Kata och Bunkai

Bunkai means “application” in Japanese. It refers to a type of training, usually performed as formal one-step kumite, in which the practitioner studies the application of the individual movements performed during kata by applying them as defenses against the simulated attacks of a training partner. The practice of bunkai is a long-missing-from-Kyokushin, but vital, link between kata and kumite.

(Kyokushin-kan strives to define itself as an organization with the tools to ADVANCE Kyokushin through a specific technical vision which includes a concentrated understanding of kata, bunkai, and tournament kumite, along with the (re) introduction to Kyokushin of Chi energy training (through Ikken), Bukijutsu (weapons training), head/face-punch kumite, a heightened standard for manner, a stricter standard for promotion, and a refined set of tournament rules. These technical articles were written with the intent to inform Kyokushin-kan’s members of all that is meant to be gained.)

In kata, of course, not only is there no opponent, there is also no partner. Those who practice kata have no choice but to visualize an opponent. The problem is that many of us fail to do so, and the movements become arbitrary. Karateka who have lost their way practice fighting, on one hand, and this bizarre karate dance called “kata” on the other. There is no connection without a study of how the precise movements of kata can be applied precisely to defend against actual attacks. In fact, one might argue that it is impossible to master kata, or even really understand it, without studying how to perfect the movements, and, furthermore, that one can’t effectively study the movements without applying them against attackers performing the corresponding attacks.

There were elements of Kyokushin that evolved during Mas Oyama’s lifetime, there were others that devolved, and others that remained the same. Ikken, for example, is not something that was regularly taught by Mas Oyama, but it WAS part of the original Kyokushin synthesis, since Mas Oyama practiced Ikken (or Taikiken) prior to his founding of Kyokushin, and because he encouraged his early students to do the same. Just like defense from face punches, which was all but lost during the era of Kyokushin’s golden age of world tournaments in which face punches were prohibited, the practice of bunkai is not something that Kancho Royama and instructors of Kyokushin-kan are introducing to Kyokushin; it is rather a practice that is being re-introduced because it was all that karate was, prior to Mas Oyama’s creation of full-contact karate.

Sundomei karate (“sundomei” refers to all the non-contact styles of karate, including Shotokan) has kata and bunkai at its core. Hence all of the karateka who contributed to the formulation of Kyokushin who had prior karate exposure, including especially Mas Oyama, had extensive practice in bunkai. In other words, it’s always been present in our training; it just hasn’t been emphasized until now as our instructors at Kyokushin-kan are working to bring back some of what was lost along the way.
One might ask, “What would be the meaning of kata and bunkai WITHOUT the full-contact type of training for kumite that we are more familiar with?”

The answer is that it would be a lot less meaningful. After all, without the full-contact training for kumite, we would be just another sundomei style of karate. However, let’s now flip the question and ask, “What is the meaning of full-contact karate without the practice of kata and bunkai?”

Well, since Mas Oyama taught that full-contact kumite is vital to Kyokushin, one might say that it would be a little bit better than the former case, but not by a wide margin. Mas Oyama always said, “Kyokushin karate is not brawling (brute) karate; it’s Budo karate!” and, yet, if all we practice for is beating someone else up in a tournament, our karate risks becoming just what Sosai said it shouldn’t be. Training only for competition in which there are rules to protect the competitors, and the melee is always one-on-one, is limited in terms of what the practitioner can learn about self-defense. What if in the self-defense situation the karateka is facing 5 attackers? What if they’re armed? Certainly, those attackers are not following any rules, because in life-and-death situations there are none. Kancho Royama teaches that there is no way to master Budo karate without the practice of kata and bunkai.
In the below video clip, watch Kyokushin-kan world champion, Senesi Inoue, demonstrating bunkai for Sushiho kata, and then continue to read below about the marriage of kata and bunkai.

Shinken shobu