Wednesday, October 5, 2016

BUNKAI - The Essence of Kata

Bunkai from kata (self-defense). This application shows
up in several advanced kata.
Bunkai (practical applications) are every bit as important as the karate kata they are found in. The more one trains in kata, muscle memory, balance, speed & power will improve. And when one practices kata along with the bunkai, the better their skills will be in self-defense.

But it is important to take time initially to:

(1) Take your time to build muscle memory. As your body gains muscle memory, focus all strikes, blocks and kicks (blocks need to be as powerful as strikes, but use your head because some students can not accept powerful blocks).

(2) Speed up technique and perform kata and bunkai as fast and powerful as you can. Take a few seconds and watch some of the more impressive students in a dojo - what are they doing that makes them look so fast and powerful? You should be able to duplicate & even surpass their efforts - just put in as much energy as you can in your kata and bunkai. But make sure that the technique and stance are not sloppy.

You need to have focus even at the beginning of a new technique or kata. How you practice in the dojo, is how you will defend on the street. If you put in little effort, you are going to learn something, but you are also setting yourself up for a real shock if you have to use your martial art for self-defense. Take a look at any Tai Chi video. Do you think the performer of tai chi could actually defend themselves? Ask yourself. Am I fast enough to block a punch from an attacker? Can I knock down an attacker with one strike?

Another bunkai found in kata - this one occurs in Naihanchi shodan 
and others
As muscle memory kicks in when you are learning a new kata or bunkaipractice the bunkai and kata slow, but focus every single kick, punch and block. During the session, emphasize posture, balance & proper stance.

Next, do bunkai and kata with as much energy as you can muster - imagine defending yourself and you have to respond to your opponent with great force and speed.

When it comes to bunkai, it is important that after you acquire muscle memory to train with great acceleration and focus. We’ve all heard the gi sleeve and cuff ‘snap’ during class. This is your goal! Listen for that snap on every move in kata and in bunkai! The gi snap is an important training aid. But, protect your training partner by punching in the air next to him or her, that way when someone makes the wrong move, you both will survive.
Kata bunkai demonstrated at black belt clinic at the Arizona Hombu dojo by Grandmaster Hausel. Students claim
Soke Hausel is so fast that they cannot see the techniques until he make a concerted effort to slow down. This kind of 
speed and power results from training with power, speed and focus in all kata and bunkai.


Seisan (Hangetsu) Kata

In Okinawan dialect, there is a kata known as Seisan; in Japanese, it is Hangetsu. It has also been called Sesan, Seishan, and Jusan. Seisan refers to the number ’13'. Thirteen what? Thirteen hands, 13 fists, 13 techniques, 13 bunkai, 13 seconds?. But in Japanese, Hangetsu, means ‘half-moon’ referring to pigeon-toe stance (hachi-dachi) used throughout much of the kata. Even so, Seisan was applied decades, if not centuries, before it was called Hangetsu by Gichin Funakoshi.

Seisan is thought to be a very old kata, and is prominent in the Naha-Te (i.e., Goju-Ryu, Kokushin Kai) karate schools. For those of you who have studied the history of karate, you will remember, karate took on different characteristics in three different villages on Okinawa: Shuri, Naha and Tomari. The Naha practitioners emphasized body building and hardening and were considered physically powerful martial artists. At the beginning of the kata, we can see evidence of the Naha influence in slow blocks and punches that Naha schools often perform with ibuki (deep and hard breathing) and resistance. As a teenager, I remember practicing this and similar kata with ibuki and by the time we finished, a break was needed to catch our breath. That is how intense the breathing exercise is performed.

The kata is found in most legitimate karate styles including some Korean martial arts. The kata is considered to be advanced. If you are curious, I would suggest watching some videos of this kata just to get an idea of the considerable differences employed by different schools today.
Training in kata at the Arizona hombu dojo in Mesa, Arizona under the
watchful eye of Soke Hausel, Hall-of-Fame grandmaster of
Shorin-Ruyu Karate
Some legitimate karate styles that practice this kata include Chitō-ryū, Gōjū-ryū, Go Kan Ryu, Isshin-ryū, Meibukan, Moo Duk Kwan (Korean), Ninjutu Shito-ryu, Ryū-te, Ryūei-ryū, Seito Matsumura-ryu, Shōrin-ryū Seibukan, Shōrin-ryū Okinawa Seidokan, Shōrin-ryū Seiyo Kai, Shōrin-ryū, Shōrinji-ryū, Shinki-ryu, Soo Bahk Do (Korean), Koshinkai Karatedo, Shotokan, Tang Soo Do (Korean), Uechi-ryū, Wadō-ryū, Yoshukai Karate.


The Seisan kata likely originated from one of the many Chinese Kung Fu systems, but it is unknown which. There are some Chinese styles that have a form called 'Shisan' in their curricula, but a link from a specific kung-fu form to Okinawan Seisan has never been established.