Bunkai is a two person kata in which moves from kata are taken apart so that the participants can figure out the real meaning of karate. We are fortunate that O-Sensei took the moves out of the kata and created set bunkai for us to start exploring with, including Neiseishi, Henshuho and Nage-no-kata.
As your knowledge and skill sets grow you start to get a real self-defense feeling in the bunkai, where you will attack and defend as you would in the street and at full speed. Remember the bunkai are there to help you see the hidden self-defense moves in the kata. These moves are just the beginning of the possibilities; it’s up to you to keep unlocking and opening the hidden doors of karate.
Here are some points to consider when doing bunkai:
- The attacker should attack through the opponent; don’t tense up and resist. If you are having problems doing the throw, then the two of you should work together until you get it. If you are getting frustrated, move on don’t stay there smashing and jerking each other’s arms around. If you still can’t get it, ask your Sensei to look at the technique and give you advice.
- Know when to tap, to show a locking or choking technique is working and causing you discomfort. If you don’t tap, your partner won’t know if it’s working and will go harder until you are injured. After many years of working with different body types, you will eventually be able to tell when someone is in pain or if they are so flexible that you will do them serious damage if you persist because they have no pain threshold.
- While excessive contact shouldn’t be made, sometimes accidents happen. Suck it up and move on. If it keeps occurring, then there is a control issue. Ask the attacker to please use more control. If nothing changes stop working with that person. We are all very vulnerable and you have to put a lot of trust in your partner that they are not going to damage you. Here are the areas that you should not ever make hard contact with:
- Don’t go to the ground unless you are legitimately thrown, or your partner won’t know if their technique is working. But also don’t resist unduly. If you resist against a skilled opponent it won’t end well for you, because they may reverse the technique or do something different and you could get injured. This would be your fault.
- You are training your body to respond to many different situations and different attacks. We usually work with punches and the odd kick, but remember the same moves can be applied to all kinds of attacks; you are only limited by your imagination and knowledge. Keep working at it.
- There isn’t one thing that makes bunkai work it’s a combination of many things coming together:
- Proper use of the tanden
- Dropping power
- Total mind, body and spirit connection
- Proper body posture and position
- I don’t like the word ‘defender’ because in my mind both sides are attacking.
- ALWAYS practice both sides of your body.
- Practice by yourself just like you would a kata. That way when you have someone to work with you can spend your time perfecting the bunkai not trying to remember it.
- Just doing the bunkai to learn it for a grading is a useless practice. You should practice so you can learn how to defend yourself and understand the principles behind the moves. Once you do that, you can apply the principles in a variety of situations.
Below is a video of me doing selected moves from Henshuho (#10,#14,#19,#23,#26), there are 28 set bunkai moves in Henshuho from various Kata and then our personal interpretations of those, on top of that.