“Good” Bunkai

(as has been said many times before, for “Bunkai” read “Oyo” 🙂 )

Just a short one this time and may well cause a few raised eyebrows in my own circle.

This has come about on the back of a chapter I was currently involved in writing anyway and a FB advert that came up today for an upcoming Iain Abernethy seminar specifically on this subject (plus the imminent arrival of this years “Bunkai Bash” event in a few weeks).

So it’s just some random thoughts on what constitutes “good” bunkai.

Bear in mind that this is coming from someone who’s main focus is on teaching practical and functional techniques based on kata as a fundamental part of my syllabus and you may think some of my conclusions are quite at odds with that viewpoint.

The short version of my thinking on this is that good bunkai is ANY bunkai which adequately demonstrates the points and principles that you were aiming to demonstrate with it.

Does this mean that it needs to demonstrate realistic self-defence skills based on sound combative principles in order to be valid? Strangely enough in my view, no it does not. If (and it’s a big IF) that is not what you were intending to achieve with it.

If you intention was to provide a set of drills or applications to demonstrate the body mechanics and basics of classical karate (typically long range, multi attacker, one at a time scenarios with no definitive finishing move for each opponent before moving on to the next one) and you achieve this then it constitutes “good” bunkai for the purpose and reflects what you are training for.

Was this the original intent of kata, almost certainly not, but it has become a fundamental part of modern karate as an “art” or “way” and as such is valid for that purpose.

Likewise, if your aim is to work practical and realistic skills and your bunkai reflect the kata, contain no “fluff”, are based on sound principles and lead to a logical conclusion then they are probably “good” bunkai in the context of what you were trying to achieve.

There is however that grey area in between, you can do all the same bunkai as the first group above but call it “self-defence” and it will immediately become “bad” bunkai simply by changing the context (choreography is not self-defence, not matter what Hollywood would have you believe).

There are worse “grey bunkai” out there than that of course. You can spend many a happy hour on You Tube (or similar) looking at videos of terrible bunkai that are neither one thing nor the other. They purport to be “practical” whilst sticking to unrealistic ranges, unrealistic attacks and a dependency on things happening in the correct order to work. These are the genuine “nonsense karate” that many of us work against but they are popular because they look like highly skilled applications and are still “proper” karate.

So effectively it comes down to the context and intent as to whether your bunkai is “good” or not (only in my personal opinion, obviously).

Those of us in the pragmatic or applied side of karate often get hung up in the notion that as we train for practical skills that everybody else does (or in our opinion should be doing) the same. This however is not the case and there are a large number (possibly even the majority) of students who have no wish to either face or try and understand the realities of violent conflict and are actually pursuing a martial art for the sake of the art (and the physical disciplines that entails) itself.

I have long ago given up on the concept that I am everyone’s Dad and should be trying to lead them to the “true” way. People train for their own reasons and it’s their own responsibly to make sure that their training is fit for purpose. To paraphrase “You can lead a horse to water but you can’t make it think!”


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