Friday, January 3, 2014
Kata, and the Instruction of Bunkai
As kata is commonly being practiced (within other systems), the motions are considered to be (stagnant) individual techniques that are strung together like some marionette show.
Kata are intended to aid the student in practicing the individual techniques that are represented within the motions of those kata. lt is those motions, that are utilized in various combinations to create the individual techniques that are taught/practiced in the system.
Every system interprets those motions differently. Oyata spend numerous years studying those kata motions, using the methodology's taught to him by his only two “instructor's” (Uhugushuku, and Wakinaguri).
Every technique and motion that is taught in our classes, began as an interpretation developed by Oyata, and was drawn from the instructed kata that are learned during the kyu rank levels of instruction.
What is commonly called the "basic" form of the kata, is (only) the initially taught manor of how to perform the kata. Every kata is (eventually in one's training career) performed with individual nuance's that identify the particular system/practitioner's preferences.
What is referred to as the “advanced” form, has the additional motions that are not included within the initial instruction.
Though numerous systems will often teach the "same" (or at least similar) kata, their interpretations of the techniques contained within the kata will often vary (sometimes greatly) as well. This can often account for the differences made in the performance of the kata motions as well.
Regardless of the individual motions that are performed, or which of the interpreted technique(s) (Bunkai) are shown/taught, the “kata” are a designed to be utilized as a continuing training/learning exercise.
As my associate has often noted ,when a student begins their study with us, they are taught the kata motions in a sequential manor. Each of those definitions illustrates and includes more (definition/details of) motions that should be performed in every kata that's learned. By the time the student has been shown the 4th kata (or so), those motions are often being included during the students initial instruction of the kata.
Student's will assume that every kata is taught in those same "stages" (this would not be correct). Many kata contain similar motions/movements, when those motions are taught to the student, it should be already understood/recognized that they are the same motion (learned previously), and therefore, are performed the same.
(IMO)There are no “wrong” ways to perform the kata, just a number of different ways to perform them. The kata motions are all subject to individual interpretation. It has been proposed that this is how/why different “systems” came to be. The different instructor's (associated with each of those individual manor's of performance) all had their own way/manner of performing certain techniques. Yes, there is only one “Te” on Okinawa, but just like a guitar, there's a lot of different ways for it to be played.
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 it's 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 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 Oyata 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 Oyata's early training was in regards to understanding and interpreting the motions contained within the kata that were commonly being taught.
Oyata'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 Oyata 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 Oyata 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). His instructor's only taught Oyata 2 kata, both were their own family-taught kata. The other kata that were included into Oyata's instructed methodology, were learned from Nakamura Sensei (and are what is being the 12 kyu-level kata within the system that Oyata taught).
As the 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. Oyata always stated that each student will associate themselves with a particular kata, 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 numerous interpretations for 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.
For example, 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 often 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.
Oyata 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.