Saturday, 15 February 2014

Why The Never-Ending Bunkai?

Imagine for a moment that you are an Egyptologist who specialises in translating obscure Egyption papyri. You are given a text to translate as accurately as possible and to attempt to discover what is hidden within the script. If there were glyphs and passages that you could not translate would it be reasonable to simply make it up? would it be tolerated by peers and colleagues to present a translation and say "I could not translate these sections so I made up a few different passages, please choose your favourite one!". Next imagine you were given a papyrus and told it was a medical text, after beginning to translate it you quickly discover that it is not a medical text at all. You relay your findings to your colleagues who insist that it is a medical text and that you should ignore your discovery and carry on working on the 'medical' text. Would this be acceptable? Why in Karate kata research and study is it acceptable to create endless applications for the antique kata (forms inherited from China) when they clearly had an original function and purpose? Why is the attempt to re-discover the original functions dismissed so easily as impossible and never-ending creative interpretation embraced? If ancient languages thousands of years old can be unlocked why can't a physical language encoded in forms also be explained.

Kata contain very specific shapes and movements so it is reasonable to assume they have a very specific purpose. Looking at the pictures above it is hard to imagine that the creator(s) of each of these forms had it in mind that practitioners spend their time making up as many applications as possible for their kata. What is the advantage of creating many applications for a kata like Seisan or Kusanku as opposed to simply making up a kata that suits the individual needs and technical repertoire of the practitioner? Often the applications only loosely resemble the movements of the form which means there are two separate things being practised, a solo exercise and an applied technique. If function does not match the form then what is the point of the form?

As each movement in the antique kata originally had a specific applied function the sequence is the relationship between all the techniques. By looking at which techniques are cataloged in a form it is possible to determine the overall function and context for use. Creative interpretation often ignores the relevance of the sequence, producing application after application with no significant relationship between movements and techniques.

It is the responsibility of the creative interpreters to explain and prove the value of creating endless applications for the kata, as opposed to seeking out the original functions which the forms were born out of. The question remains, why not simply create new kata based on personal experience and skills to achieve a desired end? Would a new self protection or street-fighting kata resemble any of the antique forms? if not could this be a clue that not all kata serve the same assumed self-defence function and that an assumption free re-examination is needed?

Please contact us with any comments, questions or most importantly for training please email Tom Maxwell at, thanks for reading!!!

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