other front-hand strikes, blocks or throws. Both hands travel in opposite directions during the execution of a technique. Therefore, it is not a waza in itself. It is, however, a constitutive and signature basic element of the Shotokan Karate Do style that can be found throughout the whole spectrum of techniques.
Two Schools of Hikite
Two main schools of thought regarding the hikite exist. One stresses the role of the “puling hand” for destabilizing an opponent through grabbing and pulling him. Another school supposes a vital role of the back-hand in generating power.
Hikite for Destabilizing Opponents
The “destabilizing” school claims that hikite is meant for destabilizing opponents by pulling, for instance, limbs, clothing or hair, to assist in a capture, throw or take down. Proponents of this position usually offer two arguments to legitimize their conviction:
Gichin Funakoshi, the founder of Shotokan Karate Do, wrote in his book Rentan Goshin Karate Jutsu: “The meaning of the hikite is to grab the enemy’s arm and twist and pull as much as possible in order to break the enemy’s posture”. Therefore, their argument focuses on the purpose Gichin Funakoshi assigned it to the motion in this specific publication.
Hikite poses a disadvantage during a real fight, if it is not used for the destabilizing of the opponent. This argument is, therefore, a definition ex negativo. The prerequisite for the arguments lies in the refusal of the idea of “power generation” through pulling the hand. If power generation is not possible and thus cannot be the purpose of hikite (negative) then the destabilization of opponents is the only valid application. Because a passive pulled back hand could serve a better purpose as a cover for the face, for instance.
This position is especially prominent among practical oriented karateka. They refuse classical conceptions of the power generation approach and stress instead the direct functional relevance of the motion for self-defense. Thus, they also refuse the pulling of the hand with the argument that it creates “bad habit”. Karate students should learn straight from the beginning a defense-oriented way of punching. To teach them a disadvantageous before first and then to teach them how to behave in real fight situations deem some commentators as inefficient.
Opponents of this position argue that the once assigned purpose or function of a technique can evolve. Over time more aspects become visible. To rely only on Gichin Funakoshis intention for the pulling hand blocks out other possible functions and applications.
They also criticize the misinterpretation of power generation by this group. In their opinion the pulling of the hand does not serve to generate additional power beyond the actual capacity of the karateka. Its major function lies in its power saving and speed generating aspect (see below).
Hikite for Power Generation
Another school, however, focuses on the technical aspect of hikite related to power generation. It argues that the body works around an imagined central pivot. When arms and hands work in unison together the pulling hand serves as counterbalance. From here proponents of this position have developed two physical concepts to describe how the pulling of the hand generates power:
“Slingshot-effect“: This concepts assumes that the hikite-hand becomes loaded due to muscular and fascia tension when it is pulled back. Like a slingshot the hand can be released and the pre-loaded energy creates a forward momentum of the arm. This effects, therefore, focuses on the pretension of muscles through pulling the hand. The front hand, which pulls back, supports the forward motion of the pulling-hand by transmitting rotational energy over the center axes.
“Whip-lash-effect”: In a slightly different direction argues the concept of the “whip-lash-effect”. Here hikite generates the effect of a stabilizing anchor for the forward moving hand. When both hands come to a hold the backhand serves to tension-up the upper body. So, the forward energy can be fully transmitted by the front fist. However, the punching arm stays relaxed and works like a “whip”, while the hikite hand works like the anchor of the whip. Similar concepts are known in other martial arts like Kung Fu and Wing Tsung.
This position has the highest prominence among orthodox “traditional” karateka. Proponents of this position often argue that utilizing one of the two above mentioned effects makes it possible to punch with less energy but creating the same power and even more speed. Because the pretension within the muscles can be set free fully relaxed. Thus, karateka can solely focus on quickness. The whip-lash-effect makes it possible to transmit power without spending much forward energy.
In the recent years, this concept has caused some critic. Practical karateka doubt that the pulling hand generates the supposed physical effects. Some see in a counter motion a hindering factor for the transmission of energy. A backwards motion blocks, in this understanding, the free flow of energy to the front. They also refer to examinations with other martial artist like boxers who do not apply hikite. Their punching power is allegedly equal or higher as the one of karateka. Thus, hikite can be spared and the backhand used for defense purposes.
Conclusion and Research Questions
Both concepts have proponents and opponents today. However, both position define the extreme polls of a spectrum. Especially when it come to kumite many karateka make flexible use of hikite. In kihon and kata most karateka deem the pulling of the hand as mandatory.
Further research should illuminate the physical effects of the pulling hand.
Does it generate or safe energy?
Is it an effective means for pre-loading of muscles?
Which effects does it have on speed?
Does it support kime?
Another research direction, which appears to be necessary to tackles, refers to the educational effects of kime. While some critics deem it as counterproductive to teach students hikite, others stress its relevance for the development of kime. Students only learn kime through the execution of “exaggerated” motions. Later, when they have a better control over their body and know to manage tension and relaxation the pulling of the hand becomes less important. This hypothesis has not been examined under scientific conditions but seems worth to study.
The conceptual expectation of the outcome of hikite has probably a effect on the actual execution of hikite itself. Thus, it might have several effects and purposes at the same time. The karakteka must decide how to perceive and deal with hikite.
Abernathy, Iain 2019: The TRUE role of Hiki-Te. In: Iain Abernathy. The Practical Application of Karate, Jan 3, 2019.
Enkamp, Jesse 2012: 3 Widespread Misconceptions of Modern Karate (That You Need to Know Today)! In: KaratebyJesse.com.
Shotokan karate has been developed since the 1920´s. Gichin Funakoshi (1868–1957), an assistant teacher trained in Chinese and Japanese philosophy from Okinawa, and his son Yoshitaka (Gigo) Funakoshi (1906–1945) formulated the foundational principles of the. Further generations added pieces and aspects to the art. However, Gichin and Yoshitaka Funakoshi laid the foundation of Shotokan. Especially, Masatoshi Nakayama had a formative influence on modern Shotokan karate.
Origin in Okinawa
In the 19th century, karate was already an established and diversified martial art in Okinawa. Gichin Funakoshi learnt different styles of the art from different Okinawa karate masters like Anko Asato and Anko Itosu. Thus, the exposure to different styles gave him an overview about the versatility of karate.
It was in Japan that he began to form his own style of Karate based on the teachings he received in Okinawa. Especially the 1930´s became a formative period for the art. Yoshitaka (Gigo) Funakoshi had an innovative influence on the style and introduced several techniques that still distinguish the style from the Okinawa versions. For instance: Mawashi Geri (roundhouse kick).
Further Development in Mainland Japan
In 1922, Gichin Funakoshi migrated to mainland Japan. Although Okinawa had been occupied by Japan for some time, karate had not been introduced to the mainland. As a result, it was unknown back then. Other martial arts like Kendo, Aikido, and Judo already achieved a wide public recognition.
Together with other Okinawa masters he introduced the martial art to the Japanese population. At the beginning, however, was deemed as profane and provincial.
For Gichin Funakoshi Shotokan, however, consists of more than self-defense. While this had a high priority during the formation of the style. Philosophical aspects also became relevant. Thus, Funakoshi coined the style with Buddhist and East-Asian philosophy (see below). Above all, to make ones character perfect stands at the center of Shotokan teaching.