In my beginning there was no bunkai.
Not only did my instructors not use the term,
They did not hardly work on applications of kata technique.
Lewis Sensei trained on Okinawa 1959-1960 to my best recollection.
Murray Sensei trained on Okinawa around 1972,
neither used the term bunkai,
and followed another powerful paradigm for Isshinryu.
In fact when Charles trained under Shimabuku Sensei,
And his son Shinso, it was mostly an Okinawan dojo.
The Marines had their own dojo on their base.
While he studies kobudo kata, trained,
and was shown how to train in Chinkuchi by Shinso,
Kata applications were not what anyone worked on.
However Shimabuku Sensei often did show how movements from kata,
Could be used when you were learning them.
And of course you felt the answer!
In too soon a time I was on my own in Scranton.
Among my daily routine, I ran each morning before kata practice.
It gave me a lot of time to think,
I remember thinking that kata applications ought to have a purpose.
Whenever Okinawan instructors were shown in magazines,
Most often they did show how some kata movement could be used.
If anything those articles reinforced my thinking.
I started traveling to many schools in many styles,
And none of them were working kata applications as a study.
They used different answers.
A separate study was one I undertook in Yang Tai Chi Chaun,
and then a variety of Chinese forms.
But in those cases I was not looking to study the applications of those movements.
I remember Ernie Rothrock,
my Yang instructor and the one who shared so many forms with me,
asking me many questions about my karate.
I realize now he was doing so to lead my thinking.
Many of them were about applications.
But I did not know what I did not know.
Then one friend started teaching a concept I had not seen and with a unique word to name the practice.
It was bunkai.
It turns out that bunkai,
was a central practice of the Shotokan of Tristan Sutrisno.
But with a very different twist,
than what would be come to be referred to a bunkai,
in the magazines and many others.
His answer was unique from everything others did and do.
Essentially a student at dan level,
would be taught a bunkai for each movement point of all their kata.
Those movement points would be the starting point,
For a string of explosive techniques,
Unrelated on the whole to the kata itself.
There was also a bunaki version of the form,
Incorporating many of those new movements,
Allowing additional ways to practice the new movements.
Seeing the kata performance would not allow anyone uninitiated
to know what was coming.
The student did not spend one second trying to work out a bunkai.
Instead the just worked to make what they were shown more effective.
Then at Ni Dan an entirely different bunkai was taught for each movement point of the kata.
Different bunkai, differemt kata to accompany those movements.
That continues for the long training in each of the 5 dan levels,
Decades of training.
I was told that the 3rd and 4th bunkai involved throwing and downing potentials. We even were shown some of them back in 1988.
Accompanying those changes at 3rd dan were other structural changes.
The manner of breathing changed to exhalation with each breath.
The manner of striking permanently changed to the old style fist,
Where the first finger was held straight with the thumb pressing down against it.
The photos can not convey how explosive his technique was to expierence.
This was the key to the manner these studies were acquired.
Obviously I did not get the system just from being shown it’s existence.
I had learned by them, there was a real difference,
between fully being trained In a system,
And simply being shown how things existed.
That was from another concept Sutrisno Sensei taught me very well.
His father in Indonesia was always pressed
to show ‘secrets’ at other school visits.
What he did was show true private practices, leaving nothing out,
But in doing so he also used the ‘Technique of No Technique’.
He showed everything completely,
knowing most would not remember the details,
And the actual technique most often required patient, slow study,
To get it correctly.
That could not happen at the clinic, and most often what was shown,
Valid at they were, would become vapor-ware.
Anyone who could learn the techniques, Deserved them.
In fact back once upon a time, he used that
when he showed some of the 3rd and 4th bunkai
from Heian Ni Dan and Heian San Dan.
I have a video record of him showing the technique,
And then him not saying a word,
But him correcting whatever the students were doing,
to make that more effective.
A true example of Technique of No Technique, in action.
So though I was shown the following bunkai and kata versions that was never the same as being trained in them.
The shodan bunkai for Bassai Sho,
The shodan Bunkai for Bassai Dai,
The shodan opening bunkai for Hangetsu,
The shodan bunkai for Nijushiho.
The bunkai for 3 successive bo kata,
O Sensei No Kon,
O Sensei No Kon No Dai,
O Sensei No Kon No Dai Ichi
While that was a lot of movements,
it was nothing approaching the depth Of his system.
And there was a whole lot more to what he taught.
Among those understandings,
I came to appreciate why bunkai were not taught to Kyu student.
Without going in the details about what he utilized,
The idea that there would eventually
be bunkai for their studies was not hidden.
Instead there were a huge variety of practices utilized,
Among them at green belt a number of Aikido wazza were studied.
In time I came to realize not just for their techniques,
Which were sound,
But to train the individual how to enter the open space around an attack,
Enter and then use that space for the Aikido wazza.
That skill to later be built upon when used in bunkai studies.
What was most important was to build the student,
Skill, power, focus as a kyu.
And shown enough technique that if necessary they could acquit themselves.
But only when the foundation was actually strong enough,
Would the explosive nature of the individual bunkai be shown.
Then gradually as each required much time to get right.
In truth I acquired a great deal from Tristan.
His Shotokan karate, his Aikido, his Tjimande and more.
At that same time I had moved from Tai Chi into other Chinese form studies,
With Ernie, and saw how his students were taught,
As well as watching (and learning) a lot of really neat Chinese stuff.
And I was also acquiring more from everyone I was training with.
Enough stuff for a lifetime of study.
Then living in New Hampshire and no longer regularly training with him,
I began to put what I had studies to work.
But now alone, I had a stronger idea,
I wanted to make my Isshinryu able to defeat any of them,
And that was an incredible challenge,
Especially as they were so skilled and far ahead of me on the learning curve.
So I thought long on what I had acquired,
And with no instructor to guide me,
One day I came up with a plan.
Start small and go from there.
One Sunday morning after the Tai Chi group I was training,
Outside on my driveway, I came up with an idea.
I would take those movements in kata and forms I had studies,
The least, most innocuous movements,
and see if I could make them work for defense.
The Da Lu, the pull back from my tai chi,
Movements from several kata.
Such as Goju saifa and Sanchin,
Yang tai chi’s fair lady works shuttles,
And so forth.
What I found was I could drop an opponent with them.
And these were things I had not been shown.
From there I conducted other theme studies.
Such as the breaking arm, the wirling winds, and so forth.
Then I got more focused and I began with Isshinryu Seisan Kata’s opening movements.
I discovered over 75 different ways
I could drop an opponent with that movement.
Inside, outside, advancing, retreating, turning.
Then I began to move forward into other studies.
After about 5 years work,
Serendipity played in, and I met Sherman Harrill.
Quickly discovering he was doing much the same thing I was,
Of course he had a 40 year head start on me.
Over the next 7 years I attended perhaps 60 hours of his clinics.
Of course that did not make me a student (far too short a time),
But upon his death discovered,
I had documented 800 of his kata applications and application principles.
Which inspired me to further my studies.
Then having the opportunity to train with his senior student,
I was able to learn more.
The more I worked the more I seemed to understand.
And I was learning too.
For example one night
I saw a new application potential for a movement From a kata.
I showed it to the group, and of course it worked for me.
Now it was a movement all had worked on for over a decade.
I showed them what I did a dozen times,
And even in slow motion.
Then had them attempt it.
None of them could do it,
And many times they turned into something else.
They were not bad students,
It just explained something else.
The spiritual side of karate.
You really have to believe you can do it.
If not, you will do something else.
That makes sense for defense,
But does not get to the core reason we train,
To continually expand our capabilities.
I prefer a definition of the meaning of karate that Patrick McCarthy once gave.
Karate meaning the “Infinite” hand.
As the infinite bounds of space.
For defense you only really need one technique, one movement that always works.
But to strive towards the infinite,
That is something else.
For one thing no one, even your instructor,
can anticipate what will be your response.
Finding new answers,
Continually engages your mind, not to grow stagnate.
As you age, you keep redefining what you are.
Eventually you realize the goal answer.
To take any movement at all,
And insert that movement into an attack,
And conclude the attacker,
No set answer,
Only a set result.
Man fall down,
The journey never ends unless you choose to make it end.