One of the great facets of training is that it forces you to think. Let me clarify. You may be studying an art that is ancient, but you still have to make it work for you. It has to work for your body type, your height your reach and other physical compositions. One of the places this is expressed is in kata. Kata is not dance, its not an imaginary fight against a series of would be attackers. What kata is, is a mnemonic device recording movements to use in close quarter combat. One of the best ways to understand this is through the use of bunkai.
First what is bunkai? Bunkai is the deconstruction and practical application of techniques found in kata. In other words it means you analyze and apply the technique you are using in your kata. Many schools do not engage in this or feel kata are outdated and unnecessary. It is a shame many feel this way, since the study of bunkai adds a dimension to training that is not replicated by anything else. Through bunkai you can get to the heart of the style you are studying. Bunkai will take you through the history of your art into the minds of those who created the techniques. Bunkai forces you to think. This bears repeating. In order to learn and apply bunkai you must think. What is this technique doing? Which way does this technique achieve the intended goal of stopping an altercation? It makes you look at kata as a device for the practical application of every technique.
So let me shock you a bit here. There are no blocks, or kicks or punches or anything else we have given names to. There are simply the movements a body can execute. For example you will hear this often in our self defense class " All arms bend the same way, bodies are built the same way." This is a simplification of course, but what it means is that we are all bio-mechanically the same. So in kata when I execute an upper block as we call it, if I take that same movement and smash it into an opponents throat as I grab the back of their head, it ceases to be an upper block and becomes a fatal blow. Same exact technique.
This freedom of expression in your art is what you must endeavor to discover. Is a lower parry actually parrying a lower kick or is it a hammer fist into the knee or thigh? Is it a sweep? Or all of the above?
The other mindset that seems to be circulating is that bunkai must hold the okuden or secret techniques of a style. Therefore it can only be shown to the most senior students. This must be conducted in a veil of secrecy and those students must never reveal the bunkai to their juniors. This sounds so outlandish I have a hard time believing it, but I have experienced it firsthand. Suffice to say I disagree with this point of view. Bunkai should be shared early and often, it gets students to think. When you stop a kata and ask "What technique are you doing there? " Most students will just give you the name of the technique they have always done. If you go a little deeper and ask " Well show me how that would work." At what range and from what angle? What is your off hand doing? Is it really an offhand or is it holding something?
Why are you standing that way, is that the way you would really stand? What if you modified that a bit would it still work?
When you start asking these questions and more importantly when the students start asking these questions, it deepens the practice of the art and makes the kata come alive. These are the questions we need to be asking. These are the exercises we need to teach our students. We need to spur them to dig deeper and make their practice profound.
If you wish to go further into the study of bunkai, or its not offered where you train I suggest you visit Iain Abernathy's site. You can find it here: http://www.iainabernethy.co.uk/article/basics-bunkai-part-1
this is a good place to start. Iain is well known for his practical application of basic moves. His site is full of useful information and is a great resource for learning. He is also accessible and a friendly individual, willing to share of his time and expertise if you reach out to him.
A little quiz: The photo in this blog is one of the bunkai of the last move of which Pinan / Heian kata? Let me know what your answer is.
strong spirit-strong mind-strong body
Sensei Orlando Sanchez
Use of the author's blog posts without express written permission by the author is plagiarism and punishable by law.