Bunkai - Omote, Ura, Honto

There can be only one! The words of the infamous Highlander, do not apply to Bunkai! Through April, we focused on Kata and Bunkai, and before it drifts too far into the past, I though it worthwhile to review this post.

“Bunkai” is the self-defense application of the movements of a kata. Many moons ago, I trained with a Sensei who taught that there is only one bunkai per technique. “There can be only one.” He is not alone. I've attended seminars where instructors do not teach applications at all, adhering to the philosophy that to learn the applications, all one must do is practice the kata. "The truth will be revealed".

In my limited opinion, this could not be further from the truth. I do agree that with bunkai, there is a primary application. Some schools will refer to this as the "omote”, or “surface” technique. This is the most obvious, intuitive application of the movement. Sometimes this is also referred to as "honto”, or the “true” technique.

That said, I subscribe to the philosophy of “The longer the shoreline of wonder, the larger the island of knowledge.” (Yes, I am flipping the quote. :) Applying this concept to bunkai means you should study a movement in a kata, question its various possible applications and test and drill these movements with a training partner. Ask your sensei, and research the kata online. Through this study, you will throw out crazy improbable applications, and reveal the “ura” or “hidden” techniques, that are equally, if not more powerful than the omote applications. This increasing your self-defense toolbox, deepens your knowledge of the kata, and empowers you to distill the applications out of the dance.

P.S. Technically, I can’t leave the definition of ‘honto’ as I have above. While it is true that most often the ‘honto’ application is the same as the ‘omote’, there are cases when a sensei will assert that what others may call an ‘ura’ application is the true ‘honto’ application. In my humble opinion, this is a matter of semantics. Knowing, and being able to apply the applications is what is truly important. Understanding the movements starts with the simplest, most obvious applications and builds out from there.