Bunkai or Balderdash

by Sensei Mike Pepe

Bunkai has been around since the inception of the martial arts when one student

was brave enough to ask, "What do I use that move for?" Since then, bunkai

(applications) have developed like the folds of a fan. Forever expanding from

the point of origin.


Many schools donít dwell deeply into the bunkai of techniques and some revile in

how many bunkai they can find for even one technique.


Telling students that a punch is a punch and a block is a block is somehow not

enough these days. In the hands of a knowledgeable student, a punch can become a

spear hand or a wrist break or a punch a different direction all under the

premise that the originator wanted it this way. "Sure, in the bunkai my punch

actually goes in the opposite direction. The originator actually knew this but

wanted to keep it secret so he went the other way. He never told anyone. "Itís

really a one-finger strike to the "x" pressure point but the originator thought

it was too deadly so we hide it as a punch."


 One source states that a punch is really 13 different strikes

in one movement!


It wouldnít be a surprise to anyone if I said the originators to many of

the kata done today are unknown! How can we possibly know what they were

thinking. Itís also not a revelation that much of the history of the martial

arts got destroyed when the Americans attacked Okinawa and the Japanese

mainland. Itís also not hard to believe that many sensei and students of the

martial arts died in WW2.


What Iím saying is weíll never know the original bunkai to many moves in kata.

We are left to explore moves and analyze them so that they follow our dynamics

and what we think is "practical".


Sensei Nagamine, who we know created fukyugata ichi and died only a few years

ago, was asked if the first move in his first basic kata was to symbolize the

"peaceful" side of karate and he said, "No, itís just the direction I started

the kata".

I wonder how many originators would have said the same thing! How many kata

creators stepped forward while blocking just because they felt like adding a few

blocks to round out the kata. With all the kata out there, how many had no

hidden agenda. How many are laughing in their grave as we stumble to find the

secret applications that are "lost". Iíll bet if you visit the cemetery of some

past sensei and sat in the cool October air sometime after midnight, you just

might hear their voice blowing on the windÖ. "aaahh punccch is jaaahst a



"Think well, of the beginning. Think often, of the beginning".


Sensei Mike



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