Thursday, 21 May 2009

Kata and Bunkai Confusion

We have been doing a lot of kata and bunkai practice in recent classes. I like doing this as it feels like we are really getting to the heart of traditional karate training. Learning kata has always been an enjoyable part of karate for me and it is no chore to practice a kata repeatedly. Bunkai on the other hand has been more difficult for me to learn and I did not initially like doing it. However, I could see that there was no point in learning kata if you did not understand what the applications of it were, so I have persevered with trying to understand the bunkai and I have made reasonable progress.

The problem for me though is that although I theoretically understand that the kata and bunkai are mutually related things, in practice they sometimes seem mutually exclusive. When sensei is teaching us some bunkai he will demonstrate the sequence from the kata that represents the application being taught. Then he will demonstrate the bunkai. Unless it is a very straight forward application I often cannot recognise the kata sequence in the bunkai application. It looks different - often very different.

I realise that the techniques that are performed in the kata are generally very stylised and need to be adapted in the bunkai. Distance and timing will be different. Some moves may be omitted (or occasionally added) and stances may sometimes may be altered. Sometimes the bunkai explain a move from the kata that seemed strange but on the other hand something that seemed straight forward in the kata such as a knife hand block, transforms into a grab or a strike in the bunkai and looks completely different.

If sensei were to demonstrate an application from a specific kata I would have difficulty in saying Oh that's from pinan yondan or whatever kata it was from. Just occasionally I can see the relationship between kata and bunkai but more often than not I can't. I don't think this means I'm stupid or slow to learn, I think it is just difficult.

I've often read in books how in the early days of karate students would spend a year or more learning one kata and wondered why on earth you would need to do that. I'm now starting to realise that just learning the kata itself takes a long time and understanding it - well that takes even longer!

I'm sure with training and practice the mist will start to evaporate and I will begin to see things more clearly.

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1 comment:

Michele said...

It takes time and practice.

I will say that I know how you feel. As a kyu rank, bunkai was a mystery to me. I did not see it. I hate to admit this but for my Shodan test, I memorized the base level bunkai to all the required kata. I did not want to be caught off guard.

Now I enjoy working on bunkai and the process of discovery. I can see the applications in the kata. I do not think I have a natural "bunkai brain" but the mist has cleared for me.

After reading this post, it sounds like you know a lot more about the process than you give yourself credit. Good luck.


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