“Poke-in-the-eye” Bunkai

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“Poke-in-the-eye” Bunkai- By Kris Mansfield


I’m going to come right out and say it…I Like Karate. There, it’s out in the open, I await criticism and scoffs!
In all seriousness, I do think that Karate has a lot to offer. That is not to say that I like all Karate interpretations however, far from it…

Karate has been the source of much ridicule and mockery in recent times, due to many reasons; partly as in every major city in the country (sic world) there is an MMA gym where the ladies and gentleman ACTUALLY HIT EACH OTHER! I know! They make actual contact! Does this mean the end of Karate as we know it?! Do we all need to burn our Black belts in a sacrificial pyre to the Great Tap-out Gods in the sky?!

I think not… well, maybe some should at least consider it an option.
The main point that I’m getting at is this I guess, why does Karate have such negative connotations associated with it and is there a place for Karate in the age of Combatives and Mixed Martial Arts?

I believe that one of the answers lies in the title.“Poke-in-the-eye Bunkai.” This is a phrase that I coined a few years back and is something that I use to judge the overall effectiveness of any given technique/bunkai application/B.S that I am being fed. I have not used this analogy just for Karate either, I have applied it to Kali/Escrima, Combatives, JKD, Kyusho/Tuite Jutsu, Wing Chun, TKD and numerous other arts over the years.

I define Poke-in-the-eye Bunkai as this:
“Any technique/application which relies primarily, on your partner’s compliance.”
In other words, if a technique is applied on you that really hurts when you are not resisting, the “instructor” or training partner might as well tell you to stand still and let them poke you in the eye, then watch with a smugness as you writhe around with tears streaming down your face, as they comment on the effectiveness of their particular application.

Example-How many of you have felt a wrist lock such as centre-lock/S-lock/nikyo, then yelped when it is applied? Lots of you I expect, myself included ( I bloody hate that lock!)Next question, how many of you believe that the same lock could be applied if you were trying, and I mean REALLY trying to paste your opponent around the gym? Be honest. I am no expert by any stretch of the imagination and I am certain that some people could apply the technique on a non-compliant opponent, but (and, as with my wife, it’s a big but) would you put your faith in it helping you to protect yourself or a loved one? I once attempted the same wrist lock during a grappling session at a BJJ gym in San Diego and didn’t once get it to work. Can you think of any reasons why?

1) I’m possibly not skilled enough.

2) It was 35 degrees Celsius and everybody was covered in sweat, so merely holding a wrist is nigh on impossible, let alone articulating it to a fairly specific angle, which requires fine-motor skills, to apply the lock itself.

3) My opponent was much stronger than me (I can hear it now,”technique beats strength, blah, blah, blah…” What a load of rubbish! Would you rather be attacked by an 8 stone Kung Fu “Master” or a 16 stone Rugby player? Hmmm, let me think…

4) Here’s the controversial one. The technique doesn’t work when your partner is resisting.

Shock horror! I’ve done it now, I’ve let the cat out of the bag! A lot of Karate/Martial Arts techniques/applications, in my very humble opinion, don’t work against a non-compliant opponent.
It got me to thinking about how much of the martial arts’ techniques don’t/won’t work against a resisting opponent, when applied in the ways that the vast majority of people try to apply it. Of course Karate is going to get mocked then by the Combatives/MMA fraternity/sorority if this is true! As previously stated, in Combatives gyms and MMA gyms, people train “what works” and actually hit each other AND resist each other. You tend not to find “Poke-in-the-eye bunkai” going on in there. Nor do you have any ‘ceremonial’ or ‘spiritual’ B.S associated with techniques.

If you’re reading this (and it’s not just me having an internal rant with myself) then you may be wondering how I can like Karate when I have just been berating it for the last three hundred or so words. I like Karate that is combative and what works against a resisting opponent, a lot of the practical techniques, if not all, can be found in kata.
If by this point anybody reading has come up with the old, “MMA is a sport, Karate is for the street. Karate is therefore better for self-protection!”debate then I would offer this. Does the Karate that you practice have as much actual contact as MMA? If the answer is yes, then brilliant! If the answer is no, then my money is on the person who can hit and can get it, and carry on going for four rounds, to survive a street encounter.
Fortunately for us, there are some exceptional Karate-ka in the UK who make actual contact and more importantly I believe, are able to take some punishment themselves. Standing in front of a room of people and destroying your uke/partner whilst they leave their arm hanging in mid air (about three feet away from your face) is bad Karate/Martial Arts in general. How many of you have witnessed some truly outstanding feats by “Sensei 20 Black Belts” as their punch-bag, sorry, partner, stands still and allows the barrage of blows/intricate locks, takedowns and so forth, whilst still holding their arm out as if they have “punched”? As Bruce Lee said, “When in combat, you’re not fighting a corpse” so why practice in this manner?

Let us put an end to “Poke-in-the-eye bunkai” and look towards our brothers and sisters in the MMA/Combatives world to gain an insight into what Karate could and should be.


Kris Mansfield

member of the Karate Jutsu Association/BCA/Core-Combat.  trains in Kali and have trained on and off for 25 years in various arts.

Kris trains at www.core-combat.com and has written articles for  www.karatejutsu.org

Andrew Holland

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