The word bunkai means analysis or to find meaning. What bunkai does is investigate the real meaning of kata. What then is kata?

Kata is a method of passing down knowledge from a teacher to a student. ancient practitioners of martial arts perfected their techniques by designing kata as a pattern so that it could be broken down into segments and easily remembered. These segments, or bunkai, are the core of self-defense. To better understand what bunkai means and why it is important we must investigate why kata was designed in the first place. Kata, although rhythmical and meditative, was designed for one reason- to inflict pain and/or death upon an opponent.

“The point of a kata, however is to kill the opponent or opponents. Only in kata is a martial artist encouraged to perform traditional destructive techniques”.

Today, in many martial arts schools kata is taught as something aesthetic- it is put to music and made to look pretty. This, in my humble opinion, reduces kata to mere choreography. All of the movements in kata are based on the relationship between pressure points in the body. It is an application for real fighting. Without this understanding you might as well put on Elvis Presley’s, Blue Suede Shoes and prance around when confronted my a shady character in a dark alleyway. This hardly seems an effective way to win a fight, unless of course you want your opponent to die laughing.

Now that we have taken a look at why kata was designed we can apply this to what bunkai means. Bunkai is the actual fighting application found within kata. It is what connects the mental visualization and interpretation with the physical act of self defense. Bunkai, like all self-defense, is “simple and brutal”. Bunkai is applying techniques in an effective manner as they are interpreted from kata. These interpretations can differ from person to person, or from one art to the other. If practiced correctly, bunkai will yield a highly successful (and quite likely, fatal) attack. By observing the Principles of Kata Interpretation, one can see how bunkai can be personal or universal.

These principles state:

1. No Block Rule: simply put the movement of kata are not defensive. There are no downward blocks, blocking is a completely natural action. The movements called blocks in kata don't work as blocks - until they are interpreted as offensive actions.

2. Pressure Point Rule: Every kata is a pressure point technique. The questions every student should ask is: "What pressure points and I using with this movement?"

3. Two Hand Rule: Simply put, there is no wasted part of a kata. Every part of the action is there for a reason. Both hands in the kata action move because both hands are combative in the function.

4. Multiple Interpretation Rule: There are several interpretations of a kata move, at least three.

5. Direction of Movement: The direction of the movement in the kata indicates the angle the defender assumes in relation to the attacker to issuer successful application of the technique.

6. Visualization Rule: when performing kata , always visualize the opponent.

Kata interpretations, or bunkai, must follow the above rules. Bunkai becomes personal in how it is applied by a martial artist as an individual.

Human beings are naturally different. We differ in size and strength, speed, ability, agility and intellect. Even gender can dictate how we should physically erect in a real combat situation. This difference is what makes bunkai such an amazing part of Karate. Although the kata can dictate where along the meridians an individual is striking (there can be more than one application), it is the individual who decides how and when to use particular bunkai. This is why I personally see the benefit of studying kata and bunkai. It is important for a number of reasons. Bunkai allows us to form practical self defense applications. As a person of smaller stature, I can appreciate that bunkai focuses on what works for each individual martial artist. When kata was originally designed it was not for the large, physically intimidating individual. It was created for Asian men who, for the most part were slighter in size. For example, I may use a self –defense that releases my opponent’s hand from my wrist. A larger person might instead choose to trap their opponent’s hand and step into the confrontation. This variety in the methods or application of bunkai is extremely important.

It is difficult to explain the meaning and importance of bunkai without discussing kata as well. They are uniquely joined to one another. To answer the question posed to me, I say the following: Bunkai means to analyze and search through your kata to discover the practical applications contained within. It is so extremely important because of its practicality. It teaches you how to be aware of yourself and how to adjust to your opponent’s movements. When a situation changes, you are ready to make any necessary adjustments because there is always more than one interpretation for movements in a kata. Regardless of size or strength you are able to find which self-defenses work the best for you. Bunkai, like Karate, is an ongoing opportunity for knowledge. No matter how much you train or what rank you are, you will always be able to find new secrets within the kata and bunkai is the key to unlocking them.

look the katas and click on the links below to see their applications.

Heian Shodan Hangetsu
Heian Nidan Enpi
Heian Sandan Gankaku
Heian Yondan Jion
Heian Godan Sochin
Bassai-Dai Nijushiho
Bassai-Sho Goju Shiho-Dai
Tekki - Shodan Goju Shiho-Sho
Tekki - Nidan Chinte
Tekki - Sandan Wankan
Kanku-Dai Meikyo
Kanku-Sho Jitte
Unsu Jiin

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