Your bunkai is not a bunkai.
know I LOVE kata. I love training every single part of karate, but when practicing
kata, I feel… at home. So welcome into my house lovely people…
AND STOP LITERING IT.
One of the
most famous terms connected to kata is bunkai.
But what you mostly see in YouTube video is in fact, not bunkai at all.
Prepare yourself, let’s get into this!
First up: what is kata?
Yeah okay, it’s a ‘predetermined set of movements that teach you fundamentals of the techniques’.
But it’s more.
foremost if you ask me:
It is a method to teach you how to use your body.
Every kata is a complete fighting system. NONE of the movements you make in a kata are without meaning. Every move you make has a specific objective and principle. So with every technique, step, resting moment in a kata, you are practicing a self-defense situation AND a karate principle.
Okay now I’m going to introduce the three stages of bunkai kata, and remember them well:
Got it? REMEMBER THEM.
Now a lot of YouTube video’s promise you bunkai, but give you something else:
Kaisetsu means ‘to give an explanation’. But as we know, a Japanese word has many meanings, so let’s take the karate translation:
Application. To apply what you have learned. What you see, is what you get. Does it look like a block with a punch? Hot damn, it might actually be a block and a punch!
It’s an explanation of the kata on a surface level, with the embusen mostly intact.
Which are, most of the video’s on the internet when you search the name of your kata, like Pinan Yondan or Kushanku:
starts at 8 minutes into the video, or check out the first 30 seconds for a
gist of it)
Do not be fooled. The video is tagged bunkai, but it is not bunkai. It’s Kaisetsu.
3 Tips to recognize Kaisetsu versus Bunkai
- Does the karate-ka follow the techniques of the kata exactly (like punches/blocks, embusen etc.)
- Is the karate-ka attacked in an equal karate manner? (like attacked with junzuki or mae geri)
- Does it
look like the kata in every way?
Kaisetsu. All the way.
Don’t get me wrong, I love this video, it shows good kaisetsu and it’s performed on a proficient level. But what bothers me is that it’s labeled as bunkai when it’s not.
Let’s talk about bunkai shall we?
It means to dissemble a kata completely. It’s a complete breakdown, analysis of the steps, techniques, movements, everything.
Remember the three levels of bunkai kata?
is, kaisetsu and omote bunkai are a
bit hard to tell apart.
Omote means surface, and omote bunkai refers to bunkai on a surface level. Kaisetsu is applying the techniques on a surface level. That’s why they get mixed up so easily.
Omote bunkai is different from kaisetsu in a very easy-to-spot way:
Bunkai is practical
application. Kaisetsu is endless application.
Now I know it sounds similar, but it’s not.
You can think of an endless amount of karate attacks in which you can apply your kata (kaisetsu). But can you incorporate the kata on a choke hold? A knife attack, or a grab on the wrist?
That’s the difference between kaisetsu and omote bunkai. The setting and attack is crucial. It’s very different to start in a fighting position and receive a perfect mae geri than to be caught off guard and you have to apply what you’ve learned when you’re in a choke hold.
Ura bunkai ( 裏分解)
There is no fixed bunkai. Never. There is not ‘one application that fits all’. Karate forms your body and mind into a weapon, make no mistake about that. Which means the possibilities for destruction of your opponent are endless!
Catch my drift?
bunkai is what goes on behind the what-you-see-is-what-you-get part of
a kata. I am so amazed that a few years ago kata Naihanchi (Tekki Shodan) actually taught me how to break someone’s neck.
You read that correctly.
Break. someone’s. neck.
Scary stuff. The real deal.
that lame little ‘gamae’ posture that gives you a breather in the kata? You could
also use it to break someone’s neck while you’re at it!
But I could’ve never seen it for myself. Students are blind to ura bunkai, they need guidance. Myself included. A great ambassador of omote- and ura bunkai in my opinion is Ian Abernathy. Practical self-defense using kata.
The video is 3 minutes of pure no nonsense beating the living daylights out of this guy. In a respectful karate manner, using Naihanchi.
Henka waza (変化技)
The last stage is henka waza. It’s the stage after omote and ura. It’s a stage that you can reach when you have a higher DAN degree and have practiced for many years. But you have to search and study actively for it.
It’s when the kata are so ingrained in your body, and you know so many applications (both omote and ura), that you are free of form. Almost like a kata without kata.
Hen = unusual, change, strange
化 = Ka = change, take the form of
技 = Waza = technique, art
変化 Henka = change; variation; alteration; mutation; transformation; metamorphosis
It means you can transform the kata, the techniques to your own will and apply them freely in any situation. Free as a bird… of prey.
That’s it for now! Oof okay this has been lengthy! But in my defense, bunkai is a VERY deep and broad topic so in my opinion, this was short.
BONUS TIME: THE PROOF THAT E-VE-RY MOVE IN KATA HAS ITS MEANING
Okay that gamae had an application, you mayby could have guessed. But did you know that ‘looking left and right’ in Naihanchi also has a practical meaning?
Enjoy this 8 minute explanation by, once again, Sensei Ian Abernathy!
Thank you for reading, I am open to questions and requests!