Kata w/o Bunkai?

searcher

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I was reading another thread and an interesting topic was mentioned in passing. The poster said that they place little to no emphasis on bunkai/application of their kata. This got me to thinking, do we Okinawan/Japanese karate-ka place to much emphasis on bunkai? I must admit it has me thinking deep on this subject. The Kaju guys use the kata/forms for training speed, balance, technique,.......

So, what do you all think? No deep interpretation? No missing or hidden techniques?


Discuss.
 

twendkata71

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I think that without studying bunkai in kata, you may be missing the true meaning of many of he movements of the kata. There are many hidden aspect in the kata. Without indepth study you may misinterpret what the moves are.
 

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What makes karate karate is the fact that the defensive and offensive techniques are handed down via kata.

So if you have kata without bunkai why have the kata? You could just study and train technique and self defense scenarios as other systems/styles do.

I think we should teach bunkai/technique first and then show the kata that gives you a way to do some solo practice of those movements.

If we got into the angles of movement in kata and saw that these are not the angle that your opponent is attacking from but rather the angle you should counter from we would have a better idea of what kata may contain.

So much seems to have been lost when all this karate took on a competitive/sporting attitude
 

Tez3

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Kata without Bunkai is pointless movement. Speed, technique and balance are all better trained as they are. I don't believe kata will teach you that, it won't hurt of course but thats not what they are for.
http://www.iainabernethy.com/articles/BasicBunkaiPart1.asp

This is the first of several very interesting articles on Bunkai.
 

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When I was younger, my Tang Soo Do school did not train any applications for the hyung they performed. Looking back now, I don't know why that school even teaches forms. There's no point to having forms if you don't really have a martial application for the techniques. It becomes just an art then; a form of dance. I like dance, but I prefer martial training in my martial arts.

No bunkai = no need for kata
 

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The people that dont like kata, are the ones that dont understand kata. Understand this, that the kata need to be old and traditional, not the modern ones that focus on punch, kick, and block. They need to be the old traditional ones that appear to focus on the punch, kick, and block. The techniques bunkai within these kata, were what people used to defend to the death. If people believe it or not, makes no difference, because it is well documented to be so. Bunkai based kata is what makes it an art, take this away and you have a sport.
 
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I am pleased with the discussion so far, lets keep this one going.
 

Uchinanchu

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I like to think of kata as being the 'blueprint', and the bunkai as being the 'hardware' or raw materials that are used in order to put it all together. Of course, there are many other aspects to one's training, such as kihon, hojo undo etc... But, without one or the other two aforementioned parts (kata & bunkai), then all you are left with is exercise that really leads nowhere.

This could be broken down even further. Let's take a look at one technique in our kihon no renshu (basics practice). Let's suppose that technique 'A' within your training regimin is worked hundreds upon thousands of times. In fact, it can be found within most if not all of your systems kata. Now, let's take a close look at your jiyu kumite- do you ever actually use technique 'A' while sparring? If the answer is "no", then why not?

How about self defense practice? Do you actually apply technique 'A' in your self-defense training? If not, why? If there is any technique that you are required to practice and supposedly "Know" and perform for testing, then why would you NOT use it in ALL aspects of your training? Something to ponder.
 

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I agree with all and I've made a thread about this topic before in another area. Speaking from a Kempo background and seeing all of the diluting that has gone on within the system I can attest to the need of Bunkai. It's better to have it and practice it, rather than guessing and summazing, then all coming to the idea that they're right and passing it along. I find it horrible that the answers have been lost or almost so. I feel that we get dumbed down as artists by becoming best guessers.
 

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As a teacher I sometimes wonder if it is time to abandon the concept of okuden bunkai. Just teach all the building block movements openly and then spell it out in broad detail exactly each piece of each kata can mean. None of us are getting any younger, and I'm afraid I see little interest in bunkai among the younger set. The younger serious fighters seem to be gravitating to the jujutsu-derived arts since the training is both immediate and obvious.
 

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As a teacher I sometimes wonder if it is time to abandon the concept of okuden bunkai. Just teach all the building block movements openly and then spell it out in broad detail exactly each piece of each kata can mean. None of us are getting any younger, and I'm afraid I see little interest in bunkai among the younger set. The younger serious fighters seem to be gravitating to the jujutsu-derived arts since the training is both immediate and obvious.


I would hope you were wrong, but immediate and obvious seems to be the key elements that life, as we know it, is heading towards. As a civilization, we have come a long way, but somewhere along the way, we have forgotten where we have come from. This holds true with many things in life, but appropriately speaking, within this thread, it is kata, as we know it, that is being lost. Not as much about information, that’s for sure, because the internet is loaded with bunkai on every kata ever made. What I feel is lost is the love of the art, the feeling that we get when we are all alone, with any given traditional kata. The stillness as we do the kata, with no one around to score points, applaud, or play music. To know that as we perform the kata, we are treading where Masters have tread, and for a short point in time, to almost feel what they felt. This is what I fear is being lost. :asian:
 

Makalakumu

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As a teacher I sometimes wonder if it is time to abandon the concept of okuden bunkai. Just teach all the building block movements openly and then spell it out in broad detail exactly each piece of each kata can mean. None of us are getting any younger, and I'm afraid I see little interest in bunkai among the younger set. The younger serious fighters seem to be gravitating to the jujutsu-derived arts since the training is both immediate and obvious.

This is absolutely the key. One of the most frustrating things that I experience out here in Hawaii, where there is good karate everywhere, is that it all is pretty much taught "traditionally" where you learn a set of basics that are pieces of the kata where the real application is hidden. Even in the Okinawan styles that I've experienced, the actual self defense techniques are buried and are not taught as basics.

This is tragic because students are being taught to focus on movements that are basically shorthand for other movements. Kata were intended to be "Cliff's Notes" now the notation is being substituted for the real thing. When you consider a jujutsu art, they teach a technique and then show how to apply it. It's straight forward and it gives you information on self defense in a quick manner. With karate, you learn a technique and then you learn (if you are lucky) a gradual set of principles that allow you to break the technique down into its basics. Then (if you are lucky) you may also be given a chance to practice those basics on a regular basis.

The totality of how karate is taught has to change if kata application is going to have any practical value.
 

dancingalone

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This is absolutely the key. One of the most frustrating things that I experience out here in Hawaii, where there is good karate everywhere, is that it all is pretty much taught "traditionally" where you learn a set of basics that are pieces of the kata where the real application is hidden. Even in the Okinawan styles that I've experienced, the actual self defense techniques are buried and are not taught as basics.

Yes, that's the frustrating thing about traditional karate where you don't get fed the good stuff until you've paid your dues, a process that can take decades! Yet the same sensei who teach this way are often disappointed to see the proliferation of mediocre, punchy kicky karate.

This is tragic because students are being taught to focus on movements that are basically shorthand for other movements. Kata were intended to be "Cliff's Notes" now the notation is being substituted for the real thing. When you consider a jujutsu art, they teach a technique and then show how to apply it. It's straight forward and it gives you information on self defense in a quick manner. With karate, you learn a technique and then you learn (if you are lucky) a gradual set of principles that allow you to break the technique down into its basics. Then (if you are lucky) you may also be given a chance to practice those basics on a regular basis.

Perhaps this is the case because the old karate-ka just were more well-rounded fighters than we modern folk are and therefore the 'shorthand' is NOT shorthand to them. I continue to study aikido today under my wife because her tutelage gives me insight into my karate. As it currently stands, most karate schools I have visited in the Americas simply do not teach any movement patterns beyond punching and kicking and blocking.

The totality of how karate is taught has to change if kata application is going to have any practical value.

I agree but I suspect the change cannot occur in an environment where the average student attends class for perhaps 4 hours a week if he is lucky. Given my work and family obligations, I now train and teach about 6-8 hours a week. Rationally, I would never have attained my current proficiency given this limited floor time. In my youth, I studied upwards of 20 hours a week and I still felt I was missing out on learning.
 

Makalakumu

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A lot of the time good teaching involves maximizing your use of time and minimizing the things that waste time. I think that if karateka focused on real applicable basics and put those pieces as they are applied in reality to the drills in the kata, real self defense skill CAN be taught in a short amount of time.

I ran a dojo for eight years before I moved to Hawaii and as I started to analyze my teaching method, I noticed a marked change in my students ability to utilize purposeful technique. I think that if I had stayed open longer after I had settled on a method, I would have seen even more results.

Basically, what karate arts need is some serious zero summing. We need to clear the plate, start with our objectives and add the elements that will meet those objectives. There are too many misunderstandings and deliberate obfuscations that are built into the traditional system. So much so, that the product is diluted.
 
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None of us are getting any younger, and I'm afraid I see little interest in bunkai among the younger set. The younger serious fighters seem to be gravitating to the jujutsu-derived arts since the training is both immediate and obvious.



Exactly why I was asking. Many of my students, both young and old, are showing little interest in bunkai. Many view the kata they learn from the exterior and not in what lies within. After reading the post in the other thread, I had a serious conflict build up in my mind. I wondered if I was fighting a losing battle.
 

exile

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Exactly why I was asking. Many of my students, both young and old, are showing little interest in bunkai. Many view the kata they learn from the exterior and not in what lies within. After reading the post in the other thread, I had a serious conflict build up in my mind. I wondered if I was fighting a losing battle.

No. It needn't be. What you have to do, I think, is take one of the techniques, a really severely effective one, and show it to them as a stand-alone technique. Say, a grab to your shirt or arm. You cover the grabbing hand with your right hand, pull it towards you with a twist at the wrist while slamming your left forearm into their extended grabbing arm above the elbow, pivoting 90繙 towards the pin you've established, forcing the attacker's whole upper body down... down... down. When it's low enough and the attacker's balance is seriously compromised, slam the elbow of the pinning left arm into uke's head (using appropriate restraint, lol), continue the forward motion of the striking elbow so that the left fist is near your right ear, do a spearing elbow strike to the attacker's face, and bring the left fist down toward the attacker's still lowered head in a hammer strike to... oh, say, the nose, the jaw,... just about anywhere. Then step forward onto your right leg and punch uke in the jaw/throat region, for good luck.

Then show them the first two moves of Taikyoku Shodan, which this sequence I just sketched is a realistic bunkai application for, and let them know that devastating attacking tactics like this are legion in the katas. My approach to teaching this stuff in TKD is, don't let them begin to learn the Kichos, which are the Korean cognate forms for the Taikyoku kata set, until they've seen some of the unbelievably harsh combat moves that are right there below the surface. When they see the combat application with uke, and then you demonstrate in isolation tori's moves in the successful street combat scenario just exhibited, and they can see that this is exactly the sequence of movements that's supposedly nothing but a 90繙 turn, a down block and a front stance middle punch... it's going to give them a whole new level of respect for the kata. The key, I think, is in (i) demonstrating the kata by itself; (ii) doing the CQ combat contact with uki and tori along the lines I was sketching, and (iii) repeating the relevant part of the kata, so that they see the connection. If the light is ever gonna come on, that, I think, is the way to get it to happen.

The other thing that's crucial is to work the techs in one-on-one SD scenarios, relating them to the angles and movements shown in the kata. No one-steps, just realistic assault-and-counter movements instead: grabs, shoves, haymakers, the whole lot. Realistic, non-compliant training against an untrained, dangerous attacker, rather than competition dueling. Always remind them that the katas are full of hardcore, brutally effective SD treasures, and it's really worth studying them in detail to learn the best down-and-dirty methods for walking away from an unsought conflict in one piece.

I mean... history is on your side here, eh?
 
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Makalakumu

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In a nutshell, an effective method of teaching bunkai so that students really "get it" is as follows...

Basics - you need to have realistic set of basics that span a full range of techniques that would be found in a self defense situation.

Drills - you need to have a set of drills that uses the above set of basics putting them into motion so that effects and principles can be put into motion as well as good distance and timing.

Sparring - you need to have asymetrical drills where the outcome isn't known and techniques can be applied with varying levels of resistance.

Forms - You need to do this with every form you know.

For teachers, this is a huge job because it completely changes everything about how we were taught. It also forces us to examine the holes in our own knowledge base and forces us to deal with them. One of the reasons this has been so hard to change is simply because the bulk of teachers don't know enough to teach this way.

There are some very high ranking people who have said privately that they could never change in this way because what their students think they know. Thus, the propagation of the punchy, kicky, chop socky, krotty continues as a function of ego.

Lest anyone think that I'm bashing anyone, I'd like people to understand that I do understand where many people are coming from. One of the reason's I stopped teaching was that I felt that I need to work through this issue before I could be fully competent as a teacher. I needed to learn more about kata and needed to think more about what I was doing before teaching again.

Once I flesh out a well thought out program that one can add and subtract material as new things are learned, I think that it will become time again to teach.

Anyway, I just hope that people understand that we can't go on teaching karate the same way we always have if we are to expect students to really understand and be able to apply bunkai.
 

exile

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Anyway, I just hope that people understand that we can't go on teaching karate the same way we always have if we are to expect students to really understand and be able to apply bunkai.

I feel much the same way. Far from being able to teach effective karate (including TSD and TKD, the Korean manifestation of karate) without bunkai, we're going to find ourselves hard put to legitimately claim to be teaching a combat-effective art until we figure out how to make bunkai analysis and realistic, non-complaint training the very core of our curriculum.

In doing so, we're faced with the prospect of reversing the past 80 years-and-then-some of karate instruction and reconstructing something like an Okinawan model to replace the kihon/line-drill based program we inherited from Funakoshi. Obviously, that's a huge job. I think there are people who've thought this through—I'm thinking of Iain Abernathy and the lads at the BCA—and one of my big hopes when I'm in the UK this summer and autumn is to get in some training time with them and get some ideas that I might be able to use in my own thinking about reconstructing the syllabus from the ground up. One thing I'm sure of: the current method of delivering material and of grading people for rank does not do the job...

This is actually quite a nontrivial issue. Kata (and hyung) performance have been used essentially as the key grading basis for rank promotion from the 1920s on in the karate-based arts. Prior to that, the masters used only a couple of kata as the basis for their own training, since there were enough combat applications in that small number to handle pretty much any situation. If kata are now to be used as the basis for combat-realistic training, we're going to go back to that earlier practice... but we then have to rethink how grading for rank is to be implemented. And so on and so forth... once you change the premises about the point of training and the role of kata in it, you've got to go back to the drawing board and redo the whole story.
 
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The whole problem has been on the rise for the last few years. When I first started teacking 15+ years ago students did not mind learning the application, but now I feel it has slid so far off that I can't get them interested.

Is anyone else having problems with their students? I think the bunkai is important, can't seem to get the newer students, and some intermediates, to have an interest.
 

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