Entrance to the Barn Dojo....

Wednesday, January 09, 2013

How do you train bunkai?

This raises a lot of questions for me. It almost seems as though the more appropriate question would be...How do you train kata? If the classical katas of Goju-ryu contain the essence or techniques of the system as well as the martial principles, then we use bunkai to study kata. Kata is the study of form--we practice to get the movements right and to understand the principles embedded in the kata--and bunkai is the study of how to use those movements. (When you think about it, what else is there?)

Goju attack to the head
from Saifa kata.

But if bunkai is the analysis of kata--which seems pretty straightforward--then what is henka bunkai or oyo bunkai or even different levels of bunkai??? I read these terms on the Internet all the time and wonder where they came from. There is only one kata movement, so why isn't there just one bunkai for that movement? We don't usually say a white belt should do the kata this way and a green belt should do it some other way and a black belt should do it a completely different way. So why should the bunkai be different? If you are trying to teach someone self-defense, why would you reserve some methods of self-defense for someone who has trained five years and some other techniques for someone who has trained ten years. I've even read authors who say the kata is like an onion, that the kata has different layers of bunkai. But katas are not like onions; ogres are like onions! This does not mean you are teaching a beginner Kururunfa, but the bunkai for Saifa is the same, it seems to me, for a white belt as it is for a black belt. Certainly we hope the black belt is able to execute the techniques better, but they are the same techniques.

Goju attack to the head
from Seipai kata.
Of course, the big question is finding the bunkai, but leaving that aside for the time being....

The next question is how to train bunkai. The problem for me is that so many karate schools base their training on, for lack of a better term, generic karate. The focus of much of the training time is spent on basics and training subjects. By basics, I mean the head punch, chest punch, down punch, the overhead block, the chest block, the down block and a few kicks. Everybody lines up--beginners to senior students--and they do high repetitions of these techniques. Then they practice training kata. In Shorin, this would be the Pinan kata, and in Goju, the Gekisai kata. It seems to me that the emphasis is all wrong here, and yet this is what you see in most schools. The problem is that the emphasis here is put on many techniques that don't really characterize the style, or techniques that don't actually occur that often in the classical kata, at least in Goju. In Goju, we don't see a jodan tsuki or upper-level punch in the classical kata. Rather, the idea is to bring the head down and then punch with a chudan tsuki or middle-level punch. Similarly, there is no jodan uke or rising block in the classical Goju katas, at least not the way that it is practiced in the basic drills of most karate schools. And what we actually find in the classical kata of Goju-ryu is not a gedan uke or down block but a down attack. So if you practice these generic karate techniques in this way, you really are confusing the issue, clouding one's understanding of certain martial principles found in the classical subjects.

Goju attack to the head
from Seiunchin kata.
So one way we should be practicing bunkai is to substitute the techniques of classical kata for the generic basics we seem to be spending an inordinate amount of time on. And we should be practicing them with high repetitions and on both the right side and the left side. Simply doing kata alone does not give us sufficient practice of these techniques, and some techniques are often only done on one side in kata.

The next thing we should be practicing is doing each of the moves against an opponent. The opening move of Saifa kata, for instance, is a response to a same-side wrist grab (or the opponent's left hand grabs the defender's right wrist). We should practice stepping forward along the northeast angle and dropping the right forearm and elbow over the opponent's arm to bring them down. This movement--when done correctly--brings the opponent's head down. The left hand is then brought over to grab the opponent's head, dropping and pulling back into horse stance, and the right forearm is brought down on the back of the opponent's neck. This should, of course, be practiced this way, just as it is done in solo kata.

But there are also some principles that should be trained here as well. It may be less likely that someone initiates an attack by grabbing your wrist, but they may grab your wrist at some point in an encounter. So this technique--in fact any wrist grab response from any of the other katas--can be trained this way: Train the same response with the defender punching and the attacker blocking and then grabbing the wrist. Additionally, the first movement in Saifa is showing you how one might deal with the opponent covering your arm on the same side--that is, your right arm or hand is under his left. Using the ideas or principles shown in this first move of Saifa, one should train turning the body--this is the equivalent of stepping forward along an angle--and coming over the opponent's arm with your elbow and forearm. In this case, we are training parts of the original bunkai but not the whole sequence. In the same way we might repetitively train moving to the northeast or northwest corner--to the outside--of an opponent's attack--that is, just training the stepping shown in the kata. There is nothing pedagogically surprising here; you just break the technique down into smaller and smaller parts until you "get it."

Another way of training bunkai is to train variations (see article "Kata and Bunkai: a study in theme and variations" in Journal of Asian Martial Arts, Vol. 18, no. 4) but that's perhaps a subject for another day.

No comments:

Post a Comment