Western New York Karate Center

Shihan Bill

July 8, 2016


Kaisai no genri

One of the definite challenges to a student as he or she prepares for a Black Belt grading is the creation of oyo. Oyo are fighting techniques that are extracted from kata through the process of bunkai, the martial arts term for “analysis” or “disassembly.”  Due to the history of secrecy in martial arts training, the “true” oyo in kata have been lost to time. What the author of traditional kata intended the kata to represent in terms of actual fighting techniques is unknown. Further, rarely do martial arts systems provide a method for disassembling kata, likely for the same reasons of secrecy, and thus many students find themselves struggling to engage in kata bunkai.  Fortunately, Gojo-ryu has a system for performing kata bunkai, kaisai no genri (pron. k-eye sigh no ghen ree). This article will explore kaisai no genri and the implications it has for kata bunkai.

Kaisai no genri has three basic guidelines or shuyo san gensoko and nine “advanced” guidelines or hosoku joko.  The following is not only a review of those guidelines but also tips or comments will be provided as needed.

The three basic guidelines are:

  • The pattern on the floor made by a kata has little bearing on the meaning of the techniques. 

The embusen or shape of a kata is designed to allow the kata to be performed within a small space. It is not meant to act as an accurate stage plan from an actual combat scenario.

  • Techniques performed while advancing in a kata are likely offensive moves. Techniques completed while retreating are most likely defensive.
  • There is quite possibly only one opponent and that opponent is often in front of you.

Even though one turns in the course of a kata that does not mean one is turning to face a different opponent coming from a new direction; the angle instead can indicate the angle taken with respect to a single opponent attacking from the front.  For example, the turn can represent executing a joint lock or a throw.  It is also important to note that while one continues to face a single direction, one’s opponent could change their angle of approach or one could indeed be dealing with more than one opponent while facing the same direction.

The nine advanced guidelines are:

  • All movements in the kata have meaning.

Every movement in a kata can be used as part of an oyo. There are no extraneous moves.  No movement is fully symbolic. Once you state the name of the kata, every movement from that point on is significant.  Even the salutation after stating the name of the kata and the salutation immediately at the end of a kata are part of the kata and therefore can be part of an oyo.

  • A closed hand returning to chamber on the hip can usually be thought to hold some part of one’s opponent.

When a hand moves to the chamber position, particularly if the hand is closed, it could represent pulling some part of one’s opponent; that one has in one’s grip an arm, wrist, ankle, leg, neck or head.  This pulling action is likely a set-up for the technique which follows, acting as a joint lock and forcing the opponent into a specific physical posture.

  • The closest tool is also likely the one being used.

It is reasonable to determine that in a kata the opponent will be attacked with the closest parts of the karateka’s upper and/or lower body. For example, if two fists are presented in one direction, it is likely that the closer fist is actually being used to attack; the farther one could be serving as a guard or completing some other defensive action. Note that if two tools are near the opponent, a fist and a knee for example, both could be intended to be utilized.

  • If you control an opponent’s head you control the opponent.

Martial arts techniques in kata are believed to often target vital or weak points of the body (known as kyusho); many of the most important of these points are located on the head.  And, if one changes the direction the head faces by applying force, the body will often turn along with it.

  • There are no blocks.

Uke are not blocks, they are defenses. Defenses could include deflecting attacks away from the body, but they could also involve other results such as checks, joint attacks, chokes, and throws.  Some defensive actions could be offensive in their outcome such that they can be considered as strikes.  Finally, what appears to be a defensive move in a kata may not even represent an immediate defensive action but instead represent a movement of a limb required to execute a more complex technique like a throw.

  • The angle to which you turn represents the angle which you must take relative to the opponent for the technique to work.

As stated in the basic guidelines, one is likely only responding to a single attacker.  Thus, a turn does not necessarily represent turning to face a new opponent. The turn can instead be a component of a technique which could be intended to force a change in the physical posture of the opponent to set up the next technique. Or it could be part of a throw.  But, it could also represent an attack to the flank or side of the opponent.

  • Touching one’s own body in kata can indicate that one is touching part of one’s opponent.

Where a kata indicates that one should touch a part of one’s own body, the recommend interpretation is that one would be touching or holding part of the opponent’s body. It is also possible that touching certain parts of one’s own body is part of a manipulation of the flow of qi in one’s own body and usually to concentrate it.

  • Hard tools to soft targets. Soft tools to hard targets.

It is a general rule of thumb that a good target for a hard tool, like a fist, elbow, knee, or heel kick, is a soft part of the opponent’s body like a muscle or organ. While soft tools like one’s palm should be applied to a hard areas like the skull or a joint.  Thus, when considering the likely target of a tool, consider the tool itself.  For example, if one appears to be using one’s fist, it is less likely that it is being applied to an opponent’s face and more likely its target is the neck, a bicep, or possibly the ribs or abdomen.

  • The rhythm of the kata is not keyed to any specific oyo.

The rhythm of the performance of kata is for the entire kata and not specific to any of the possible fighting techniques that are embedded within it.  As one attempts to discover an oyo within a kata, do not allow the timing used in any section of a kata to determine the timing that would occur in an oyo.

Using these 12 guidelines should help you develop oyo on your own from any kata. However, definitely consult with an instructor and get the help of a partner to truly determine if a potential oyo is realistic and effective. One additional guideline that can only be followed once one involves a partner is “if one’s partner does not move realistically in response to being struck in the course of the oyo, the entire oyo is not going to be realistic.”  An actual opponent will have natural and often reflexive responses to each technique used in a fighting technique.  If one’s training partner does not react realistically to each technique in the oyo, the likely best application of the next move in the kata will not be made apparent and the remainder of the oyo will be rendered unrealistic.

The 12 guidelines of kaisai no genri and the tips presented here are certainly not the final word on kata bunkai and the creation of oyo; consult with instructors and explore the Internet for ideas.  But, this will provide a good foundation from which to start.

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