Saturday, 15 March 2014

Oi-Tsuki the Curse of Bunkai

Oi-tsuki (forward stepping punch) is one of the main kihon (basics) taught and practised in modern Karate, it has also become a staple movement used as a catalyst for explaining many kata techniques. Not only does the constant use of Oi-tsuki as a driving mechanism for bunkai create a narrow perspective on the function of kata it keeps the applications isolated as a primarily reactive affair in a working distance more akin to an armed exchange than an empty handed one.

The antique forms arrived from China via many different sources often without applications and without the original functions intact. The Okinawan pioneers drawing on professional and personal experience developed their own interpretation of the kata, one idea or assumption about the forms that took hold was that they were all for self defence. This had a huge impact on the early development of Karate and standardisation of basic techniques common to most styles.

Reactive punch/block-counter Karate became the standard practise with the attacker always losing the exchange. This basic theme is still common today but with generally more sophisticated techniques and ways of dispatching of an aggressor. In order for the blocking techniques to be successful the stepping punch became a neccesity as without knowledge of the attack and distance/time to react blocking in an organised manner becomes near impossible.

The opening distance required to deliver Oi-tsuki resembles more the standard distance used in kendo/jutsu (this may be no accident), again this is often crucial for many kata techniques to 'work' in a self defence scenario. Starting in close proximity without knowledge of what the attack will be creates a whole list of problems for applying kata techniques as reactive self defence and calls into question this assumption placed on the antique forms.

After delivery of Oi-tsuki it is also standard practise for the attacker to become frozen in time and wait for the counter or 'application' to be performed. Regardless of aggression, speed and power this type of practise is still far removed from the chaos of a real physical exchange and does not develop or guarantee a techniques effectiveness against a violent resisting opponent.

Oi-tsuki is just one of a cluster of standard attacks used for explaining kata techniques, by removing the assumption that all kata are reactive self defence techniques and the contrived attacks used to demonstrate and practise them it is possible to cast a new light on the movements and find a myriad of functions in the various forms. Using the techniques in a preemptive/pro-active manner and 'going first' opens up a new world of practical application and eliminates the problems that arise in attempting to react spontaneously with kata techniques learnt in a safe organised environment.

Please contact us with any comments, questions or most importantly for training please email Tom Maxwell at, thanks for reading!!!

1 comment:

  1. Thank you for sharing, that was an interesting read.

    In your last paragraph you are touching upon the matter of 'sen', which pertains to initiative/intent/timing. While researching various waza in kendo, I branched out into karate and aikido when it came to discussions of 'sen', which included a nice article by Goodin-sensei ->

    To paraphrase: pre-empting your opponent's attack by groining him could still be considered a defensive move, performed in 'sen sen no sen'. Thus you are not the aggresor, you are simply preventing your opponent from attacking you :)