Beyond bunkai
As with all martial arts, the art of Shotokan Karate is based on certain underlying fundamentals.
These fundamentals are themselves the "backbone" of Shotokan Karate and they include a wide variety of stances, blocks, strikes, and kicks, just to name a few.
When used in conjunction with each other and properly combined with balance, posture, speed, and timing, these fundamentals give an experienced student a seemingly endless array of defensive and offensive combinations to choose from.
Because it is upon these fundamentals that everything else in Shotokan Karate is based, very little flexibility is permitted in their specific performance or placement, especially when they are employed in the various kata taught within the Shotokan syllabus.
It is when a student learns to apply a kata's pre-determined defensive and offensive movements against a specific partner that the kata's true nature is revealed and a method of training known as bunkai is born.
Bunkai can be described as "the physical demonstration, of a practical application, for each of the various techniques and movements that are required to be performed within an individual kata".
The importance of bunkai can not be stressed enough, since it is through this method of training that students are afforded the opportunity to learn to apply their fundamental techniques against a pre-planned attack while still within the confines of a controlled and friendly environment. The presence of a person in place of thin air, however, will add a whole new dimension to a student's training, often as not causing them in the early stages to loose their focus and at the same time undermining their self-confidence.
For these reasons and many others most junior ranks never delve to deeply into bunkai, and in failing to do so they deprive themselves of the many skills that this type of training instils.
For those adventuresome senior students, however, who have established a firm foothold on the concept of bunkai as required for all twenty-six katas, there is another path they can seek to walk that goes one step further.
This is the exploration of "oyo".
"Oyo" in turn can best be described as "going beyond bunkai".
By that I mean a student demonstrating the bunkai for a specific kata is somewhat limited. Since in most cases their applications will be based as we already know on a specific series of movements done in a pre-described order. This then forces the student to deal with the assumption that there are multiple attackers, in which case they are usually limited to one block, one attack or one combination for each movement of the kata, before having to turn and deal with the next attacker.
Bunkai therefore allows the student to demonstrate the proper flow of the kata but usually nothing further.
In oyo, however, the student is free to treat each individual attack as a one on one fight, which by necessity will need to be taken to an ultimate and definitive end. Thus oyo goes one step beyond bunkai by following through with techniques and applications that might be more practical in a one on one situation where there was no need to continue on in a pre-specified pattern.
It is this freedom to "choose what comes next" and "just how far you take it" that allows the student to deal with an individual attacker in a way that feels "most natural" for them when given no preconceived restrictions. It is then the type and the severity of each situation that dictates what fundamentals are selected and how firmly they are applied.
Where as in bunkai you go from one attacker to the next with the lingering prospect that the attacker you just dealt with may not be "out of action". Oyo on the other hand puts an end to that possibility by finishing what was started in a manner that in no uncertain terms renders any further action by the attacker highly unlikely.
So practice your kata well, learn to understand where bunkai fits into your training, and when you want to explore a little more deeply try giving oyo a go. You may be surprised at that you discover on the next rung of the karate ladder.
"Karate ni sente nashi" - "there is no first strike in karate" a good defence, however, is another matter altogether.
Doing what feels natural to you is the
difference between thinking and reacting.
Part the clouds - see the way.
"The objective of karate-do is to contribute to the evolution
of the human spirit through physical and mental training."
Sensei Peter Lindsay