Sensei Simon Oliver 6th dan IJKA shotokan karateka
Kane and Wilder, "The Way of Kata".
分解する Bunkai suru (verb) to break down; to disect; to take apart.
応用する Oyo suru (verb) to apply; to put to practical use.
A lot of people assume that there is no bunkai (analysis) and oyo (applications) in shotokan kata.
This assumption that shotokan kata have no applications does not only come from non karateka who don’t know any better or who are ignorant of the facts but also from karateka from different styles and from karateka within shotokan as well.
The training methods in Funakoshi’s era were very different to today’s shotokan karate.
I believe from my research and understanding that there is bunkai and oyo in shotokan kata, as a matter of fact there is just as much bunkai and oyo in shotokan kata as there is in most other traditional styles of karate like goju-ryu, shito-ryu and wado ryu.
Most of the techniques found in shotokan can be found in the other styles of karate, there may be some variation but the under lying principles and concepts are the same if not very similar.
The simple truth of the matter can be derived from the writings of Funakoshi who literally suggests normal training was much more than solo performances of kata in shotokan.
If you analyze his words he’s coming from the view point that kata as a solo performance or pattern is a waste of time, and also that kata is more than just kicking and punching and it contains grappling and throws.
Simon Oliver's oyo applications
Here are some of Funakoshi's thoughts in regards to kata.
"In karate hitting, thrusting and kicking are not the only methods, throwing and pressure against joints are included. All these techniques should be studied referring to basic kata." Gichin Funakoshi
"Once a form has been learned it must be practiced repeatedly until it can be applied in an emergency, for knowledge of just the sequence of a form in karate is useless." Gichin Funakoshi
“If you understand one kata you understand them all.” Gichin Funakoshi
I still think the karateka in Funakoshi’s era may have learnt the kata or form as a pattern this would be for mnemonic purposes to aid in the memory of the movements.
Instead of putting pen to paper and writing down every actual little detail that accompanied every technique or drawing figures ala sho lin monks, the techniques were recorded in the mnemonic movements of the kata.
So they could be learned and deciphered first from the physical side and then the mental side, instead of the reverse order. This means that the movements themselves have finer points missing and aren’t performed exactly as in a practical situation where partner drills are employed (remember they are an aid to memory) and execution will vary.
The kata are like an enclopedia and you have to derive the information from them by actually physically doing them then analyzing and applying them. Maybe that’s were most westerners have become confused and start saying silly things like “Deadly OR Secret” techniques.
The techniques are mnemonic, like I said they don’t carry every little movement of application how could they, since every kata is meant to be a fighting system on its own, how silly would it look to actual perform a seoi nage like your actual throwing someone by yourself in fresh air? or try to add every little detail.
But the fact that these techniques can be found in kata performed in a mnemonic way, means that Funakoshi and his generation must have practiced, throws like a judoka, grappling like a wrestler, and striking, thrusting and kicking associated with karate today.
I honestly believe in Funakoshi’s day there was no such thing as bunkai and oyo, what we consider as bunkai oyo today was a part of everyday normal training back then which today we have labelled bunkai and oyo as though it’s something new to shotokan when in reality it existed from day one.
Did Funakoshi teach his students bunkai and oyo as we have categorised it today, I believe that he didn’t, the reason being that grappling and throws were a big part of Japanese martial arts.
When Funakoshi went to Japan in 1922 to demonstrate karate, he ended up staying to teach karate, at the Kodokan (home of judo) and taught karate from that dojo being the home of judo.
Now I’m not too familiar with Japanese etiquette but I would say for Funakoshi to be teaching karate with throws and grappling might have been an insult to Jigoro Kano who was the founder of judo.
Maybe Funakoshi culled karate to just strikes, thrusts and punches as we know it today leaving the grappling and throwing techniques resident in the kata but not using them in order not to offend Jigoro Kano, since Funakoshi was Kano's guest, this is just speculation and no one knows the truth, but in my opinion the truth is never far from common sense.
The other point i would like to address is Funakoshi was Okinawan he was taught in the art of Okinawan-te on the island of Okinawa from Okinawan masters he trained most of his life in Okinawa doing Okinawan martial arts. So then what did he teach the Japanese, was it not Okinawan martial arts? Why would shotokan not be considered Okinawan?
Is it because two man kata drills aren't practiced in shotokan, well what about if they are added does this then make it Okinawan?. The Japanese may have changed some things but by and large shotokan is an Okinawan system imo anyway, I have not heard a good arguement as to why it shouldn't be considered as an Okinawan martial art.
Funakoshi also looked at many of the Okinawa martial arts like shuri-te, tomari-te, Okinawa sumo and even naha te from the two katas (chinto & Hangestu) which shotokan has in its system that come from this region, and combined them into the style we know today as shotokan.
Funakoshi was not the sole person responsible for the development of shotokan he took what he considered to be the best parts of all the systems and created the system known as shotokan, he was the last link in the chain, similar to sir Isaac Newton and his Prinicpa Mathematica.
What was it that Newton said when he was celebrated for his accomplishments, it went something along the lines of
If i seem great, its because i have stood on the shoulders of giants, meaning he paid tribute to all before him.
I think Funakoshi was in a similar situation, yes he was brilliant with his accomplishments but he definetly stood on the shoulders of some great martial artists.
Funakoshi was against different styles of karate, but after karate gained popularity, there were break aways and as karateka broke away new names sprang up and developed just like today it’s still hapenening.
There is no place in contemporary Karate-do for different schools. Some instructors, I know, claim to have invented new and unusual kata, and so they arrogate to themselves the right to be called founders of "schools".
Indeed, I have heard myself and my colleagues referred to as the Shoto-kan school, but I strongly object to this attempt at classification. My belief is that all these "schools" should be amalgamated into one so that Karate-do may pursue and orderly and useful progress into man's future.
Shotokan the name came about when Funakoshi and his students finally managed to get enough money to buy a building in which they could train. Funakoshi’s pen name (writing poems) was shoto, so his students named the building “shotokan”, kan meaning house, OR in other words shoto's house.
From there the karate practiced at that building become known as shotokan, classified and named or pigeon holed by mostly other karate styles and or karateka. Even until this day most shotokan karateka just simply refer to their art as karate.
The revolution, evolution or reverse engineering of shotokan kata bunkai-oyo applications has mainly been due to western karateka who have been delving into the meaning of shotokan kata e.g. Iain Abernethy.
Also I would like to point out that I think JKA shotokan kata are the closest thing to what Funakoshi taught as shotokan kata back then, even though they have longer stances and some aesthetics imo they are still very complete and don’t lack in the principles and concepts area.
As always in the Japanese culture even though the kata where tampered with they didn’t stray too far away from their original meaning because of their value. All one has to do is look at the best karate series from Nakayama sensei and then look at Funakoshi’s Karate-do kyohan.
The fact that we see Funakoshi in high stances maybe because of his age, when I’m 80+ I don’t even think I will be doing it let alone trying to have perfect form.