- PLAIN KATA
PLEASE, NO SUGAR
- Less is
- It is
probably fair to say that next to kihon (basics) most
dojo's today focus the vast majority of their time and
energy practicing kata.
- This is
great, and as it should be. After all kata is considered
to be the "soul of karate", and what would
Shotokan, or for that matter any other style of karate be
without a soul.
- Now even a
soul has to have a "heart" and for most
practitioners the "heart" of any kata has to be
the bunkai that is hidden within it.
- Now to me
bunkai is defined as, "the missing link" or in
broader terms "the deeper meaning and purpose that
lies hidden just below the surface of each individual
technique, and or movement, that is found within any
kata, regardless of style".
- To some
students, however, bunkai might simply be defined as the
answer to that basic question, "what is the real
meaning for all this weird stuff that you have me
practicing, just what the heck am I suppose to be trying
to do here"?
- Now I
suspect that no student would ever be so impolite as to
ask their instructor this, or any other question, in
quite that manner, (ok some would), but no matter how it
is phrased at some point the question of just why we do
kata, and just how bunkai fits into the over all scheme
of things, is bound to come up.
- The real
question of course for any instructor is not what you
tell your students, but when you tell them.
- If the
question comes at you out of the blue during class then
no matter what a students individual rank is, if your
answer is going to help them to grasp a particular aspect
of their kata that is giving them some difficulty, and
doing so keeps them on the right path, then by all means
now is the time to tell them something. Even if you
should happen to think that for their rank the timing of
such a question is a bit premature.
- The answer
could be as simple as explaining that the move is a down
block, that could be used to block a kick at gedan level,
or that the technique is used to block a punch at chudan
level. In either case curious minds want to know, and in
most cases they want to know "right now".
- The sheer
number of possible answers of course, as any experienced
instructor knows, will take a lifetime to explore. So for
this reason, and for many others, the sooner an
instructor starts the ball rolling, the better off their
students will be in the long run.
- Now make no
mistake, I am not advocating that you start explaining
bunkai to a new student on their first day, their first
week, or even their first month of training. There does,
however, come a time when the subject of bunkai should
start to be explored with some regularity. For me that
time is usually when a student has reach the rank of 7th
kyu (red belt). At this point in time a student will
usually have been training at least three times a week,
for the past six to nine months, and be somewhat familiar
with at least three or four katas. The trick here,
however, is to start by giving the student only the most
basic application for each of the moves contained in the
various katas, nothing fancy, while at the same time
doing so in such a manner that they are not mistakenly
directed down the wrong path.
- By that I
mean, it is critical for every student to recognize at
the outset, that performing any kata, and performing the
bunkai for that kata, are two distinctly separate events.
The last thing you want to see all of a sudden is the
student trying to inject the "explanation" for
each movement into all of their kata where it never use
to exist before. This is especially true when it come to
the student practicing alone, performing their katas at
gradings, or when doing their kata at a public
- So what if
it does, you might say?
- A great
deal, I reply.
- Kata is,
and always should be, solely an expression of the pattern
of the kata itself with appropriate technique, kime, and
- Not the
movements underlying purpose.
once you start to try and "explain" what you
are doing in every movement in your kata, by adding extra
shifts in movement, or an extra hand movement or two in
order to try and convey a specific meaning, then you are
fundamentally changing the original purpose of the kata
- The purpose
of training any kata, is to train the kata. Nothing
omitted, and without any additional additives if you
individual kata is designed to fit an embusen (pattern)
specific to that particular kata alone. The singular
movements, the combinations, the timing, and the kime,
are all meant to be performed without the benefit of any
"displayed" explanation. This is simply not
- Not during
- Not during
- Not during
- Bunkai you
see was never meant to be exposed to the clear light of
- In the
early days in Okinawa, in order to protect the purpose of
their movements, many ryu's (schools) would even go so
far as to disguise their katas by performing them
incorrectly, or for that matter not at all, when ever
strangers were present. Since the reputation of each
school and that of the sensei was often based upon the
"secrets" they possessed the deeper meaning of
a kata and it's associated bunkai was ultimately only
taught to close family members, or those few truly
dedicated students who had proven themselves over long
periods of time.
- Simply put
it is not important to know the bunkai of any kata in
order to perform the kata well.
- For the
most part we are fortunate today that the katas found
within the Shotokan Karate system have maintained their
strong traditional heritage, and are taught pretty much
intact as handed down to us by Sensei Gichin Funakoshi.
As such it is our duty to hand them down unaltered to the
while knowing how bunkai fits in to a kata can help a
student to progress, it can also forever change how a
student performs their kata, and not always for the
- So whether
you are the teacher, or the student, always try to bear
in mind that "bunkai may be the heart of karate",
but it is not the "soul of karate", that is
- If you can
learn to keep the two separate, while at the same time
using your new found knowledge of how bunkai fits into
the overall scheme of things to improve your skill, then
you are truly well on your way to a greater understanding
of all that karate can be.
what a student needs, and knowing when to give it to
- is the
secret to making them better than they thought they could
- Part the
clouds - see the way.
objective of karate-do is to contribute to the evolution
- of the
human spirit through physical and mental training."