STRIKING POST – Oct/Nov 2017
Understanding Bunkai & Kata Applications
These two karate concepts are somewhat similar in that they deal with the hands on aspects of karate. In all of my years of training, the one aspect of karate that has given me the most difficulty, as far as understanding and performing, is by far the bunkai. For years. I tried to figure out how to perform them correctly with limited success. Some seemed to work quite well, while others not so much. Still others did not seem to work at all. It was very frustrating and at one point, I had come to believe that some of the bunkai were just not meant for a person of smaller stature.
This idea began to change when I got the chance to spend some time training with Soke Sensei. He pointed out to me that O`Sensei, who had developed all of these bunkai, was the same size as I was and if I was not able to perform the techniques, I was doing them wrong. This was certainly an eye opener for me.
My previous instructors had all been large in stature. By copying them, I was in fact trying to do a big man`s technique. At 5 ft 4 in tall and 140 lbs, this was a problem. Over time, Soke Sensei explained to me that for the techniques to work, I would have to perform them differently. Everyone has a different body type therefore what works for one person may not work for another in quite the same way. One may find that there are indeed many variations to a given technique.
There were other issues at play as well. I had always been told that “first you break the balance and then you throw”. This principle is correct however, how do you break the balance and how much is too much? Soke Sensei explained where all of the weak points are in the stance. If you attack the weak points you will have much greater success and you will not need to apply nearly as much strength to execute the throw. Other important principles include but are not limited to the following:
1- When you apply force in any direction, the opponent resists in the opposite direction. Therefore, do not apply force until you are executing the throw.
2- Sometimes to break the balance you must be subtle; if you are too bold, the opponent will resist. At other times you must be strong.
3- Your execution of the bunkai should consider the fact that the opponent will always try to throw more than one punch.
4- You must be able to execute the technique in real time (at full speed)
5- You must try to maintain a correct posture during the execution of the throw.
6- When following up with punches on a thrown attacker, do not “wind up”
7- You should be able to execute the technique without grabbing onto the gi.
When discussing about bunkai, it is almost inevitable that there will be differences of opinions among instructors as to how best to perform or apply a given technique. I do not think that it is necessarily a bad thing to have different perspectives as long as one holds true to the principles. It is not to say that one technique is right or one is wrong only that they are different. At the end of the day, the student can choose the one he prefers the best or the one that works the best for him/her.
The application of the katas are similar in that there are as many variations as your imagination will allow.
Again, none are incorrect as long as they hold true to the kata principles. Some of the guiding principles of kata include, but are not limited to, the following:
1- You must always be prepared to defend your back, your most vulnerable position.
2- Usually, shiko dachi is used for throwing techniques
3- One must be aware of the “ma” in the katas. Which techniques are the killing blows?
4- Always remember that the kata is a simulated fight. “kata is kumite”
5- One must remain relaxed in between killing blows in order to be able to move quickly. Also all of the “set up” techniques need not be at 100%
During the earlier years, there was not a lot of information shared as far as the applications of the katas. There were a few examples given but no real depth of information. It was only after instruction from Soke Sensei that the katas took on any real meaning. Though the applications are limitless, one must strive to pass on the katas as they were handed to us and not let our own personal bunkai creep into them. The katas are sacred in that they were forged through the blood and sweat of our predecessors and as such, they must remain pure.
All of the key attack and defence techniques of any particular style are found in their kata and it is up to the individual karate-kas to unlock the secrets contained therein through diligent practice and careful guidance from their sensei.
The bunkai and the kata applications are what sets us apart from sport karate where the only goal is to score a point. The true martial art teaches attack and defence techniques for survival. It is not a game. The counters are not punches. They are nukite to the eyes, ippon-ken tsuki to the face, heito to the groin, etc… O`sensei warned against practicing karate merely for sport.
Today, thanks to Soke Sensei, I feel that I have a much better understanding of the bunkai and the kata applications. Though I feel I still have a lot left to learn, I certainly have come a long way.