Bunkai means “analysis”. It is a question of dissecting every movement and every move of a kata. The aim is to understand the applications and principles contained in a kata (respiratory work, explosiveness, work on go no sen or sen no sen, etc.).
As there were no written records, the transmission of the applications is far from optimal. You should find these applications as your classes, courses, reading and personal research progresses. But is our interpretation the right one? Many karate experts often ask themselves the same question.
I suggest you read Bunkai by Areski Ouzrout to help your analyse of katas. Based on Ouzrout’s book, here are some principles to consider in the search for bunkai to ensure they are realistic and resemble the reality of combat.
7.1 General Principles
- Consider a single enemy at a time (even if the kata can be a fight against several opponents).
- Find a range of techniques that respond to common forms of attack. In practice, look at the attack and think about how the technique can provide a solution.
- Consider different fighting distances (e.g. the opponent may be in the area between the arms and body).
- A recurring technique is an important technique. It generally offers several possible applications.
- Do not look at a technique in isolation. Examine the techniques that come before and afterwards in order to construct a move.
- Understand the principles behind the techniques (e.g. sen no sen, go no sen, slip, unbalancing, etc.).
- There is always an exception to the rule.
7.2 Stances and Moves
The principles of a kata’s movement can help you discover new bunkai:
- Leaps and changes in direction may constitute throws.
- Stances where the legs are crossed and folded may mean a rotation of the body or a strike on the lower limbs.
- 45 degree changes in direction may mean slips.
- Do not let yourself be shut in by an embusen. Kata movements suggested certain interpretations that we must discard if we wish to discover new bunkai. Remember to put yourself out of reach of attacks (slip on the outside, get behind or unbalance your opponent, etc.).
- The names of the techniques may be misleading and each part of movement has its own importance.
- Use every part of the body (e.g. stances are techniques).
- Use both hands mains simultaneously (e.g. do not overlook the hikite).
- Kicks are more effective and less dangerous to perform if they are low.
- Use simple and instinctive techniques that do not depend on physical prowess.
- Each technique can be used in different situations. In a real fight, it is often more effective to master a small number of movements that can be used in many different situations (e.g. the multiple applications of a “simple” gedan barai).
7.4 State of Mind and Strategy
The handful of principles outlined below are important to keep in mind when fighting and are implicit in the interpretation of kata:
- Anticipate and keep the initiative so that the aggressor cannot mount a series of attacks.
- Anticipate the reaction of your opponent and put him or her in a difficult situation for any response (e.g. slip, get behind the opponent, unbalance him or her, etc.).
- Finish the fight quickly in order to reduce the danger.
- Immobilise the opponent before striking him or her (e.g. control the head).
- Strike weak points.
Finally, to understand all these principles and to look at illustrations, I advise you once more to read an exceptional book, Bunkai, by Areski Ouzrout.