- BUNKAI, THE
- More than
meets the eye
- Today in
many dojos around the world, I suspect that kata remains
one of the most popular aspects of karate training for a
lot of the students.
- I know that
is the case in our dojo.
- Over the
years, however, I have discovered that more often than
not, very few students spend any measurable amount of
time actually practicing the associated bunkai for even
the most basic of their katas. And even those students
who do make the effort to expand their knowledge, by
forming groups, and trying to establish a practical
scenario, seldom do so often enough to make it a habit.
- I suppose
this is only natural, since students often feel that it
is far easier to practice something they are already
familiar with, the basics movements, than it is to delve
into the unknown, try something new, and stick with it
until it starts to make sense.
- But why is
- One of the
most obvious reasons that comes to mind is that many
students of all ranks simply do not comprehend in any
depth, just what it means to bunkai a kata. If that is
the case, then where does the fault for this lack of
- With the
student, or with the instructor?
- The answer
of course, is the instructor.
- After all
the Sensei or Chief Instructor in any dojo, is ultimately
responsible for what the students in his or her care do,
or do not, learn.
- Now don't
get me wrong I am not advocating that every dojo has to
turn out students who are champions in kata, kumite, and
kobudo, because we all know that is simply not what
karate is really all about. But, I am suggesting that a
working knowledge of a practical bunkai for every kata a
student knows, should be a rudimentary requirement to aid
their overall development as far as kata is concerned. So
if bunkai is being overlooked as a regular form of kata
training, then I for one feel that this needs to be
addressed as soon as possible, after all kata may be the
"soul" of karate, but bunkai is the "heart"
- Put in the
simplest terms, "bunkai is the creation of at least
one underlying application, either defensive or
offensive, for all of the visible movements and
techniques that are contained in the embusen of any kata".
- The key
word here, is visible.
- In more
complex terms, "bunkai is the imagination in motion".
- The key
word here, is imagination.
- Now while
my first statement describing what bunkai means may seem
more complex than the second one, I assure you that quite
the opposite is true. After all, making the connection
that a gedan barai (down block) in Taikyoku Shodan could
be used to block a kick, or for that matter a punch, is
not all that difficult to comprehend even for a white
belt, once the reasoning behind the application has been
- In this
example we are dealing with what I call, "the
- On the
other hand it takes a very experienced karate-ka to see
beyond the obvious, and to look for unseen, complex, and
imaginative ways, in which any seemingly basic technique
can be expanded into something more than may first come
to mind. To better understand what I mean take the
- This time
in a more complex, although still fairly basic example,
again start with the gedan barai (down block) in Taikyoku
Shodan. Only this time "expand" the scenario by
using the loading motion of the gedan barai (down block)
to trap an attackers left chudan gyaku zuki (middle level
reverse punch), then turning your right hand upward
immediately grabbed the attackers left wrist with your
right hand, and then stepping forward, apply the gedan
barai (down block), only this time use it as a strike to
your attackers left elbow, and then follow up by stepping
forward with a right chudan oi zuki (middle level lunge
punch). This then is bunkai only with a bit more of an
- Not long
ago in fact I tried an experiment to do precisely that,
test my students imagination.
- I divided
an adult class and the assisting sempai's into groups of
four. I then gave each group just three minutes to come
up with as many bunkai applications as they could for
just a standing gedan barai (down block). At the end of
the allotted time the number of applications created by
each group varied from five to fourteen. I say created
because in each group once all of the "visibly
obvious" applications were accounted for, the
process ceased to be visual and started to become a lot
more thought provoking. This is when their imagination
finally kicked into motion. Suddenly previously un-thought
of ideas and applications started to spring forth.
- While it is
true that the more senior students and the sempai's in
each group came up with the most creative applications,
some very innovative thoughts also came from the lower
ranks, who interestingly enough placed no pre-conceived
limitations on their way of thinking. In the end when all
of the ideas from all of the groups was pooled together,
everyone involved in this process came away with a
greater realization of "what could be" when it
comes to applying bunkai to a very basic kata movement.
- The real
important point in all of this, as I said to the students
at the end of the exercise is, "if you can find
fourteen different bunkai (applications) for a simple,
standing down block, then how many potential bunkai (applications)
do think there are in Heian Shodan, let alone in all of
the techniques and movements in all of the other kata
that you may know"?
- At that
moment from where I was standing, I could almost see the
wheels in their mind starting to turn in an attempt to
calculate what suddenly seemed incalculable. But I had
made my point. They all understood that there is a great
deal more than meets the eye to even a very basic kata
- The goal,
however, as always, is to get the students to remember
one very important thing.
performing any kata, students, and teachers alike, must
remember to keep in mind that the "missing links"
or "visual applications" must remain missing.
Only the required movements of the kata, without any
added interpretations, are to be performed.
else is need, or for that matter wanted, except perhaps a
remember, bunkai is not driven by rank.
- It is an
open door which all students are encouraged to walk
through, all they have to do is take the first step. So
train often, train hard, and be sure and add practicing
"kata applications" to your regular training
- As I have
said before, if you can learn to keep kata and bunkai
separate, then using your new found knowledge of how
bunkai fits into the overall scheme of things will lead
you well on your way to a greater understanding of all
that your kata and karate can be".
- May your
imagination run wild.
when to keep kata basic,
- and knowing
when to add bunkai,
- is a sign
of experience in action.
- Part the
clouds - see the way.
objective of karate-do is to contribute to the evolution
- of the
human spirit through physical and mental training."