The more I practice and teach 形 Kata the stronger I feel about the importance of also practicing 分解 Bun-kai. Bunkai, is the practical application of the various 技 Waza, Techniques in the Kata. In the Chito-Ryu system any Sensei include the practice of various forms of Bun-kai to enhance students' practical knowledge of basic 基本 Kihon including such pre-arranged movements as 体さばき Tai-sabaki, which has its roots in Judo, to more complex attack and defence sequences such as Hen-shu-ho and Jun-ni-ko. Such practice also deepens our understanding of Kata. But, how many regularly practice the specific Bun-kai to the Kata?
By deconstructing the Kanji for 分解, as we have done in the past, we can attain a better understanding of what 'Bun-kai' really means. 分 Bun, in this context means a Portion of the Kata. This is fairly straight forward, but Bun can also have another meaning. First let's look at 解(く) Kai also pronounced Toku has multiple meanings from untie; undo; unfasten, to solve; answer; and work out (a problem). Placed together with 分 Bun used in a different context, this time 分る Wakaru, to Understand 解 Kai which is also often used with the kanji 理 (理解) to define understanding. This tells us that Bun-kai is an integral part of Kata practice that is necessary for understanding the Kata and the unique defence and counter attack techniques therein. That is to say, we cannot fully 'understand' the Kata if we do not practice the Bunkai.
For the past few years, I have been spending the majority of my training time with the Senior High School (SHS) athletes at Buntoku SHS where I teach English communication and coach the Karate-do team. Our training consists mostly of preparation for high level competition 競技空手 Kyo-gi Karate and, although we practice Kihon almost everyday, we inevitably end up spending more time on Kumite than Kata. Recently, in preparing the students for their upcoming 初段審査 Sho-dan Shin-sa, Black Belt Examination I have noticed that their techniques are severely lacking in some key areas. Speed and Power along with Breathing and Timing are often focused on during the training but the techniques in the Kata are still insufficient. This got me thinking, if all of these athletes are in great shape physically; flexible, strong, and young, then why can't they perform these techniques properly?
The answer, I believe can be found in their awareness and practice of Bun-kai, or in this case, the lack of Bun-kai practice.
There are many ways to approach the practice of Bun-kai, above we can see the Bun-kai of the Kata of the Goju-Kai being performed by Yamaguchi Goushi Sensei. I find it very interesting to watch this clip and I find that I learn more the more I watch it. The applications are fast and smooth and very practical they speak volumes about the Kata.
(Sequence of techniques from the千唐流 正整 分解Chito-Ryu Seisan Bun-kai, 1979)
I am not sure how many people know, but there are specific Bun-kai for each of the Kata of Chito-Ryu Karate-do. I am confident that the senior ranking Sensei in each country are aware of these Bun-kai sequences. I strongly feel that researching them and adding them to our practice of Kata will enhance our training and deepen your understanding of Kata.