Right Before Your Eyes: Applications From Isshinryu Karate’s
By Don Sorrell
Editor’s Note: While the
applications shown in this article are excerpted from Don Sorell’s new book, “Isshinryu Karate -The
Practical Applications of Seisan Kata,” and thus are drawn from
a specific kata, the reader will immediately recognize other possible
applications in other kata.
Sometimes a block is not a block and a preparatory move is the meat
of a technique. In diagnosing kata – trying to find what its self-defense
applications are -- every move should be examined in detail. Look beyond
names, such as block, or punch. The actual movements might be hiding
other applications. For example take this sequence of moves from Seisan,
When examined in detail, multiple possibilities of application emerge.
Two are presented in this article.
The opponent attacks with a right (cross) punch. Block with your
right hand across your body and strike his right wrist.
Backfist the attacker’s nose. With both
hands reach and grab the attacker’s wrist. Step toward the
attacker, break his balance and rotate the attacker’s arm.
Put your left elbow on top of the attacker’s elbow. Sit back
and drop your weight on the attacker’s elbow and force him
to the ground.
When trying to find the applications in your kata, try to visualize what
you might be doing. Nothing is set in stone and there are many techniques
within your forms. Watch where the hands are set and follow their movement.
For example, in many karate systems or styles they chamber at the shoulder
before doing a down block. When the hand comes to the shoulder, it’s
doing something. There are no wasted movements. Think about what could
Also, watch the foot position and how the body moves – this suggests
methods of how to get the body out of the way (ashi-sabaki and tai-sabaki).
The waist also suggests what is happening with the entire body. There
are also changes in timing. When practicing a technique, for example,
perhaps a step or shift followed by a block, practice it this way. Then
block first and then move or do both together. Add in what your extra
movements might be or what is suggested by the slightest gesture.
The attacker steps in with a left punch (cross).
Use your right hand to block across the body.
Backfist the attacker’s temple, then
reach up with both hands and grab the attacker’s left wrist.
Step toward the attacker and break his balance,
turn the wrist and drop your weight as you set into a cat stance.
I believe most moves in kata are directed toward countering
six points of attack – those types of attacks which are most common.
They include gestures, such as finger pointing or stabbing into the chest
with a finger, a grab, push, basic kick (such as to the stomach or groin)
or an attempted tackle.
Start looking for defenses against these common first attacks. A spinning
back roundhouse kick is possible, but amongst the general population,
or amongst those with tight cloths, on uneven ground or less than very
practiced karate-ka (some would say foolish), this type of attack is
very unlikely. It fact during the time most traditional kata was being
developed this type of attack most likely didn’t exist at all.
Remember the old adage of “KISS” (keep it simple stupid).
For the last 20 years or so I have been studying the kata and applications
of kata within my own Isshinryu karate system. Above are several applications
from the first kata in our system, Seisan. I spent approximately 300
hours filming applications from this kata, and then taking stills from
These applications are taken from my new book offered on FightingArts.com, “Isshinryu
Karate: The Practical Applications of Seisan Kata.” In it I show
defenses against grabs, chokes, tackles, combination punches --- more
than 50 different techniques. While drawn from Seisan kata, if you examine
these applications you will see movements from your own kata too. In
this way you can learn some of the concepts and principles of kata, what
they mean and how they work.
About The Author:
Don Sorrel is a teacher of Isshinryu Karate with over 27
years experience in the martial arts. He is the author of the book “Isshinryu
Karate: The Practical Applications of Seisan Kata,” various articles
on applications of kata, and frequently gives seminars on the subject
of kata applications. His training includes study of Kenpo (including
study with Seiyu Oyata), Goju-ryu, Isshiryu (under Willie Adams, Tyrone
Melton, Janice Roberts and Samuel G. Santilli), Shorin-ryu karate, Tae
kwon do, Judo, Jujitsu, Judo, Aikido, and Tai Chi. Over many years he
has actively researched kata through his training and cross training,
assistance of many teachers and personal study, including historical
research and development of a book/video library of source materials.
Don Sorrel's book “Isshinryu Karate: The Practical
Applications of Seisan Kata”
is available in the Estore