Bunkai is a Japanese term which is the study of kata applications. This study is often overlooked by modern martial artists to their detriment. In Shorin Goju we stress the practice of kata applications. Kata must be truly understood through the applications of the skills and principles taught therein if the student is to have any hope of mastering the art. Kata teaches us techniques on the surface level but buried within these kata are okuden or inner teachings. Many of these inner teachings are the more advanced techniques and applications for techniques but also there is to be found heiho strategy and there are to be found advanced principles.

These inner teachings are not hidden in the kata with the intention of obfustication they are simply waiting there to be discovered and understood.  Think of any kata as being a book and the simple act of learning the movements of a kata is identical to reading the table of contents of a book. When one has seen the table of contents he or she can claim to be aware of what is in the book but to know the story the book must be explored page by page.

Most modern approaches to kata are the same as reading a book report or outline of a book. Many of us today simply learn the moves of the kata. Some of us today spend long enough to be taught an initial set of simplistic applications for the moves. Too few of us actually spend time exploring the kata and trying to peer into the depths and reading the fine print. We need to spend a great deal of time learning a kata and relearning that kata.

A proper approach to learning a kata starts with observing the kata to see what the overall feel of that kata is. This observation component should continue throughout the training career of the student. Then a student should be taught the kata movement by movement. The student should come to understand the physical movements of the kata. The progression of the footwork and postures should be understood and then hand techniques as they relate to those postures and movements. Breathing must be understood especially as it relates to tensions and relaxations. Then looks and shifting of the head and eyes should be understood. These are the physical patterns.

When the physical patterns are learned then the student is taught a set of applications. These applications are the obvious applications associated with the names given to the techniques in the kata. These first applications go with the names of the techniques and they are what we first see in a technique.

It is only after we have learned the movements and applications of the named techniques that we are ready to go in depth in our exploration of kata.  This surface knowledge of the big pieces as merely established the ground work or foundation for the study of the kata. We have not completed the study of the kata we have simply started it. We will now start to look for subtleties within the kata.

Above we saw that the initial applications are related to the names of the techniques and this is true. But many of our techniques have a name but they have a depth which goes beyond the name. The next step to learning about a kata is to forget these names and not allow our expectations of the techniques to be bound to the name. Many “blocks” are also strikes and many “strikes” are also blocks. The initial use of names gives a student a mental idea to associate with a techniques and a way to identify the technique. But our instructors should not allow those names to become the limiting factor to our ability to understand a technique.  By dropping our study of a technique through the name of the technique we allow ourselves to view not blocks and punches but simply pure technique. By viewing this pure technique devoid of preconceptions we are allowing ourselves to see the deeper skills in the kata. Some instructors facilitate this level by changing the names of the techniques for this stage of study, and forcing the student to see the technique from another perspective. An example would be to tell the student that the left reverse punch in a kata that was focused on is now a right elbow strike to the rear. This can and should go on for a lifetime.

Another step in this exploration will be to look at the strategies employed in the kata. What is the kata teaching us about how to defeat an opponent? Can these things be applied to groups: what is the kata teaching us about how to use a group to defeat another group? The skill to winning with an army can be found buried within the kata. Along with these strategies are also often found principles. This stage of study requires an unhindered mind that does not get distracted by minutia when examining the bigger picture.

Advanced skills are often found in the kata. If you wish to know if there are secret strikes to vital acupuncture points in a kata you should study acupuncture and examine the kata closely in light of this knowledge. If you wish to understand the kata as it relates to any area you should study that are. An example would be to understand kata relating to weapons defense you should study the weapon and the attacks of that weapon.

Obviously we see from this approach that any given kata can provide years of study. In fact I would say that I have never met a karateka who was of the opinion that he or she knew everything about any particular kata. In order to benefit from kata one should learn a set of them and continue top explore them. Always observe others in the performance of them and practice them regularly in order to experience them. Teach them to others in order to expand your awareness of the kata.

I would caution against ever allowing yourself to think that you are finished with a kata and that you have learned all that it contains. If you ever believe this you will have learned all that you can from it but I doubt that you have learned all that there is to learn from it; you have just learned what you art willing to learn from it the kata has not stopped teaching but you have stopped learning.  I would also caution against constantly trying to learn new kata or as many kata as you can. Most Ryu have a set of kata to learn and they are often a complete set. If you are constantly setting aside the kata that you have learned to a surface level you will never gain depth and you will only know the beginning of many kata. If you know 40 kata I doubt that you know any of them well. If you learn a dozen or so and study them in depth you will be able to master the art of karate. 

Make a Free Website with Yola.