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WadoBen
WadoBen's picture
At what level to teach bunkai

I have been teaching karate for 15 years now and to be honest we never really did any bunkai, my instructor still feels there isn't a need for it. But I have taught myself bunkai through people like Iain's work opening my eyes, I teach my black belt students drills for all of the kata they do, but I was wondering at what grade people teach their  students or were taught bunkai themselves by their instructors? 

Is it too early to teach an adult beginner the application of blocks and lunge punch in the first few weeks of their training? 

Do they need the basic 'foundation' of just doing the techniques for the sake of doing them for the first few months?

and when do you start to teach application to children?

I would be very interested to hear everyone's opinions please

Iain Abernethy
Iain Abernethy's picture

Hi Ben,

I teach it from day one. As soon as a student learns any motion, they also learn how to apply that motion. Practising the application helps get the solo motion right, and practising the solo motion helps improve the application. They are not two different things, but mutually supportive ways for practising the same thing (i.e. with and without a partner).

I personally see little point in getting a student to learn a given set of motions and never connecting it to conflict until after a significant period of time has passed. To me, this is a little like getting a child to memorise how to neatly write out “1 +1 = 2” without also explaining that the figure “1” means “one”, that “2” means “two”, what the “+” and “=” signs mean … and above all else, the very concept of addition. It’s replication without understanding or application. The sooner the connection is made, the better in my view.

As always, a huge amount depends on the training goals in question. If the aim is to learn kata for art, cultural interest, physical exercise, etc then bunkai becomes less important. If the aim is to develop combative skill, then the link needs to be made inextricably and instantly in my view.

As regards children, there needs to be an acknowledgement of the lack of emotional maturity and the limitations of young bodies. Certain techniques would be ethically inappropriate to teach i.e. teaching a child how to choke out another child. It is also inappropriate for developing bones and joints to have locks applied to them in the same way in which adults would practise.

I would teach selected bunkai to children which would be appropriate to their bodies, level of maturity and need. There remain a lot of the applications I would not teach.

All the best,

Iain

PS This old podcast of mine may also be of interest: http://iainabernethy.co.uk/content/beginning-bunkai

WadoBen
WadoBen's picture

Thanks for your reply Iain, it makes a lot of sense especially your maths example. I agree that everyone should learn it from day one and it's what I intend to do with my own students. 

what do other people do about teaching children bunkai? I teach from quite young so would like to know what people teach themselves?

Iain I actually re listen to that podcast yesterday  

Katz
Katz's picture

I've been thinking about that very question myself recently, seeing how I'm starting a club and I just read "The way of Kata". I came to the conclusion Bunkai should, as Iain said, be taught from day one. However, simpler applications are best for a start : starting with the obvious ("block-punch is for blocking, then punching"), and a little of the simpler ideas ("...but it could also be attack-punch"). Leave "hidden moves" and steps used to unbalance for later, though. Especially, don't show them moves or concepts they haven't seen yet.

As for kids, I can't say. I think I would apply the same rules, though.

Black Tiger
Black Tiger's picture

For Me as we look more into Bunkai of every kata as part of our training in Ashihara karate.

We tend to teach the Kata predominantly as the Students know the Kata in its basic concept.

We do however use the Bunkai to assist in teaching the Kata to students who find the movements to complex.

For me the Bunkai we practice is more Jissen based as opposed to Goshin based like traditional forms.

The Traditional forms we practice are considered as "grappling" kata as we concider the "punches" as Kuzushi rather than actual punches.

Leigh Simms
Leigh Simms's picture

Iain Abernethy wrote:
As regards children, there needs to be an acknowledgement of the lack of emotional maturity and the limitations of young bodies. Certain techniques would be ethically inappropriate to teach i.e. teaching a child how to choke out another child. It is also inappropriate for developing bones and joints to have locks applied to them in the same way in which adults would practise.

I would teach selected bunkai to children which would be appropriate to their bodies, level of maturity and need. There remain a lot of the applications I would not teach.

Hi Iain,

Maybe slightly off topic and maybe entirely theoretical (as I believe you don't teach children), but would you say that it would be appropriate to teach children different/new kata? That were specifically designed to teach applications/bunkai that would be as you say "appropriate to their bodies, level of maturity and need".

Rather than teaching them the standard karate kata that we look at today (ie the Pinans, Naihanchi, Passai etc....) and teaching watered down applications, that I suggest would remove the need for the kata in the first place.

Wastelander
Wastelander's picture

Well, when I started out, you were taught bunkai as soon as you could perform the entire kata reasonably well. Of course, that was all block-punch-kick application, and not actually useful for self defense. At my current dojo, we will typically start students on practical bunkai very early on--some of them on day one, and some of them a little bit later, when they are more comfortable with the movements they are learning.

Zach Zinn
Zach Zinn's picture

I dunno, I think it should be pervasive thing, so commonly taught and done that people don't even think about it as a discrete part of the curriculum.

Black Tiger
Black Tiger's picture

Iain Abernethy wrote:
As regards children, there needs to be an acknowledgement of the lack of emotional maturity and the limitations of young bodies. Certain techniques would be ethically inappropriate to teach i.e. teaching a child how to choke out another child. It is also inappropriate for developing bones and joints to have locks applied to them in the same way in which adults would practise.

I would teach selected bunkai to children which would be appropriate to their bodies, level of maturity and need. There remain a lot of the applications I would not teach.

Leigh Simms wrote:
Maybe slightly off topic and maybe entirely theoretical (as I believe you don't teach children), but would you say that it would be appropriate to teach children different/new kata? That were specifically designed to teach applications/bunkai that would be as you say "appropriate to their bodies, level of maturity and need". Rather than teaching them the standard karate kata that we look at today (ie the Pinans, Naihanchi, Passai etc....) and teaching watered down applications, that I suggest would remove the need for the kata in the first place.

That's what the Pinan/Heian series was for - teaching Children. see the respective thread

JWT
JWT's picture

I teach application first, kata later.

With regard to children, the youngest I teach are 11 year olds in secondary schools and there's nothing I teach that would be emotionally, legally or physiologically inappropriate for them.

Kokoro
Kokoro's picture

At all levels I teach bunkai, from the moment they learn the first kata, I teach the bunkai. To me kata is worthless without proper bunkai. There is no point to it.

But also you have to the bunkai at the level of the students understanding. you can't be teaching something that is beyond there understand or capability of performing. Bunkai must have meaning, purpose and be useful. All movements have a purpose behind them that is practical.

J

JWT
JWT's picture

Black Tiger wrote:
That's what the Pinan/Heian series was for - teaching Children. see the respective thread

I think we've covered the lack of evidence to support this assertion before, and the weight of evidence to argue beyond any reasonable doubt against it.  See the respective thread. :)

Iain Abernethy
Iain Abernethy's picture

Black Tiger wrote:
That's what the Pinan/Heian series was for - teaching Children. see the respective thread

To reiterate what John said, we did discuss this to death in a previous thread. No evidence was put forward to show this was the case, but evidence was put forward to show why it was an inaccurate statement to make. In the thread it was brought up several times that personal decisions around which kata to practise are fine, but that universal statements of “fact” could expect to be challenged; especially when their inference is that anyone who does make use of the pinan kata is doing it wrong because their kata are inherently flawed.

The 13th rule of this forum is:

http://www.iainabernethy.co.uk/site-rules

“13. The whole point of the forum is to share information. Therefore please don’t make any “information free” posts! Be sure that your posts add something to the discussion and you are not “talking for the sake of talking”. All posts should be questions aimed at clarifying the views expressed in another post; a statement of your own views including an explanation of why you hold those views and believe them to be true; or statement of an alternative position complete with an explanation of your view and why you hold another view to be invalid or not as valid. “I think kata is a good way to train because ….” is great. “I think kata is a good way to train” end of statement is poor and such posts will be deleted. This is not a “shout from your soap box” kind of forum. All posts need to add something to the discussion.”

I’d therefore ask you to respect that rule. If you do wish to add some evidence to support this assertion – i.e. you have new information that you did not have the first time around – then please add that to the original thread:

http://iainabernethy.co.uk/content/notes-pinan-yondan-pyong-ahn-sah-dan

Failing that, can I ask you to respect that rules of the forum and avoid making strong sweeping assertions of “fact” without supporting evidence (as distinct from stating a personal preference).

All the best,

Iain

Iain Abernethy
Iain Abernethy's picture

Leigh Simms wrote:
Maybe slightly off topic and maybe entirely theoretical (as I believe you don't teach children), but would you say that it would be appropriate to teach children different/new kata? That were specifically designed to teach applications/bunkai that would be as you say "appropriate to their bodies, level of maturity and need".

There could be a case made for creating and teaching a “children’s kata”, but personally I would stick with teaching them adult kata with age appropriate bunkai (as I would suggest has been the tradition). As they get older they can learn the “adult bunkai” for the kata they already know rather than having to begin again from the beginning.

All the best,

Iain

Zach Zinn
Zach Zinn's picture

I hear a lot of stories about "the old days" when the word bunkai wasn't used.

I sort of wonder if the dichotomy between what is "bunkai" and what isn't is actually a result of the modern "3 k" approach in the first place, as application of what we are doing should sort of be a non-issue, and completely pervasive.

The thing with kids is interesting. To borrow a phrase from Wilder sensei, if I ever teach kids again, I will likely teach them the "drunkle" (used for your drunk uncle - i.e. the least injurious) versions of whatever we are doing.

Iain Abernethy
Iain Abernethy's picture

Zach Zinn wrote:
I hear a lot of stories about "the old days" when the word bunkai wasn't used.

I sort of wonder if the dichotomy between what is "bunkai" and what isn't is actually a result of the modern "3 k" approach in the first place, as application of what we are doing should sort of be a non-issue, and completely pervasive.

I agree with that. The need for labels only comes about if you need to mark differences. If kata application was more widely infused then there would be less need to differentiate between approaches that includes its practise and those that did not.

Also, bunkai roughly translates as “analysis” (i.e. “to divide into smaller parts so one may gain understanding”). Today “bunkai” has an acquired meaning of “kata application”, but it is essential kata application that has risen from analysis of the kata. In the past there would have been no analysis as the applications would have been directly taught … so I can therefore understand why “bunkai” is used more today than it was in the past.

All the best,

Iain

Holgersen (not verified)
Visitor's picture

I'd agree with the the concensus above that analysis/ application should be taught as soon possible, but that it can be tricky if the student doesn't already have a grounding in tactics and the stradegy of self-defense (or atleast has one for themselves).  That being said I believe that not teaching analysis until the dan grades is a mistake. The dojo I first attended didn't start teaching application until the dan grades. Every once in awhile the head guy would throw some knowledge out at us and have us practice a new application that wasn't punch, kick, block, but it was maybe once every three months and then it was never mentioned again.

Without the function of the movements I think students just fill in the gaps with anything, which for me when I started training was Bruce Lee, Jet Li, Gorden Liu (is that how you spell his name?) and Sonny Chiba. Basically nothing of any value. If I didn't fill the gaps of kata with movie junk then I made it a kind of rain dance to the karate gods to grant me ultimate killer power and that if I needed the kata it would just spring from my subconcious and I would react naturally. I was fifteen, and I humbly apologize.

Personally it was very hard to kick all of that junk out of my head, even when I did find out that kata did actually mean something. Part of this is because movies and rain dances are romantic. Not in a kiss, kiss, love kind of way, but they're preferable to most people when compared to practice and work. I actually think it is part of the reason that practical karate isn't so readily acceptable to many people. They don't want practical, they want fantastical.

In short, I think one should teach analysis and application as soon as possible, so that the student doesn't have to unlearn bad habits they've picked up on their own.

Dillon
Dillon's picture

I'm working for the first time with a group of students entirely new to karate, which is shaping up to be an interesting experiment. In this case, we've been drilling fundamental applications, and as people get more comfortable, we'll be building the kata out of the applications. Then break the kata back down and play with alternate applications. Should be fun.

Mark B
Mark B's picture
From day one. I only teach my Juniors Naihanchi kata. I also teach some very basic kakie to my juniors to allow their applications to work off the receipt of energy. Clearly applications are appropriate to the age of the student but in my opinion a young person getting pushed/grabbed/punched is no different ( to them) than if an adult attempted to intimidate me through the use of physical energy/violence. Regards Mark
Bob Davis
Bob Davis's picture

If it's any help my recent experiences have lead me to believe that teaching (basic) application from day one helps to link the whole thing together, even for (or especially for) kids. Here is a video of a padwork drill developed by my training partner Brian specifically aimed at his kids class, although I find it a very useful (and fun) drill for adults also. It is basically just (Shotokan) Takiyouku Shodan (Kihon Kata) done as a pad drill using Gedan Barai as a strip and a stepping punch. A very simple drill but it introduces "a block isn't just a block", getting off line and setting angles, and dropping weight through a strike and multiple strikes all from day one. Hope it helps. 

https://www.facebook.com/photo.php?v=10152908100195130&set=vb.820055129&type=3&theater

Dale Parker
Dale Parker's picture

It's always good to have an understanding of what you are doing.

Just curious, does anyone teach the use of harsh language during bunkai?  I've heard Uke say really harsh things at times.

Jon Jepson
Jon Jepson's picture

Hi all .

Ive been following this thread closley and theres some great point raised . Dale thats a really interesting point you raise . I think that if you was taken off guard and actually attaced then bad/foul language would almost certainly be used . Ive even know it used in consensual fights on the Judo mat and in light continues/full contact sparring too . 

I do mention in my adult classes the fact that if someone causus you to use physical technques on them , then foul/abusive launguge must be acepted as a certainty .

Regards.

Jon.

Th0mas
Th0mas's picture

Clearly there are some issues with doing this for kids! :-) 

What's more important is to create the feeling of intimidation (classic Monkey dance stuff - thanks Rory Miller). I find that bad language is not vital to create that type of atmosphere, posturing and "apha male" behaviours are more effective to ellicit a fear response. IMHO I think bad language helps the agressor to "get in the mood" so that they can act agressive, rather than being intrinsically threatening in its own right... unless you're a real shrinking violet...