Saturday, 11 August 2007

Bunkai centric training

The Bunkai Fad

The ‘kata application’ or ‘bunkai (analysis) fad’ has been around for just over 10 years, in mainstream Shotokan. Unfortunately, I can honestly say, from what I have experienced, it is something that, in general, I do not wish to be associated with. Here is the justification for my stance:

From my experience, just like the 'pressure point obsessed people', the majority of the karateka who are ‘bunkai-centric’, are pretty much all theory. They cannot perform good kihon (that is, with good form, powerful and street effective) against an uncooperative opponent. Essentially they have no base to apply their waza. In my mind, without a high level, and ongoing development, of one’s foundational techniques, nothing can work. This is why I say; “’A person with all the answers, yet cannot impress me with their kihon, simply doesn’t have my attention”. Away from high-class technical performance, it is quite interesting that so many bunkai-centric people, who claim ‘combat effectiveness’, haven’t experienced many (if any) real fights in their adulthood. The source of such people’s high focus on bunkai, is usually to bring themselves out of the ashes. Their karate is technically substandard, so they like to vocalise things like; “I have the code for unlocking the secrets in the kata.” Bottom line, if they can’t do, “high class kihon”, there is no way they can apply, even the most basic karate waza (let alone the often 'flash' oyo-jutsu, they propogate).

So where does that put me?
Well, as I stated in my Jiyu kumite must be 'specific article, I admit to being bunkai-centric, via my heavy focus on kata application (for self-defence). However, the application training I have in my regime is literally street effective ("field tested" in numerous private security jobs, in my past life). Nowadays, my students and I completely discard all fighting principles, which we cannot use universally. When kata is taught correctly, it is karate's most effective self-defence training method. When I say 'the most effective’, I'm referring to the third level. Let me expand on this (and if you haven't already, please refer to my views on kata, and 'partner drills' in the article: Oyo-jutsu: Is kata an effective training method for self-defense?).

The three levels of kata analysis/application
The first level of kata application is direct. That is, pretty much the style of 'analysis' demonstrated in ‘Best Karate’ series by Masatoshi Nakayama Sensei (kick, punch, strike and literally block). According to Asai Sensei, this training merely helps beginners to learn the kata sequence, like gohon and kihon ippon kumite for basics. The second level includes relatively street effective techniques. This level, for the most part, often still requires a co-operative partner. The third level is based on application principles. These are the ‘real applications’, which I refer to as 'street tactics' (as they work regardless of the situation). All of these applications are street practical 'finishing techniques', suitable for military/martial CQB (Close Quarter Battle).

Karate trained incorporating the perfection of waza, and this third level of karate application, establishes what one seriously trains, as 'bujutsu-karate'. This karate transcends style, which Asai Sensei advocated.

In my opinion, it is combatively more effective to be kihon-centric, if one does not include 'third level' application training (in their daily karate regime). In saying that, being kihon-centric, will never result in a 'complete martial art' for self-defence. This training as propogated by the mainstream organisations has undeniably 'sportified' the kata, rendering it useless for self-defence.

I'd like to thank my karate student, and dear friend, Tony Petronlli (3rd Dan) for modeling the bunkai-jutsu, in the pictures featured here. Tony is a first class karateka, following karate as 'bujutsu', as a opposed to sports. Tony was my Best Man at our Wedding, and possesses practical karate waza, which completely adhere to the fundamentals of Shotokan-Ryu. Ironically, in these photos, we are demonstrating the 'First Level' of applications. As explained in this article, these are 'partner complient' or 'stylistic bunkai' to teach the basic form of the kata (in the initial stage of learning). The kata photographically demonstated in this article is Kaminari-arashi (Thunderous Storm).

© André Bertel, Japan 2007

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