Friday, 12 April 2013

The Ebb and Flow of Ignorance

Bunkai - An in-depth study of kata...or the latest in a long line of  money-making gimmicks?
I've been thinking about bunkai recently. Not that I don't think about bunkai often, but for a while now I've being wondering where this latest surge of interest in bunkai (certainly among Goju-ryu people) has come from? More than that, I've been wondering why so many people post footage of themselves on YouTube, showing anyone who cares to look, their fighting methods....from a self-defense point of stupid is that!

My sensei encouraged me to discover my own bunkai, to develop my own understanding of the kata I was practising: to make karate my own. I wonder....just how do you go about making discoveries if all you do is wait for someone else to come up with bunkai, then copy them? How do you ever develop an intimate understanding of your kata, if your bunkai has been given to you by someone else?

Every decade or so something "new" appears in the karate world, and right on cue the world splits into  two: those who sell it, and those who buy it. I believe bunkai, a word by the way that as little as ten years ago most karateka had never even heard of, has now undergone such a division. The karate world is now awash with salesmen, sorry...."bunkai specialists", who are only too willing (for a fee) to do all your thinking for you and show you everything they know, which usually equates to a fraction of what you need.

The kata of karate are there to be explored and personalized, they are there to be studied and absorbed, and to have the principles brought to life through personal discovery and struggle. If your study of kata is authentic, if it has life, then what use to you are the bunkai of others? To all those who believe the kata of karate came about from the battlefield experiences of Okinawan samurai....grow up! For unlike the kata found in kobudo, there are few karate kata in use today that originated in Okinawa.

As time passes, and the ebb and flow of ignorance within the karate world rises and falls with each new generation, it's no bad thing to stop for a moment, and ponder your understanding of karate and where that understanding has come from. Training with my sempai recently, one of them commented, "If people don't know the kata well, it's no use learning the bunkai." In the rush to be entertained by long and, in my view, overly complicated bunkai, a great many in the karate world are neglecting to engage, in a meaningful way, with the kata themselves.