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#436301 - 08/05/14 04:18 PM An open letter to bunkai researchers...
Bartfast Offline

Registered: 08/03/14
Posts: 2
Hi all,
I have just begun a Blog, and I've made a post I think will be of interest to those interested in Bunkai. I tend to find I am unique in my views, so I submit them here as a different perspective.

#436322 - 08/26/14 09:45 PM Re: An open letter to bunkai researchers... [Re: Bartfast]
Ed_Morris Offline
Professional Poster

Registered: 11/04/05
Posts: 6772
ok, you write this line: "The following is presented to help dispel certain myths concerning the Kata of Karate, in an effort to get back to what Bunkai should be intended for: The study and understanding of the transmission of fighting knowledge via classical Kata, as it was intended to be understood"

if it was intended to be understood, why was it not transmitted consistently the same way between masters of the first generation or beyond?

then you later say "Donít misunderstand. I do not pretend that I know what every movement in every Kata is trying to convey. Neither do you"

so therefore, you are admitting you (and everyone else) don't know how it was intended in all cases. therefore it's open to interpretation and opinion. what is the basis for accepting or rejecting myths if there is no solid ground to stand on?

so why do some have it wrong while others have it right?
does the most intellectual and/or poetic argument win?
does the one with the most convincing interpretation win?
does the one with the most demonstrably effective win?
does the one with the most direct lineage win?

each one of those have strength and weaknesses....but don't tell me, YOURS is the right one, yes?

Edited by Ed_Morris (08/26/14 09:46 PM)

#436323 - 08/26/14 09:58 PM Re: An open letter to bunkai researchers... [Re: Bartfast]
Ed_Morris Offline
Professional Poster

Registered: 11/04/05
Posts: 6772
kata is not the best way to learn how to fight or defend yourself.

what kata is good for is an intellectual historical study on trying to figure out why karateka practiced kata.

meanwhile, doing the hours/days/weeks/years of drills and simulated H2H drills and other ancillary exercises, one gets stronger and more confident with the drills...thereby strengthening the belief they are moving in the right direction towards understanding the 'lost' art of self-defense. when in fact, it's not a lost art at all - it's just evolved.

#436329 - 09/02/14 06:26 PM Re: An open letter to bunkai researchers... [Re: Bartfast]
Bartfast Offline

Registered: 08/03/14
Posts: 2
Am I to understand that when you say 'if it was intended to be understood, why was it not transmitted consistently the same way between masters of the first generation or beyond?' that you are arguing that it was not intended to be understood? While there are indeed variations in how the old master's taught or trained Kata, there are actually more similarities, I think. So in a way you could argue that the Kata were transmitted consistently if you allow that a master may alter Kata slightly depending upon the student's strengths/weaknesses. So, a student of the original generation (a student of Itosu for example) would be a private student, and may not see Itosu show the kata to anyone else. It could be the case that an early master might teach a very short student to aim strikes higher than a really tall student. But, after this 'generation' of private instruction and tailored kata, that student that learned a modified kata specially fit to him would then begin teaching groups of students at once. So he would be teaching the kata as taught to him without further altering it to generalize it. This of course is conjecture on my part, but we do have records of that being the case, and I believe that is what Funakoshi meant when he mentioned that kata were always being altered and adapted for relevance. Another major problem of consistent transmission, is simply people mis-remembering kata. There were no books on Karate, and no videos. You only performed the kata as you remembered it. I feel you were implying that it was purposely transmitted in an inconsistent way, and I don't agree with that assertion. World War 2 also deeply affected Kata as many practitioners died, or at the very least weren't practicing their kata for awhile. It is understandable that some kata changed due to that. But, I definitely do not think there was ever an intentional attempt at creating something that doesn't have intention. Plus, the masters weren't in China for all that long. As I mentioned in the article, even Itosu had no idea what certain things were, and that reflects his incomplete training in the Chinese arts. He preserved things that he wasn't entirely certain of, and he preserved things that he was certain of. It is easy to imagine inconsistencies arising from confusion. The more obvious techniques are probably less inconsistent across styles than the more confusing parts are simply because it is easier to remember something that makes sense. Make up a nonsensical word in your mind that has no meaning, or can't even be pronounced, and try to recall that word in 3 years. You most likely will have forgotten it. But you don't forget words that attach to meaningful things. So, somewhere in there is my idea of why there are inconsistencies.

You then ask a great question: 'so therefore, you are admitting you (and everyone else) don't know how it was intended in all cases. therefore it's open to interpretation and opinion. what is the basis for accepting or rejecting myths if there is no solid ground to stand on?'
I absolutely am saying that I am not your answer. Socrates once said that a wise man knows that he knows nothing. But he does not say that nothing can be known. Just because you don't understand something doesn't mean it is unknowable. I do not agree that it is open to interpretation. There is an answer, I just do not know it either. And I am calling others out on their implications that they do. The opening movement of Naihanchi Shodan means something. Someone that created that Kata meant something by it. It could be that he only meant that it looked cool. And if that is the case, no amount of coming up with useful things for it will change that it was aesthetic in purpose. Or, it meant something specific; a block, a slap, a grab, something. It cannot be that it 'meant' several things. While people will have various interpretations, that doesn't mean there should be various interpretations. We should be looking for THE answer to questions, not as many answers as we can come up with. To address the second part of your question, logic and reason are the basis upon which we can evaluate myth. Just because I ask someone a question does not imply that I have to accept their answer. If I ask for directions to Canada and the person tells me to start heading South, I am not obligated to do so because, though I don't know specifically what roads I need, I do know it is North. The same is true here. Just because I don't know what the original intent was, logic and reason dictate that there is one, and I can still evaluate other answers as nonsense while still not having an answer of my own. As my highschool physics teacher always said 'you have to know enough to know that you don't know'.

You ask 'so why do some have it wrong while others have it right?
does the most intellectual and/or poetic argument win?
does the one with the most convincing interpretation win?
does the one with the most demonstrably effective win?
does the one with the most direct lineage win?

each one of those have strength and weaknesses....but don't tell me, YOURS is the right one, yes?'
I would say, the one that holds up to intellectual and practical scrutiny is the one that wins. The one who's interpretation appears to be the simplest answer, applicable directly to the type of attacks from the period, would tend to be my choice. I am not in a position to pick one for you. The entire point of my article is not that I'm holding back the secret answers for anyone, my point is there is an answer. If you pick an answer and it works for you, I will have to accept that as the best I can do. As long as you pick one. I am arguing that the process people use is entirely flawed and self-serving (in many cases,not all, I absolutely do not mean my opinion to attack people that are truly seeking an answer, I mean it to attack people that are seeking 75 interpretations of what the downblock means in one moment of a kata. It is simple logic that it cannot be a down block and a wrist release, and a strike to the groin and, and, and... It may be those things across different kata, sure. But it is not all of those things in one instance.) I feel that people who say something like 'check this out it could be this, or this, or this, or this' are not demonstrating higher understanding as they would imply. Seeing many answers to a question is tantamount to seeing no answer to a question. If I ask for directions and you say 'oh, that place. No problem. It could be there, or there, or there.' Would you walk away thinking, 'Wow, that guy really knows his way around?'

I also completely agree with you that Kata is a terrible way to learn to really defend one's life. I think actual full contact bogu kumite is the real key. Kata in my opinion are not useful beyond exercise and connection to our history. There was a time when kata was how you learned the techniques. We now learn the techniques regardless of the kata that contain them. So if you want to say, don't bother with kata as a means of self defense, I would agree with that. My only point is, if you do want to work on kata and try to understand its original purpose and intent, then please heed my advice.
Thank you very much for your thoughtful reading of my article. I hope I have addressed your questions sufficiently. I guess to sum up my answer in a sentence I would say 'look for meaning in the kata, but look for THE meaning, not as many meanings as possible.'

#436337 - 09/18/14 07:11 AM Re: An open letter to bunkai researchers... [Re: Bartfast]
Matakiant Offline

Registered: 02/08/11
Posts: 128
In my mind bunkai is purely an excercise is intellectual study..

Kata is still somewhat of a training tool but one you can entirely do without.

It's more a living history now than a necessity to learn karate.

I believe kata evolved because of the way training was conducted in the ''olden days'' masters often did not see a single student more than once a month or even less so having a set routine of movements to strengthen the body and mimic the movement of techniques was for its time an excellent training tool

#436342 - 09/28/14 07:11 PM Re: An open letter to bunkai researchers... [Re: Bartfast]
Victor Smith Offline
Professional Poster

Registered: 06/01/00
Posts: 3220
Loc: Derry, NH
We live in a world where we have in 100 years gone from maybe several hundred people practicing karate to today perhaps 90,000,000 doing so. It is not surprising that the idea of karate has many different definitions. Some solely based on the study of kata, others eschewing kata just training in techniques and every form of variation possible. Who is right? I guess it depends on oneís point of view.
For most of the Okinawan arts there is simply no Karate if there is no kata. That seems to be a given in the Okinawan arts. Of course for those who want the term karate to be a generic term they may define it differently.
As to how to teach and incorporate application study there is no simple answer. Even Okinawan instructors held different opinions on the way their art was taught.
For one thing I do not start the formal study of applications till there is correct body mechanics to use. This is sometime after Shodan. Nothing is hidden, everyone is shown there are uses to the movement, but till the mechanics are correct, and the spirit believes in the movement, applications are secondary.
To me karate isnít about fighting. Of course others feel differently. It also is not about how to quickly attain skill to fight. Depending on the needs or time of the life, I would teach differently.
What I see is Karate is training for Life. Developing skill to live.
Iíve been at this over 40 years. Try as I might I cannot think of anyone in kickboxing doing so these past 40 years (though there must be some) I donít follow the sport. I recall reading long ago that in Thailand most careers were about 5 years long. Then the body would break down.
Perhaps I may make an anology (though they are slippery) I recall when Wushu broke on the scene. At first my friend and a kung fu instructor was fascinated with what they were doing. Several years later I asked him if he wanted to watch some films of WuShu. He replied, why wants to study an art that burns out their bodies so by 25 or so most are finished. That is contrary to what the Chinese arts are about.
I think it is a reasonable thought.
Then on the study of application. The study long term of kata isnít just that there are thousands of application possibilities. But to train and study them, not to have the right one for a situation, but to understand how to take any one technique and learn how to defeat any attack with it.
That is why the lifetime of study presents itself.
Of course why study more than one technique. Life needs variety for a lifetime of interest.
But what do I know?
victor smith bushi no te isshinryu offering free instruction for 30 years

#436347 - 10/08/14 09:22 PM Re: An open letter to bunkai researchers... [Re: Bartfast]
Ronin1966 Offline
Professional Poster

Registered: 04/26/02
Posts: 3119
Loc: East Coast, United States
Hello Bartfast:

It has been a while since I was able to take "active part" in net discussions. Hopefully I will be able to take part once again...

Fundamentally, does one believe in the value of kata or not? If the answer is "not" (e.g. no), then the discussion is valueless. However if the answer is affirmative, or someone willing to exame engrained movement patterning.... and that yes kata has value, then the discussion will be interesting...

I dislike artificial terminology. Meaning terms used for the purpose of mystifying, or confusing the issue. The term bunkai (for me) risks that very avoidable problem. Some may understand the generic term, but once we get into the linguistics, and implications of the particular culture(s) from which they originate(d), we risk a trip down the rabbit hole... IMHO.

Application, (an English word) used in place of a term like "bunkai" is a language which I both speak and sometimes comprehend. -wg- Japanese, Okinawan, Korean, Chinese Thai not languages, nor cultures in which I have sufficient meaningful background to understand the implied meanings which bunkai, or any other term possesses. We must be careful using such terms, unless we describe, and articulate them better.

Application of particular and specific kata movements can surely have many flavors, many varied uses. Whether by limited/restricted usage of them, or because of a different perception of understanding.

Regardless of any number of entirely individual factors (e.g. age, gender, weight, intensity, disability, etc.) kata movements ALWAYS work regardless of any specific combination(s) of those factors.

It is the mechanics and PRINCIPLES which govern physical movement(s) which make them effective. Memorize the physical, ingrain those mechanics and once achieved, explore them with many different partners. Questions of whether I have the timing right? Am I breathing in a manner which adds some power to what I am doing? Did I torque the arm too far away from my body and thus prevented the movement from working as taught?

The movements are painfully effective if I do not alter the physical mechanics. The principles tell us what to do with the different pieces which an individual brings to a kata's usage.

It is a beautiful thing when you find a "whisper", a hint of a different usage, something unseen or unconsidered before when working with lots and lots of different people.

Unstructured, with the intend to maim, harm, kill... we find applications quite effective, or our "understanding" of application dies with us.

Myself, I am a fan of them... even those whose mechanics appear mistaken. Examine somebody else's presentation and learn from such examinations.


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