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Bunkai - There can be only one

We were practicing bunkai in class this week. “Bunkai” is the self-defense application of the movements of a kata. In our study, I was reminded of a Sensei I knew who taught that there is only one bunkai per technique. “There can be only one.” Heck, I’ve been to seminars where the sensei said not to worry about the applications at all, ‘just practice the movement and the truth will be revealed’, but that’s another story.

I do agree that with bunkai, there is a primary application. Some schools will refer to this as

the “omote”, or “surface” technique. This is the most obvious, intuitive application of the movement. Sometimes this is also referred to as ‘honto”, or the “true” technique.

That said, I subscribe to the philosophy of “The longer the shoreline of wonder, the larger the island of knowledge.” (Yes, I am flipping the quote. :) Applying this concept to bunkai means you should study a movement in a kata, question its various possible applications and test and drill these movements with a training partner. Ask your sensei, and research the kata online. Through this study, you will throw out crazy improbable applications, and reveal the “ura” or “hidden” techniques, that are equally, if not more powerful than the omote applications. This increasing your self-defense toolbox, deepens your knowledge of the kata, and empowers you to distill the applications out of the dance.

P.S. Technically, I can’t leave the definition of ‘honto’ as I have above. While it is true that most often the ‘honto’ application is the same as the ‘omote’, there are cases when a sensei will assert that what others may call an ‘ura’ application is the true ‘honto’ application. In my humble opinion, this is a matter of semantics. Knowing, and being able to apply the applications is what is truly important. Understanding the movements starts with the simplest, most obvious applications and builds out from there.


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