In general, bunkai is seen as a definition. By that I mean, kata represents a word which can then be defined by bunkai. For example:
Hypotenuse: the longest side of a right triangle, the side opposite the right angle
Block Left: A punch is coming in with the opponent’s right hand and I block with my left arm
See the similarity? Using this framework, people often develop a step-by-step dictionary of what they think their kata means. Through rote memorization, they can perform their bunkai on command when necessary. Unfortunately, when utilized as the sole method of bunkai learning, this method tends to get stuck and can be restrictive to learning.
Memorization is good until……..sorry…..I lost my train of thought.
The problem with memorization is that it is prone to failure. Time, distractions, creativity…they all get in the way of memorized techniques. Furthermore, locking in explanations for techniques prohibits the mind from exploring new options.
The concept of shuhari suggests that we must follow, transcend, and break away. Of course, this isn’t a step-wise process and is in fact circular, as we constantly learn new things, understand them, and then internalize them.
By thinking of bunkai as sheer memorization, we are limiting ourselves to shu (follow).
The First Phase of Learning Bunkai
The first phase of bunkai is almost always shu. Can it truly be any other way? We all have to learn the basics of our systems. Through the practice of kihon, drills, kata, and self defense skits we learn how to introduce our bodies to the art of fighting.
Unfortunately, getting stuck in the first phase is all too common. It is warm and comfortable in the first phase. “He strikes like *so* and I block like *so*. See? Nothing to it.”
It is also tempting as a teacher to simply hand bunkai to students, saying “here! do this!” But once again this is the path of least resistance; one that leads to little investigation of the core concepts traditional styles are trying to teach.
The Hard, Messy, Frustrating Way to Learn Bunkai
To turn bunkai into ti chi ki (or “what the hand is doing”) you have to engage in building and rebuilding. By that I mean slowly (very slowly) analyzing what your techniques are doing and what opponents could be doing. Instead of a single solution to a single problem, concepts like distance, timing, and scenario are factored into the equation. You also must look at where exactly you could be striking, grabbing, twisting, or throwing. As you can imagine, there are a lot of possibilities.
Going slowly and methodically like this leads to memory overload. In fact, it is not unusual for a practitioner to forget what they did at the beginning of a kata by the time they get to the end. The reason for this is the extreme concentration the person is putting on every single technique. At first it seems like you might be running into the same memorization problem as before, but in fact its due to an excess of learning as opposed to simply forgetting what you generally do.
With this messy version of bunkai, progress always seems slow. What you discover one week can be gone the next. To make matters worse, there might be different bunkai partners who offer various height, weight, and intensity challenges.
If learning bunkai and ti chi ki like this is so unpleasant, then why do it? The answer is long-term payoff. By examining techniques individually and presenting yourself with constantly shifting situations, you are forced to analyze all aspects of the technique. For example, sometimes a block can be a block, but other times it can be a strike. Other times it can be a joint lock. When, where, and how is for you to discover through trial and error.
Eventually, through this practice, techniques and situations will become ‘familiar’. Pieces of kata will start to remind you of other pieces in other kata and connections between the techniques can be made. Instead of “if person A does this person B does this”, you can begin to see “here is how my body will naturally react with an appropriate technique.”
Taking time to fail and try new things is the best way to really learn a kata. It is also one of the most effective ways to shift kata from a mechanized workout to a live, ever-changing platform to explore technique.
Remember – a technique is more than just how it looks at the end. There is space, time, and events occuring between stances and punches. Find out what’s going on!
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We’ve arrived at the moment of truth and I want to give a big thanks to everyone for participating. It was a great pleasure for me to start up giveaways on this site and I hope to do plenty more in the future (with new and interesting ways to win).
I’d also like to extend a thank you to Karate Depot for being a great sponsor and hooking up our winners with some cool prizes.
The winners were selected at random using my randomization program (developed just for this purpose). For the comment prize, every comment submitted by you got you one entry into the pool. For the Facebook prize, being a fan of the Facebook page got you a single entry.
No, without further adue, The winner of the Comment Prize and new owner of a pair of Discipline Martial Arts Shoes ($50 retail):
Congratulations Mike Oliveri! You’ve been a killer commenter so you definitely deserve the win here. Thanks to all the other commenters too, I’ll get you in a future giveaway!
The winner of Facebook Contest and the new owner of the KD Elite Double Sided Focus Target ($30 retail):
Congrats to Christopher Lee! Who knew Facebook could be so lucrative, haha.
I’ll be in touch with the winners shortly to collect the necessary information. Should either of them decide to decline the prize, I’ll alert a newly drawn winner.
Thanks again to everyone for playing and being involved, and I’ll see you around tomorrow for a brand new post!
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The game seems to have changed. Gone are the days of predominant hand to hand combat. What we have here is a whole different realm of taking people out.
The Mafia vs the Yakuza – not sure which way I’m going to go for this one. I bet on the wrong horse last week (the knight), making me 2/3. I can’t afford to go 2/4! With that in mind, let’s take a look at what I consider an obvious issue with this episode.
Aren’t the Weapons Basically the Same?
I understand that there are technical differences between the guns available to both societies, but weren’t they really close?
I suspect that both parties will be utilizing a machine gun, a sidearm, and a short range stabbing weapon. From what I can tell, the mafia will be using the Tommy gun and an ice pick.
Will the Yakuza be utilizing a katana? As I understand it, the katana was more ceremonial amongst their ranks.
Unfortunately my knowledge of Japanese culture doesn’t extend into guns, and there is very little information online about it. It seems to me like this episode might devolve into a comparison of hardware capability, rather than warrior skill+weapon effectiveness. Who knows, I could be wrong.
One thing I am willing to say though is that guns seemed much more available to the mafia. The yakuza had to import a lot of their equipment, where the mafia had quick access to American made firearms. That means they would get the chance to be much more selective about the quality of their guns.
Quick Cultural Note
Did you know that the Yakuza made the bulk of their profit running prostitution rings? It’s true! They augmented that with drug running and business extortion. The mafia on the other hand dipped more into alcohol (and later drugs), and racketeering.
This is tough. On one hand I think the mafia is going to have an edge when it comes to quality of firearms. On the other hand, if the yakuza are granted their katana, they will have a distinct advantage at short range.
Ultimately, I see this as a major long range battle. Who can do the most damage with the most accuracy from a distance. That’s why, based off of supposition and limited information, i’m going to make my guess for the mafia.
How about you?
If you know more about these guns and crime organizations, please include something in the comments section! Not only do I want your input for this one, I need it!
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