Sunday, September 22, 2013

Kata Instruction, and Bunkai

  There are numerous ways that the instructed kata can be utilized by the students. Initially they function mostly to aid the student in learning to control their own body motions. As they progress, they are shown how to utilize the kata motion as techniques that are used in their defensive practices.
  Bunkai, is the Japanese word for “Breaking-Down”. In this instance it represents the task of interpreting the motions of the kata. What is often seen amongst the Japanese systems, are examples of motions that are related to “sparring” (competition). This was the emphasis of those Japanese systems (in the early years of their development in Japan).
  But the majority of the kata were developed long before Okinawan “Te” was even introduced to Japan (much less for it's utilization in training for "competitions"). Te was utilized for the Life Protection of the practitioner. Because of that, it's motions were commonly kept secret amongst only the student(s) of the individual instructor (whom was very often another family member). This “secrecy” would provide the student with a (possible) tactical advantage if the student was forced to utilize that training to protect their lives.
  Those motions had to remain “hidden” (to the casual observer) while one was practicing the motions of the kata. Depending on how one was instructed, student's would practice the kata motions in secret (away from observation), or in plain sight (knowing that the casual observer (without proper instruction) couldn't interpret the practiced motions (correctly).
  Depending on the individual instructor, the interpretations of those kata motions could (and did) vary greatly between instructor's. This could be attributed to different body-types, or simply what different instructor's felt should be emphasized (by/for the individual student).
  The original developer's of those traditional kata died long ago (along with their original interpretations). What was shown/taught to Taika by his instructor's, was the methodology of kata motion interpretation. It was not uncommon for past masters to only teach 1 or 2 kata. They would focus their instruction on the motions contained within those kata. For that reason, a student would often study with several instructors to obtain the knowledge that they were seeking.
  During the Second World War, many of the older masters died, either through direct or indirect involvement in the war, or through their advanced years. In any event, many of them that may have had direct knowledge of the kata motions (Bunkai), died during that time period.
  Oyata's instructor's were both bushi from the era that this type of training was considered crucial to one's ability to defend themselves.
 Much of Taika's early training was in regards to understanding/interpreting the motions contained within the kata that were commonly being taught.
  Taika's instructor's had never had any other student's (claiming that none had proven worthy, or trustful enough to impart their knowledge to them). By the time Taika met them (1946-47?), the war had ended, they were near the end of their own lives, and with the availability of the firearm (pistols), anyone could defeat a “master” (therefor, there was no reason to conceal that knowledge any longer).
  When Taika approached them about becoming a student, his attitude, his timing (as well as his family lineage) was enough to convince them to accept him as a student.
  Much of his early instruction was in understanding/interpreting the motions performed within the kata (that were being commonly taught on Okinawa). They only taught Taika 2 kata, both were their family-taught kata. The other kata that were included into his own instructed methodology, were learned from Nakamura Sensei (and are what is being taught as the 12 kyu-level kata within his system).
  As a student in our classes is shown the various kata (throughout their instruction), they will continually be shown refinements and corrections that are intended to be included within each of the taught kata (unless specifically told otherwise).
  This often means that a kata “known” to the student, will be further refined as they learn to include those “refinements/details” that are shown to them as they progress in their studies.
  What is often difficult to understand (as a “new” student), is that there is no “Basic”, “Intermediate” and/or “Advanced” (versions) of the taught kata. We attempt to avoid those descriptions so as to avoid misinterpretations of the kata motions.
  Each kata is a continually evolving process. Taika always stated that each student will associate themselves with a particular kata, and that kata will become “their” kata.
  As the student progresses through these various “stages” of learning the kata motions, they will be shown various “bunkai” for those motions. They will often recognize their own bunkai as well. They will additionally see that there are multiple interpretations for each of the performed motions (depending on which level/stage of performance is being done).
  There are numerous guidelines that we were told to consider when attempting to interpret the motions of the kata.
  First, a “fist” can represent (either) a strike, or a grab. Any hand motion can represent the tori's or the uke's hand.
  Steps and/or kicks can represent forward or rearward motion, all kata motion should be considered to be either forward or rearward in the motions actual application.
  Every motion, should be considered to be an application. Kata will tend to adhere to a “theme” (applications to the front of the tori, or behind them). It should be remembered that instructor's often only taught a few kata, so repeated motions (techniques) are not uncommon (amongst the different kata).
  It should also be remembered to not ignore the obvious (interpretation), though probably not the most technical of interpretations, those simplistic techniques are just as important to beginning students as they are to the experienced practitioner.
 Taika had always taught that the kata motions were akin to the "Alphabet". Each motion had an interpretation (if not several), and those motions could be combined in numerous ways to form "words" and (eventually) "sentences". 
 We were taught that rarely (if ever) would those "letters" (motions) be performed within the kata in the manner that they would actually be utilized. Once a student learned to recognize the "letters", they could then form "words" and eventually "sentences" of defensive techniques. 
 Using this methodology, there are an endless number of possible combinations of techniques and applications available to those who earnestly study the kata.

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