A short Essay by Mabuni Kenwa entitled Practice Kata Correctly. Translation by Mark Tankosich, and the essay recovered from seinenkai.com.
Mabuni Kenwa wrote:In karate, the most important thing is kata. Into the kata of karate are woven every manner of attack and defence technique. Therefore, kata must be practiced properly, with a good understanding of their bunkai meaning. There may be those who neglect the practice of kata, thinking that it is sufficient to just practice pre-arranged kumite that has been created based on their understanding of the kata, but that will never lead to true advancement. The reason why is that the ways of thrusting and blocking - that is to say, the techniques of attack and defence - have innumerable variations. To create kumite containing all the techniques in every one of their variations is impossible. If one sufficiently and regularly practices kata correctly, it will serve as a foundation for performing - when a crucial time comes - any of the innumerable variations.
However, even if you practice the kata of karate, if that is all that you do, if your other training is lacking, then you will not develop sufficient ability. If you do not also utilize various training methods to strengthen and quicken the functioning of your hands and feet, as well as to sufficiently study things like body-shifting and engagement distancing, you will be inadequately prepared when the need arises to call on your skills.
If practiced properly, two or three kata will suffice as "your" kata; all the others can just be studied as sources of additional knowledge. Breadth, no matter how great, means little without depth. In other words, no matter how many kata you know, they will be useless to you if you don't practice them enough. If you sufficiently study two or three kata as your own and strive to perform them correctly, when the need arises, that training will spontaneously take over and will be shown to be surprisingly effective. If your kata training is incorrect, you will develop bad habits which, no matter how much kumite and makiwara practice you do, will lead to unexpected failure when the time comes to utilize your skills. You should be heedful of this point.
Correctly practicing kata - having sufficiently comprehended their meaning - is the most important thing for a karate trainee. However, the karate-ka must by no means neglect kumite and makiwara practice, either. Accordingly, if one seriously trains - and studies - with the intent of approximately fifty percent kata and fifty percent other things, one will get satisfactory results.
Not claiming that said short essay has all the answers but it hopefully answers a few.
As an individual who has traversed both sides of the bunkai/kaisetsu divide I am mostly of the opinion that is it semantics these days. Both processes are fundamentally the same. Let us break down the process of kaisetsu:
Kaisetsu is where you explain the visual process of the movements of the Kata. The Kata should be explained within the context of its established movements, without change or modification to said movements. In kaisetsu, the movement process is analysed, rather than the individual postures. Underlying the concept of Kaisetsu is Kaishaku. This is the interpretation of the movements within the context of their potential application, while still working within the mechanical processes of the kata.
If we contrast this with bunkai we can see the differences most people focus in on. Bunkai means to literally break down or disassemble. As such each individual posture, technique, and movement is explored in of itself. Done properly, this is without modifying the kata movement at all.
Bunseki: To analyse. This is the interpretation of the movements in the context of their potential applications, and the possible broader meanings. What tactical implications may the movement have beside the technique it represents.
Oyo: The literal application of the technique in an exercise or drill. This is as much a test as it is anything else; does the meaning, or technique, that has been uncovered through Bunkai and Bunseki in fact viable.
Sadly, for most, oyo is all they know of the concept of Bunkai. As such, they often see what is in fact an experimental process rather than a final product. Similarly, in this process the thinking is very much bottom-up, rather than top-bottom. If a technique does not work, it is not necessarily assumed that the interpretation is wrong or the karateka at fault, but in fact the way the kata is being performed might not be correct. In Okinawa it is not unusual for a kata to be changed quite regularly. Ultimately, the application should resemble the kata shape, but any deviance is part of the experimental process, not necessarily a fault in the application.
Conversely, if an application does not work in the Kaisetsu process, the view is taken that the application is wrong and was not the purpose of the movement, or the karateka was at fault in failing to make the application work. It is rarely presumed that the kata is at fault, or that the kata is in any shape maladapted.
Furthermore, note the difference emphasises. Kaisetsu is about the movement of the kata, where as bunkai looks at the movement but as much emphasis is placed on the postures. If one was to use an analogy; Kaisetsu would be the literature teacher whom cares about the content and meaning of a sentence, where as Bunkai would be the language teacher who cares about the proper grammar as much as the content of the sentence.
However, both processes are fundamentally the same. They about uncovering the meaning of the kata and coming to conclusions about the kata. They just arrive at slightly different points and have a different attitude to what the end goal of the process is.
On to whether the Wado-Ryu kata have bunkai. In short, they do. Ohtsuka Meijin may have fundamentally changed the kata he learnt but he did not originate them. The kata of Wado-Ryu are still the kata of Okinawan Karate, just flavoured by Ohtsuka Meijin’s concepts and ideas. As a process, you can readily apply the process of Bunkai to the Wado-Ryu kata. However, I think much reticence comes from the different attitudes. Furthermore, there is virtue in the argument one should view the kata through the same lens as the founder of the discipline. It provides the most useful context to what you are in fact studying.
Similarly, we must keep in mind the unique paired Kata of Wado-Ryu, and the different attitudes of Japanese Budo and Okinawan Budo. Ohtsuka Meijin infused into his expression of karate a sense of attack and defence through the Kihon Kumite. In contrast, such an attitude does not exist in Okinawan karate. In Okinawan karate, much is made of recapturing the initiative, and preserving one’s life in combat. The kata as such deal almost purely with an aggressor, or a potential aggressor in a self-defence situation.
In short; your practice of the solo kata must be done with deference to the paired kata, and the kihon waza. They create the context for better understanding the intent of the solo kata movements. What you try to achieve in the Kihon kumite is essentially what you should seek to accomplish with the kata movements.
R. Keith Williams