Basic Forms

Is it called Kata, Poomse, Hyung, Taolu, or Form?

It depends on the style:

"Kata" means Form in Japanese.  This word is used in Karate-Do
"Poomse" means Form in Korean.  This word is used in Taekwondo (and others)
"Hyung" means Pattern in Korean.  This word is used in Tang Soo Do
"Taolu" means Routine in Chinese.  This word is used in Kung Fu

We use the English word "Form".

Why Practice Forms?

"Kata" was never meant to be used as a standalone solo exercise, nor as a medium of expression for competition.  Those are modern inventions.  Originally, kata was created as a memory tool – so you could practice various self-defense techniques used against a violent attacker on your own.  This particular philosophy of Kata is known in Japanese as "Bunkai".  When used in the context of Karate, Bunkai symbolizes the process of breaking down the movements of a kata to understand how the techniques can be applied in self-defense.  If you are not visualizing an attacker during your kata practice, you are not doing "Bunkai".  You are doing something else.

Every martial art practices "self defense techniques", although they might be called "techniques", "one steps", "points", or something else.  We call them "techniques".  In the Bunkai philosophy, kata is nothing more than a series of techniques that have been plugged together (like lego blocks) to form a longer "self defense technique".  If you are not thinking about it in this manner (as a self-defense technique against one or more attackers), you are just exercising, and not practicing the art.

"You may train for a long time, but if you merely move your hands and feet and jump around like a puppet, learning Karate is not very different from learning a dance. You will never have reached the heart of the matter; you will have failed to grasp the quintessence of Karate.”

– Gichin Funakoshi (1868-1957)

Our self-defense techniques are naturally practiced with a partner. But, in order to memorize and reinforce multiple self-defense sequences, we string them together into longer sets of Forms.  This is a learning technique called "mnemonic device".

So, practicing kata without bunkai goes against the whole purpose of the form's existence.   And, if you don’t know the purpose of the techniques… what’s the point of doing them correctly?

Kata without bunkai is just a dance.



The Most Common Form:

You will notice that for all of the following styles, with the exception of the initial "attention" stance, the first white belt form is identical.  You will likely encounter this form elsewhere.  We will analyze the "bunkai" application of this form.

Shotokan Karate, White Belt Form:


WTF Taekwondo, White Belt Form:


Tang Soo Do, White Belt Form:

Additionally, until Shihan Arakaki changed it a few years ago, this form was the first white belt form for Okinawa Karata-Do (Muso Kai Karate).  Here is Shihan's website:

On January 23, 2023, I (Nevin) stopped by and visited Shihan and asked him what martial arts branches use that as the first form.  His reply: "oh, they *all* do.  Or at least they did at one time", and then he went in great detail with me about the origin of the form.

I think his reply of "oh, they *all* do" is a bit over-reaching, but you get the point.  It is a *very* common form (kata, or poomse) across many branches and styles of martial arts.  It is quite possibly the most common form in martial arts.


Bunkai Analysis of this Form:

This form (kata) is done in the following foot pattern:

It seems to sacrifice good "bunkai" in favor of a consistent geometrical foot pattern, and a rhythmic consistent amount of time between steps. 

The first "bunkai" problem is the application of the down block.  The Shotokan video shows the problem best.  What is this down block trying to block?  It is trying to block a leg kick, and the Shotokan video (in particular) shows a hard downward block that is directed against a kicking leg.

When arm meets leg, arm will always lose.

We don't do "down block" like that.  Such a block is very effective if you have super conditioned your arm.  Otherwise you are going to lose your arm.

We instead do a "down parry", even though it looks nearly the same as a hard down block.  The intent with our down parry is to parry the leg away and deflect it, not to "block" it.  

But whether you do a hard down block, or a down parry, consider the first step in the video.  Their first step is to move the left foot to the left, and turn to the left into a front stance.  Think about the opponents kick coming towards you.  With a left leg move and turn like that, you will be stepping *into* the kick, not away from it (and of course, that is why their block is a hard down block directly against the opponents leg).

We don't believe you should turn into the attack like that.  You should instead step away from it.  This means the first step should have been the *right* foot stepping to your right as you turn, instead of the *left* foot stepping to your left.  Step right as you turn, and left-arm down parry. Then step forward and attack. That is good bunkai, rather than what you see in the videos above.

Also, for good bunkai, the attack should *immediately* follow the down parry, without delay.  They sacrifice this in favor of rhythmic steps, almost at a metronome beat.

Consider that your step and down parry will be deflecting a kick.  Therefore your opponent is in "kicking range", not "punching range".  To reach them with a punch, you must step toward your opponent to get into "punching range", just like the videos do.  When you step, you step as far as needed to reach the opponent.  If the opponent is close, it will be a "fighting stance" (defense-side) step.  If the opponent is farther way, you will step deeper, into a front stance (right foot forward).  If the opponent is not directly in front of you, but off to the front and side, as might be the case if the deflection on their kick carried them that way, you might step into a horse stance to attack.  So the stance you step into will depend on exactly where the opponent is.  You should practice all three.  And attack immediately.

Next, the videos show a turn to your right, with a down block (against an imaginary opponent coming from behind).  This again has you moving into the kick and blocking instead of away and parrying. You should turn to your left instead, with a down parry with your left, then step forward and lunge punch with your right fist.

Now sweep your right back and parry with your right, followed by three punches down the center, and a kiai on the third punch.  At this point, our suggested variation and the original form have you in the same position (front stance with right leg forward, and right lunge punch).  The next move is a 270 degree turn, and they are performed the same (the original and our suggestion), except again we are doing a down parry and not a hard down block.  Then step and lunge punch with the right fist.

We move the left leg next (not the right leg, per the original kata), turn and down parry.  Step and lunge punch.  Your right leg again will be in front, and you have just punched with your right.

Now sweep your right foot back, turn and down parry with your right.  Step forward and punch three times.  Then turn around and end (we are ending earlier than the original kata, because the rest is redundant and has already been done).

The above are the required modifications to the most common form to make it "bunkai compliant".

But we don't teach this as a part of our core curriculum.  If we did teach it as part of our core, we would incorporate the above changes.