Keeping it simple
While watching a grading recently, I noticed that a common theme was starting to appear in the various katas that were being performed by some of the more senior brown belts.
What I had noticed made no difference of course to those who watched with an untrained eye, but to me all of the tell tale signs were clearly evident.
There was no doubt about it.
As I watched their individual kata "bunkai" was beginning to appear in a variety of different places.
It was apparent that at the next class, a clear reminder of what is appropriate in individual kata, and what is not, was definitely needed in order to ensure that this theme did not start to become a trend.
While "kata bunkai" certainly has it's place in the overall development and understanding of the many intricacies that make up the katas found within the modern Shotokan Karate system, problems can arise when students start to get what I call, "bunkai happy".
This most often occurs when a student gets into believing that their individual kata will benefit if they show "purpose" in everything that they are doing.
The result of this line of thought is that the student begins to add unnecessary “stuff” to many of their most fundamental kata movements. This “stuff” was of course never meant to displayed in the kata in the first place, and in fact it does nothing to enhance the kata technically, or for that matter it's outward appearance.
In fact quite the opposite is true.
The addition of this extra "stuff" in reality only does one thing, it makes the performance of any kata far more complex than it needs to be, or was ever meant to be.
Now the first step for a student down the "bunkai happy road" can often occur as early as white belt.
In order to help new students begin to get the proper “feel” for a kata, it is not uncommon for lower ranks to be told to try and "visualize an imaginary opponent" whenever they are practicing their various katas.
One of the reasons behind this methodology is that visualization can be very helpful to students, especially when they are learning anything new, or complex, such as seeking to understand just how the various punches, kicks, and blocks, fit within the scope of a particular kata.
At times this concept of "visualization" will often be aided by a physical demonstration of some of the more practical applications for the various techniques found in the kata under review.
These partner based applications of technique, are the format by which most students will obtain a clearer understanding of the concept, or "purpose" for the various movements they are learning. It is this type of partner based movement that we commonly referred to today in karate terminology as, " kata bunkai".
I for one would describe "kata bunkai" as, "the visual inclusion, placement, and proper application of those movements, missing or not immediately apparent, in a non-partner based demonstration of kata".
While being able to understand what "bunkai" means is a very important part of a students karate training, many students make the mistake of carrying the concepts learned from their practice of bunkai over into the physical performance of their various katas, instead of simply practicing the katas as they were mean to be.
Make no mistake I firmly believe in teaching bunkai to all grade levels, not just to senior ranks, but there is a time and a place when bunkai is appropriate, and a time and a place when it is not.
A group demonstration where the fundamental purpose is to give a clear picture to those present of the rationale behind the kihon in the various katas is indeed a proper place for this type of application, but not, I repeat not, in an individual performance of kata. Here the requirements for the presentation of individual kata is completely the opposite. In this instance the ultimate goal should lies in seeking to perfect the katas movements and techniques, not in displaying their purpose.
The difficulty lies in trying to get student to understand the difference, and then to separate themselves accordingly when the time comes to do bunkai or kata.
In an individual kata as I mentioned, your goal is to perform the required techniques and movements at they were laid down by past Masters without any visual attempt at an explanation of what the applications might be used for, instead your kata should be a reflection of the "Do" or "Way" of the kata, not the underlying "why" in the kata.
One performance show others “what you are trying to accomplish on the exterior", while the other method without all of the false tension, overly loud kime, and screams from the throat, shows others “what you we trying to accomplish on the inside".
Over time, and with proper training, a more practiced and mature approach to kata will hopefully evolve, and in the end produce a kata that is far more relaxed and fluid, free of tension, while at the same time demonstrating balance, posture, timing, rhythm, as well as co-ordination, and proper breathing.
This is the type of kata that should begin to be grasped, understood, and displayed at the senior brown belt level.
So when doing individual kata, remember, for the best results, less is more, just keep it simple, because in the end a good kata will teach you a lot about yourself than a poor kata will.
A kata without the body, mind, and spirit
attempting to work in perfect harmony ,
is an empty, and hollow thing indeed.
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